Our expert: Kimberly Moser, Instructional Laboratory Manager, University of Oklahoma
Q: Describe your institution and how you use analytical chromatography.
A: The University of Oklahoma’s Department of Chemistry/Biochemistry is an educational and research facility. We use GC to train students as they move through their educational careers in undergraduate laboratories. Students are first introduced to GC in our organic chemistry laboratories, where they learn how to interpret the spectra of samples they have prepared through experimentation. We use GC heavily in more advanced classes. After learning manual injection, students learn to use a basic autosampler. After understanding basic thermal conductivity detection, students learn on a research-grade GC-MS with FID and trace ion detection.
Q: What detectors and carrier gases do you use?
A: We use both TCD and FID detectors for teaching units, due to the simplicity of maintenance and space issues. We use helium as the carrier gas and dichloromethane as the main solvent. For our FID-equipped GC-MS, we use ultra-high-purity helium.
Q: What are the most significant bottlenecks in your GC workflow, and how do you overcome them?
A: The most significant bottleneck in our workflow is the time required to run each sample. Whether the TCD unit is used with manual inject or the autosampler, each sample takes up to eight and a half minutes. Even the more advanced FID GC-MS only reduces the sample time in half. In the teaching facilities, time is always of the essence. We face a constant battle to get students into the lab, have them perform all their experimentation and instrument runs, and leave on time to accommodate the next class. We alleviate this burden by splitting classes into several sections. Unfortunately, this also increases the time burden on teaching assistants.
Q: What can GC systems vendors do to improve their products and/or streamline your workflow?
A: One issue we have with not allowing students to use the research-grade GC-MS is the delicacy of its construction. We maintain the autosampler on this unit, and it is fashioned so it “sticks out” like a balcony over the counter. Multiple hands using this instrument would be a detriment. There is no physical support for the autosampler, which might be damaged if someone leans on it too heavily.
Time is a part of doing GC, and knowing the retention time of your column is one priority. Technology is advancing and most students are “plugged in” through some fashion these days. To assist them in getting their spectra sooner, it would be nice if messaging software could send their spectra to them as runs complete; this way they could begin their analysis without physically returning to the lab. Then they could incorporate their interpretations of the data into their written reports without delay. As it is now, most students have to wait a week for their spectra.