Wavelength Tech Forum: UV-vis

August 13, 2008

This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of UV-vis and the trends and issues surrounding them. Joining us for this discussion are Rob Morris, from Ocean Optics; Richard A. Larsen, Ph.D., from Jasco; and John Monti, from Shimadzu.

The technique of UV-vis is unquestionably one of the workhorse techniques in the materials analysis laboratory. Noninvasive and highly sensitive, UV-vis instrumentation accounted for one fourth of the entire molecular spectroscopy market last year, and promises to grow even more in the future.

This month's Technology Forum looks at the topic of UV-vis and the trends and issues surrounding them. Joining us for this discussion are Rob Morris, from Ocean Optics; Richard A. Larsen, Ph.D., from Jasco; and John Monti, from Shimadzu.

What are some of the most significant recent developments in UV-vis?

Morris: My experience is largely in the world of miniature spectroscopy, so I have seen how some of the qualities that make miniature modular spectrometers so attractive – the smaller size, the greater flexibility- have been integrated into what some might think of as traditional spectrophotometers. That benefits customers in a number of ways. Also, on the technical side, the ability to harness the power of various optical technologies to get scientific-grade detector performance out of mass-market detectors is something to keep an eye on.

Larsen: Some of the significant developments include smaller instruments, continued use of diode arrays, and dedicated instruments for specific analysis methods. Also, there is continual progress in the development of canned application software for specific analyses.

Monti: Two developments are ultra-low volume UV-vis instruments for nucleic acid and protein determination, and the move to USB I/F for PC control and accessory I/F.

In what applications do you see potential for growth in the use of UV-vis?

Morris: Because UV-vis is very versatile and, in some cases, an attractive lower-cost alternative to costlier spectroscopic techniques, potential growth can come from whatever technologies that happen to capture the market's imagination. A good example would be what one might consider "green" photonics - developments such as improved efficiency of LEDs, more efficiently controlled processes for manufacturing solar panels, and so on.

Larsen: A greater range of applications for materials analysis, such as LEDs, cell phone camera lenses, backlights for displays (cell phones, PDA's, etc.), gemstones, and characterization of a wide range of materials used in other industries.

Monti:General biotech applications and environmental applications, such as algal biomass determination.

What role do you see for UV-vis in the future of bioanalysis?

Morris: This is such a broad area that it's difficult to narrow it down to one or two things. If we continue with the green photonics theme, one might imagine an expanded role for the use of UV-vis spectroscopy in areas such as crop management, pollution monitoring, and research into the effects of changing ecospheres on living organisms. UV-vis made accessible in a low-cost, handheld architecture, with the ability to transmit spectral data worldwide in real time via the Internet, would make significant growth in this area even more likely.

Larsen: We are seeing greater customer requests for an expansion in the application of automated and "canned" methods for analysis of biochemicals and proteins, etc.

Monti: Microvolume microplate readers for routine assays and spectrophotometers for high resolution work.

What major changes are expected in the UV-vis marketplace?

Morris: It always seems as if "The Next Big Thing" in UV-vis is just around the corner. Whatever that thing may be – in detectors, optics, or other parts of the system – it's far more likely to create new markets and applications than it is to replace something that already exists. To trot out a familiar example, the iPod has much less to do with being a clever device that plays music than being an ingenious device that completely changes the way you buy music.

Larsen: I don't see great changes in the marketplace other than instruments of lower cost and smaller size for some dedicated analyses.

Do you think the universe of companies making UV-vis instrumentation will grow in coming years?

Morris:That's hard to say. It’s really difficult to gauge the saturation point; there are just so many applications out there, the pie seems to have grown larger even as the number of companies in UV-vis has increased. We're very bullish on the prospects for UV-vis.

Larsen: Actually, I suspect that there will be little growth in the number of companies that manufacture UV-vis instrumentation. Customers are used to the central players in this area and I don't think this will change all that much.

Monti: I think we will begin to see increased competition from Chinese manufacturers of UV-vis spectrophotometers.

What do you think?

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