FT-IR Spectroscopy

September 15, 2011

FT-IR spectroscopy is an important tool in the analytical laboratory, and its use has been extended by the advent of portable instruments for field operation. Participants in this Technology Forum include Richared Larsen of Jasco, Inc., Sharon Palmer and Jerry Sellors of PerkinElmer, and Simon Nunn of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

FT-IR spectroscopy is an important tool in the analytical laboratory, and its use has been extended by the advent of portable instruments for field operation. Participants in this Technology Forum include Richared Larsen of Jasco, Inc., Sharon Palmer and Jerry Sellors of PerkinElmer, and Simon Nunn of Thermo Fisher Scientific.

What do you see as the greatest opportunity for innovation in FT-IR instrumentation?

Larsen: Any innovation that could provide greater sensitivity for FT-IR instruments would be welcome to increase the capabilities of infrared analysis.

Palmer: The greatest opportunities for innovation lie in streamlining the process for the user. Faster sampling is another focus for developments in IR. By generating results faster, analysis is more cost-effective.

Nunn: There are a number of innovation vectors that present opportunities for FT-IR. We will see increasing adoption of handheld instrumentation outside the laboratory setting. The more traditional laboratory FT-IR instrumentation will have to keep pace with the need to characterize new materials. Thus, we will see better sampling devices, and increasing use of hyphenated techniques and IR microscopy.

What will be the future balance between handheld or portable instruments and laboratory or research instruments? In other words, do you see portable instruments replacing laboratory instruments in the near future?

Larsen: I think there will always be a place for the laboratory and research instruments and in fact, while handheld instruments are useful, they cannot entirely replace the capabilities offered by the laboratory instrument. In my opinion, while handheld instruments are useful, they will be used in conjunction with the laboratory instrument and provide an additional tool in the arsenal of the analytical laboratory.

Palmer: Portable instrumentation will increase the use of FT-IR for analysis, enabling more measurements to be performed in more places, and for fast answers to customers’ measurement needs. There will always be a place for highly sensitive laboratory instruments; as technology improves for portable instruments, it also improves for laboratory instruments.

Nunn: The main impact of handheld instrumentation has been to extend the use of FT-IR beyond the laboratory. Handheld instruments are being used where it was previously impractical to deploy FT-IR. A great example of this is the identification of potentially explosive materials in theaters of military operation. Handhelds expand the market for FT-IR, as opposed to replacing laboratory instrumentation.

Do you see any technology that could replace FT-IR for vibrational spectroscopy in the future?

Larsen: No, while Raman spectroscopy is gaining strength as an analytical tool, FT-IR and other instruments are all useful tools that can provide various pieces of the puzzle to offer a complete answer when analyzing analytical samples.

Sellors: Developments in tunable lasers in vibrational spectroscopy are able to address some specific applications. However, there is still some way to go before they offer a viable alternative for multipurpose instruments.

Nunn: FT-IR is a cost-effective way of getting a lot of information from a very broad array of samples. Therefore, wholesale replacement of FT-IR by another technology is improbable in the foreseeable future. Raman spectroscopy in particular is growing in importance as a vibrational technique. This increasing popularity is driven by Raman’s ability to probe samples that IR cannot — for example, carbon materials — and the improvements in the usability of instrumentation that have occurred over the past few years. As with handhelds, Raman is expanding the market for vibrational spectroscopy rather than replacing laboratory FT-IR.

Is there still a role in industry for the experienced infrared spectroscopists?

Larsen: Absolutely. Infrared spectroscopy offers one of the fastest methods for characterization of a sample and the experienced spectroscopist can extract additional information from the sample spectrum that simply cannot be provided by library searching or other interpretation tools.

Palmer: Absolutely, experienced spectroscopists are required for the development of analytical methods, definitions of new standards that utilize IR’s speed and ease of use, and to assist in the interpretation of IR spectra for research, product development, and troubleshooting. Unfortunately, many laboratories have had to reduce their staff and there are now fewer spectroscopists, each with greater workloads. Software and services provided by instrument vendors attempts to address this problem.

Nunn: Yes. The dramatic improvements in instrumentation, sampling technology and software that we’ve seen over the past few years have made life easier for experienced spectroscopists and provided newcomers with shorter learning curves. These improvements have come largely from instrument companies working with experienced spectroscopists who know how to apply spectroscopy to industrial problems. Therefore, experienced spectroscopists are essential to driving forward the utilization of FT-IR in industry.