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FTIR Spectrophotometers: Traditional Uses Giving Way to Portability

Although serious Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) research and core analysis facilities are still doing well, traditional applications are giving way to more dynamic uses such as controlling processes and field work. For research FT

Although serious Fourier-transform infrared spectroscopy (FTIR) research and core analysis facilities are still doing well, traditional applications are giving way to more dynamic uses such as controlling processes and field work.

For research FTIR, where polymer, materials, coatings, and industrial applications still predominate, the new kid on the block is cell and tissue analysis. Modern biology relies heavily on fluorescently labeled dyes that identify cells’ surface markers and internal workings. Cells are then isolated and characterized by cell sorters according to which labels light up. Tissues are similarly analyzed by fluorescence microscopy.

But microscope-based imaging FTIR is making inroads into cell biology in ways that were barely imagined just a few years ago, says Keith Bratchford, marketing director at Agilent Technologies’ Melbourne, Australia, facility.

Using this technique, scientists can create multidimensional maps of a tissue based on its chemical composition. The technique has numerous applications in diagnosing abnormal cells and tissues in a variety of diseases, including cancer, Alzheimer’s disease, and Parkinson’s disease. The enabling technology behind this is the focal plane array detector, which rapidly provides a full spectrum for every pixel within the microscope field in a matter of seconds. Performing the same analysis with single-point detectors could take many hours or days without providing the same level of resolution.

“Focal plane arrays acquire all spectra at once, the same as taking a photograph with a CCD-based camera. The arrays capture significant areas of the sample in one shot,” says Mr. Bratchford. “But you need a lot of very high level processing to handle the data.”

When fully developed, FTIR microscopy will have numerous applications in food safety and pathogen detection. Agilent is working with Montreal’s McGill University on techniques to identify bacteria rapidly. One day, spectral libraries of viruses, bacteria, and fungi will allow rapid screening of medical, pharmaceutical, and food products for pathogens.

A key trend in FTIR instrumentation, according to Sharon Palmer, materials characterization business manager at PerkinElmer (Bucks, UK), is the “deskilling” of the user base. Many labs, she says, used to maintain dedicated FTIR resources that included laboratory-trained, degreed scientists. Now instrument operators have multiple responsibilities and may not have the same level of expertise with any one of them as their predecessors.

Related is the issue of transportability. No, we’re not talking handheld FTIR, but rather instruments that may be moved from one location within the facility to another.

PerkinElmer has also long been a proponent of simplifying software. FTIR products are controlled through an application iPhone users would appreciate. Users are provided with a very limited number of choices on each screen but, at the same time, may access detailed guidance and instructions.

Ms. Palmer sees FTIR becoming more useful in screening applications due to its simplicity and the growing need to obtain answers quickly. In addition to microbiology applications, she anticipates methods for screening food and pharmaceutical ingredients, adulterated fuels, raw materials, and counterfeit drugs. “There are many potential opportunities where FTIR offers one or more pieces in the puzzle.”

Recently Released FTIR Spectrophotometers

Exoscan Handheld FTIR

  • Spherical ATR Sampling interface permits analysis of powders and granules, as well as polymer, composite and plastic sheets
  • Features a frequency range of 4000 – 650 cm-1 and maximum resolution of 4 cm-1
  • Incorporates a commercial PDA that controls operator functions and presents results of sample analysis


Spectrum Two™

  • Ideal for unknown substance identification, material qualification or concentration determination
  • Incorporates a humidity shield to protect against environmental effects
  • Suitable for various applications including fuel and lubricant analysis, pharmaceutical, environmental and polymer analysis



Driver for Analect FTIR Spectrometers

  • Integrates the functions of Analect instruments into Symbion-DX and RX software suites
  • Each method is permanently stored in Symbion database and is under full version control, compliant with 21 CFR Part 11
  • Once validated, a method can be recalled from database and downloaded for deployment at multiple instrumentation locations

Symbion Systems

TruDefender FTi Handheld

  • High quality data in seconds
  • Designed for demanding environments
  • Rechargeable battery, new wireless communication abilities
  • Easy to use
  • No sample preparation required

Thermo Scientific