Tucson is a beautiful city. Flanked by mountains and filled with a rich ecosystem of plants and wildlife, the Arizona city is a fitting location for the Winter Conference on Plasma Spectrochemistry.
As a result, it was no surprise that the topic of environmental analysis was widely covered at the conference. The program tapped locals like George Gehrels of the University of Arizona, who spoke about elemental analysis in geochronology, or the study of rocks, minerals, and sediments. As a discipline, geochronology could help “tell the times when events happened in the past,” Gehrels said, which include the formation of mountains, volcanic eruptions, and when sediment accumulated (1). He is using high-resolution age and isotopic mapping using laser ablation inductively coupled plasma tandem mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to better understand the composition of zircon (ZrSiO4), one of the main minerals used in geochronology.
Chester Lau, a PhD student, and his research group at the University of Alberta, which is led by X. Chris Le, are investigating arsenic levels in freshwater fish in Alberta, Canada (2). To analyze the fish, the team used high performance liquid chromatography ICP-MS (HPLC-ICP-MS). Their analysis focused on the muscle tissue of the fish, which is the edible portion.
Jörg Feldmann, a professor at the University of Graz, spoke about his team’s research using non-target analysis to analyze per- and polyfluorinated substances (PFAS) (3). Mass balance approaches using ICP-MS and combustion ion chromatography (CIC), Feldmann said, can make an analytical workflow for non-target analysis possible. ICP-MS can also help with identification of unknown PFAS and help to quantify PFAS for which no standards are available. Feldmann’s team of researchers have been using ICP-MS to test for PFAS in wastewater and Alpine soil.
The conference also featured several heritage lectures, including one by Robert Jones, formerly of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), and John Burgener, the president of Burgener Research. Jones spoke about how his ICP-MS laboratory at the CDC helped address numerous public health crises (3). Meanwhile, Burgener’s lecture was a retrospective on his career and focused on advice for young scientists (4). Burgener also spoke about the development of the Burgener Nebulizer.
The conference provided an interesting overview of the latest trends in plasma spectrochemistry and was an opportunity for colleagues old and new to connect. We both enjoyed interacting with the industry leaders throughout the conference, learning more about the ongoing research being conducted in spectrochemistry. Next year, the event will have its European leg, in Berlin, Germany, and the editors of Spectroscopy are looking forward to attending.