12 August 2009

Kit

I remember attending a microfabrication course a while back where one of the slides was of a Gas Chromatography (GC) instrument. The thing that was special about it was its size, which was about the size of a ten pence piece. Its column was etched on silicon and it was used to analyse components in air. On the course we were told that the instrument was made (fabricated) in the 70s - so where are the commercial ones?

When I had a lab my GC was huge in comparison (ca 0.75 m x 0.75 m x 0.75 m); also, it needed gas bottles for hydrogen, helium and air. Having a hand held gc that didn't require stored gases and was as cheap and fast as TLC was very attractive.

A quick search through the literature came up with a paper from 2007 from the Journal of Microelectromechanical Systems called,

"A Low-Power Pressure- and Temperature-Programmable Micro Gas Chromatography Column."

The instrument that was reported in this paper (sorry but its closed source) and shown above was about the size of a dime (?, ten pence piece?) and could achieve the separations shown (also above).

This work is very impressive and the authors of the paper are quite right to say, "[o]verall ... this paper represents a significant stride toward ultralow-power and fast column operation and sets the stage for portable analysis instruments with better performance than their table top predecessors."

One curious irony ... the authors justify the work by talking about applications such as 'industrial control, food processing/monitoring'; all the usual sorts of things. However, they go on to say that the system would be useful for homeland security; further, one of their chromatograms (above) shows the performance of the instrument at separating explosive and chemical warfare agent simulants. The thing is ... this instrument will be extremely useful in the preparation of these sorts of compounds and designer drugs.

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