This NRESi lecture may have been my favourite one yet (and that is saying a lot). I think it has something to do with the fact that these scientists are taking their work and putting it to use in practical ways… not to mention the excitement of the cutting-edge technology… and of course there’s the appeal of the hard-science-road-trip-adventure combo… all in all, this topic had me on the edge of my seat.
Although this presentation contained a lot of hard-core science-y details that perhaps only specialists in the field could completely understand, Dr. Krogh did a great job of explaining the science enough to get his points across without overwhelming his mixed audience. If I understand correctly, the addition of a membrane interface seems to be the primary (though certainly not the only) modification to the standard equipment, allowing for direct sampling, on-line mass spectrometry (MS) measurements of trace organic compounds in air or fluid.
Although I was interested in the details about how it worked, I will admit that I was mainly intrigued by the concept of a lab-in-a-van that can instantly measure air (and even water or soil) quality anywhere. The labelled picture of the inside of the van was an excellent visual aide that really brought the mobile lab to life.
The fact that this science is literally out there in the “real world” is one of the greatest things about it. I couldn’t stop thinking about the practical applications, and had to wonder about the costs associated with on-the-fly air sampling. Is it affordable enough for municipalities and regional governments to consider hiring the mobile lab to provide a geo-spatial visualization of the air quality impacts of sewage treatment facilities, landfills, factories, and other NIMBY (Not In My Back Yard) air pollution sources?
Dr. Krogh was very well-prepared for his presentation, even including some thought-provoking questions for his audience, just in case nobody came up with anything to ask him! This wasn’t necessary however, since there were plenty of enquiries, which he responded to with ease and expertise. If I’d been bold enough to raise my hand, I would have asked him to discuss the downsides of the mobile mass spectrometry technology, because honestly, it sounded like there aren’t many, aside from a small loss in precision, and having to deal with huge amounts of data.
Through my own thesis research, I know I am going to become very familiar with the use of mass spectrometry (though I haven’t gotten to that stage yet), which is another reason why this lecture topic caught my attention. I don’t think that the mobile version will be applicable to my research, since I’m going to be using the MS for plant samples that I’ve already collected, though it has me wondering about the necessity of the liquid chromatography.