Add acid to a sample, apply microwave radiation, and you’re ready for all sorts of further analyses, such as inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry or atomic absorption. Microwave digestion can be applied to anything from foods and rocks to metals and pharmaceuticals, which can then be analyzed for components, such as heavy metals. To help scientists use this technology more easily, most vendors keep improving the user interface. Reynhardt Klopper, product specialist for microwave digestion and synthesis at Anton Paar USA (Ashland, VA), says, “The user interface on microwave digesters has changed quite significantly over the past few years. For example, most of them have full-color touchscreens.” This simplifies how a scientist works with this technology and expands how it can be used.
For instance, scientists use the screen to control or modify the process on the fly. As Klopper says, “In our system, you can change many of the parameters—digestion temperature, the time of the experiment, microwave power output—in real time, while the experiment is running.” He adds, “That was not possible with previous-generation controllers . . . You had to wait for the experiment to be completed.”
Other experts also point out that today’s microwave digesters let scientists keep better tabs on the entire process. “The graphic interface provides real-time digestion-related information during the whole procedure,” says Alex Cooper, product specialist at Aurora Biomed (Vancouver, Canada). “So the user could check the actual status of the digesting samples instantly.” That provides new capabilities in using microwave digestion, such as fine-tuning specific experiments or keeping better track of a process.
Dealing with data
“A microwave digester is more a preparation device than an analytical instrument,” Klopper says. So scientists don’t always want data from it, but today’s platforms can often collect and export data through, say, a USB or Ethernet port. “This information is useful for method development or troubleshooting,” Klopper explains.
The software on a microwave digester also offers other benefits. “Microwave digester vendors try to differentiate themselves with the intuitiveness of the software and unique features,” Klopper continues. “We’ve included beneficial features in the software that are specific to particular industries.” For example, Anton Paar’s software is compatible with the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s Title 21 Code of Federal Regulations Part 11, which is required for electronic records in the drug industry. “It complies fully with this,” Klopper says, “including how often you need to change the password or apply e-signatures to experiment results.” He adds, “This is unique for microwave systems and appreciated by the pharmaceutical industry because they try to standardize how all the instruments in their labs handle data.”
Like the rest of the world, labs also keep getting more connected. “A common request from users is for more connectivity options with lab instruments,” Klopper says. “‘Can it connect to your local network, and can I have remote access?’” So Anton Paar provides its microwave digesters with the ability to connect to a lab’s network. “Via a built-in [virtual network computing] protocol, the user can connect to it with a laptop, tablet, or smartphone, and can remotely control the instrument,” Klopper says. That’s the role of some microwave digesters today, and of many more tomorrow.
In fact, the ongoing changes in today’s microwave digesters make it possible for researchers to use these devices in more sophisticated ways, and that also allows for more uses ahead. As with nearly every device in today’s labs, adding advanced interfaces and connectivity options gives scientists more opportunities to invent new uses for technology.
For additional resources on microwave digestion, including useful articles and a list of manufacturers, visit www.labmanager.com/microwave