Wednesday, April 26, 2006

Plasma goes out

So I'm just calibrating the mass spec after getting it nicely optimized and out of nowhere, the plasma goes out. That basically means I have to start all over again. I could not find a reason for it to go out. The software that runs the instrument just gave this generic error that it displays anytime anything goes wrong. The software has more bugs than Windows 98.

It's not just pushing buttons all day folks, these things happen all the time. At least half my job is troubleshooting. Finding out why the mass spec is doing what it is doing. So, like a computer, I turned it off and then back on, and everything was fine.

Monday, April 24, 2006

DARTs and MS

I'm sure all the mass spec people have heard about this before because it is so cool and also one year old news. It's a new ionization method called DART (direct analysis in real time) invented by Robert B. Cody of JEOL USA and James A. Laramee of EAI Corp. It is a sample introduction system that can be coupled to a mass spectrometer, currently only coupled to a MS by JEOL.
The major difference here, compared to other mass specs, is the sample inlet is at atmospheric pressure. You can hold an object, such as an orange, up in front of the sample cone and get a reading of masses detected and find fungicides.

This technique works by applying an electrical potential to a gas (N2 or H2) to form a plasma that interacts with the sample and the atmosphere.

It took me a minute to picture the instrument layout in my head, I couldn't, so I went to the website. The path of the ion: First, gas is fed in, a plasma is formed, then the instrument opens up to the atmosphere. So, the open region is between the plasma torch and the sample cone. Then, the rest of the mass spec, the one they use happens to be a time-of-flight.

Friday, April 21, 2006

MS at PittCon

Well, I didn't get to go to PittCon, even though it was only a 4 or 5 hour drive from here. And it looks like I missed out on a lot of cool analytical instrumentation as well as possible job leads.
My favorite company Thermo (read with sarcastic tone) introduced a new type of mass spec. In fact, they claim it is "the first totally new mass analyzer to be introduced to the market in more than 20 years." It is called the LTQ Orbitrap mass spectrometer. To read about its initial research, Anal. Chem. 2000, 72, 1156.

Apparently, the orbitrap takes the place of the quadrupole to separate the ions based on m/z. The orbitrap "has ions spinning around a carefully shaped central electrode while shuttling back and forth over its long axis in harmonic motion at frequencies dependent only on their mass-to-charge ratios," says R. Graham Cooks of Purdue University.
More interesting news from PittCon to come.

Sunday, April 16, 2006


Interesting facts about Bi, mass 209 (the only stable isotope), atomic number 83.
It melts at 520 F, maybe possible in the oven.
It boils at 1833 K (2840 F). The ICP plasma I use is 8,000 - 10,000 K.

Not quite as toxic as other elements in the same group, arsenic and antimony. Bismuth is used in cosmetics. And it's in Pepto-Bismol

The most diamagnetic metal, a weak type of magnatism compared to ferro- or paramagnatism. It wouldn't stick to your fridge.

It is used as an internal standard, it is run through the mass spec with every sample at the same concentration, and I make sure the instrument gives the same result. One way to tell if the instrument drifts.
Around $8 / kg.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

Water droplet

I may have found the answer to my question of why that one drop of liquid always jumps up at me (see previous post), at

If I knew how to put the link in, I would.


I finally found out how to write some code and put some more crap on the sidebar over there. It is now cool to put pictures on your blog, relevent to what you're talking about. And if you want to be really cool, you can put clever little captions on the picture for some comic relief.

But seriously, Dylan's blog about synthetic organic grad school life is great. I can now live my dream vicariously through his daily posts. I've been reading In the pipeline written by Derek Lowe for a while now, it's about life as a wonder drug maker in the pharmaceutical industry.

I also found out how to make your blog come into the top ten on Google. Actually, I read about it on some other dude's blog and I forgot his name. I've noticed people are as serious about getting referenced on the internet as in chemistry journals. To get your blog to the top ten, write about something specific, then email all the top read bloggers in that subject and kindly ask them to link your blog. Once you get enough links and enough people coming by, you are one of the first links for that specific subject on a google search. Or maybe that was the way to get more visitors to your blog?

Anyways, pictures are coming, and if I'm in a good mood, clever captions.

Tuesday, April 04, 2006


It is here. We are losing oppurtunities everyday. I'll make a future prediction: India and China will produce most of the new drugs simply because they have a lot more people actually doing research. They have four times as many people as we do, producing more scientist and engineers than we do. That's if their governments don't tear the country down.

It's fairly obvious to me why Americans don't want to go into science. It does not pay well. I read somewhere, adjusted for IQ, scientists are the lowest paid workers in the country. Especially for PhD's, they go to school for 4 to 6 years, then struggle to get a job. Even better of a question, why are we telling American college students to go into science when there are no jobs to get when you get out? Getting an academic research professor job for a chemist is like getting to the Major League in baseball. Only the elite can make it, it takes natural talent. So please, current professors out there, tell your students the truth: If they don't have a 4.0 and work for a "famous" scientist, they won't get their dream job doing whatever research interests them. If you're smart and you have the ability to go past a bachelors degree, the law or medical degree will earn you money after you have no problem finding a job. I wonder what the unemployment rate would look like between chemistry PhD's, lawyers, and doctors. I guess it would look better if you only looked at people working in the field of their degree.

By the way, I'm a happy scientist.