Present-day analytical laboratories in industry and research would hardly cope without spectroscopy methods. Quality control, purity testing, structure analyses, monitoring of reaction processes, materials testing and much more – spectroscopy applications are routinely used in many areas of almost all manufacturing industries and in just about every research laboratory. These are some of the application areas of spectroscopy methods:
- Structure analysis of chemical compounds
- Incoming goods and process control in the pharmaceutical industry
- Detection of contaminant objects and quality control in the food industry
- Identification of substances in toxicology and forensics
From structure analyses to forensic investigations – spectroscopy applications can serve many purposes
Structure analysis of chemical compounds
The range of applications for spectroscopy methods is broad. Hardly any analytical method can be found in such variety in industrial and research laboratories. However, the classic area for spectroscopy applications is still the structure analysis of chemical compounds. For many analyses, NMR and IR spectroscopy as well as mass spectrometry and other spectroscopic methods are applied together. While NMR spectra deliver fast and reliable information about the composition of a substance, reading the spectra requires some experience. In most cases, a certain amount of investigative acumen is required to unambiguously determine the structure of a substance. In such cases, IR and mass spectra can provide important additional information – these analyses can be performed quickly and easily, and they require less expensive equipment than NMR spectroscopy.
Incoming goods and process control in the pharmaceutical industry
In the production processes of many industries, only the final product, and sometimes one or more intermediates in addition, are examined for their quality and composition by spectroscopy methods. However, the pharmaceutical industry faces much more stringent regulations. Analytical control of processes is an important spectroscopy application that, for example, helps to monitor the concentration of a product. This serves to improve the understanding of the industrial process and allows a manufacturing set up to be improved with regards to efficiency and robustness, guaranteeing consistently high product quality. During incoming goods inspections, raw materials and excipients used in the manufacture of pharmaceutical products are examined for their purity and quality using spectroscopy methods. NIR spectroscopy (near infrared spectroscopy), in addition to other spectroscopy methods, is used particularly frequently for such purposes because it is non-destructive and fast, requires no sample preparation, delivers results online/inline in real time, and it can be automated.
Detection of contaminant objects and quality control in the food industry
Similar to pharmaceutical products, foodstuffs are subject to very stringent regulation aimed at consistently ensuring high quality products. Contaminant objects, for example, have no place in food. A splinter of wood in a cutlet, a maggot in yogurt or a piece of glass in cheese are not only disgusting, but also pose health hazards. Manufacturers around the world are therefore turning to spectroscopy applications such as NIR and NMR.
Near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, which uses light of a wavelength between 800 and 2,500 nanometers, excites the molecules in a food sample and makes them oscillate. The reflected spectra reveal information about the molecular composition of the food.
Counterfeiting is also playing an increasingly important role in the global food industry. Expensive wines, honey and olive oil are particularly affected. One well-known spectroscopy application that helps to track down the fraudsters is nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectroscopy. NMR systems measure how magnetically active atomic species, such as the isotopes hydrogen-1 or carbon-13, react to a radio frequency pulse in a magnetic field. The resulting signals reveal the chemical environment of these atoms and thus the identity of the substances in food. Whether the substance is a counterfeit can be quickly determined by comparing its NMR spectrum with that of a reference product.
The great advantage of NMR spectroscopy is that dozens of molecule types can be identified and quantified simultaneously in a single measurement, without having to first subject the food sample to chromatographic separation. Typical markers in the spectrum also allow users to detect advanced spoilage or excessive thermal stress.
Identification of substances in toxicology and forensics
In many industries and application areas, spectroscopy methods are used to identify compounds by comparisons with reference spectra. For example, recording UV and NIR spectrograms have been standard methods in forensic investigations for many decades. Fibers, traces of paint and other materials found at a crime scene can be examined speedily and non-destructively. Toxins or doping substances can also be tracked down quickly using modern spectroscopy methods. Heavy metals and organic poisons are reliably determined with sensitivity and accuracy, even at very low concentrations – and not only in the field of criminal forensics. The analysis of soil samples for toxicological contamination can be carried out quickly using spectroscopic methods such as mass spectrometry, UV-VIS, IR or NMR spectroscopy, as well as several other methods. Plastic sorting in recycling is another spectroscopy application that will increasingly become important in the future.
Spectroscopy applications have found their place in our everyday lives, and their importance is still increasing. In numerous industries, compact and mobile spectroscopy methods are on the rise and being added to complement established laboratory equipment.
To help you keep track of the multitude of spectroscopic instruments, these three largest market overviews worldwide will help you choose the right setup for your needs: