Developing a Career in FT-IR

March 21, 2011

This interview with consultant Jerry Workman touches upon his early research and career in FT-IR, as well as where he feels the technique is headed.

This interview with consultant Jerry Workman touches upon his early research and career in FT-IR, as well as where he feels the technique is headed.

Please tell us about some of your earliest research in FT-IR. How did you get started in the field and what has kept you interested over the years?

Workman: My fascination and involvement with vibrational spectroscopy (FT-NIR and FT-IR) started in my early youth with Gilbert or Porter chemistry and biology sets and their various simple experiments in radiation and spectroscopic measurements. As a youngster, I was thrilled with microscope optics, amateur astronomy, and the notion that spectra could be measured from planets and stars to determine their chemical composition, temperature, and expansion velocities. As a kid, I converted our fallout shelter into a serious chemistry lab (not much ventilation) and, with my dad's help, constructed a permanently mounted telescope in an observatory on the roof of our house. I spent all my time, outside of formal school activities (academics and sports), in one of these places.

As an undergraduate I was employed as a lab technician and worked with a multitude of instrumentation and exhaustive wet chemical procedures. I became enamored by the concept of replacing tedious and often quite dangerous chemical methods involving noxious gases, flammable liquids, and concentrated acids and bases with a transmission, reflection, or fluorescence spectroscopic method! The technical and commercial ramifications were captivating! As I progressed through undergraduate work as a sort of analytical and bioanalytical method dilettante, my fascination with light interaction with matter continued even through Masters and Ph.D. work. I became mesmerized by the idea that radiation, including light, could interact with matter to yield so much information on its physical and chemical properties. It was “Herschelian” in the sense that a childlike excitement of natural phenomena can often lead a young person into the aspirations of a scientific career. The excitement has continued over the years resulting in an eclectic career mix of science and technology management.

What has been the most difficult aspect of your research and how did you overcome it so far?

Workman: The most difficult aspect of my research has been to maintain some continuity in a career where I have often changed positions, but the theme has always remained the same: solving practical vibrational spectroscopy problems while trying to publish materials that are hopefully useful for practitioners. It has always been the same theme.

You have authored multiple books, several hundred scientific papers, commercial software programs, U.S. and international patents, and a column in Spectroscopy. What do you think is the most challenging aspect of writing about your work? What is the most rewarding?

Workman: Writing has been challenging, but extremely rewarding. The challenge has been to find time for writing while being a husband and father of five active children, and maintaining a commercial research and management career.

Where would you like to see FT-IR technology expand to in the future? Are you involved in any research that could change FT-IR?

Workman: FT-NIR and FT-IR instrumentation will move to more advanced, intelligent, miniature, highly accurate, and networked technologies. Systems will be more automated and user friendly, with higher performance. There will also be complex research platforms tailored for advanced investigative uses; as well as remote and process hardened instrumentation. I am involved in both hardware and software algorithm development for laboratory, portable, and process spectrometers. In addition, the use of these measurement techniques will eventually be accepted in medical device fields for real-time patient monitoring at an ever more prolific rate.

Is there any advice you would offer to spectroscopists that are just developing an interest in FT-IR?

Workman: My advice to spectroscopists is to learn as much as possible about the theory, applications, hardware, software, literature, research, and individuals involved with the techniques of interest. Become active in committees and technical or scientific societies, conferences, and alumni associations. Continue to take courses to stay current and continue to familiarize oneself with the latest sampling methods, instrument technologies, and software advancements. Keep an organized file of contacts within the measurement field and a calendar of important scientific events and short courses.