1. Well – this edition completes our first year of operation and Volume I. Perkin Elmer have agreed to continue their sponsorship, so we are set fair for 1998, Volume II and beyond! All we need is more contributions from you, the readers. My view is that IJVS must be aimed at the youngsters – students, young researchers, and industrial analysts. The young tend to be more interested in computers than do their parents so, quite obviously, the Journal’s readership must be relatively youthful.
A few weeks ago I had the pleasure of attending the UK Perkin Elmer Users Meeting at Daresbury, not far from Manchester in northern England. There were many interesting and valuable papers and an instrument exhibition, but by far the most intriguing session was a crystal ball gazing discussion on the future of mid-ir/Raman. The discussion got under way with a description of the method, unique within the scientific instrument business, in which near infrared equipment is supplied. The amount of fundamental research interest in this field is incredibly small, near infrared as a technique is usually not mentioned in academic courses and hence experts are in short supply. On the other hand, n.i.r. is really valuable in a rapidly expanding range of applications in industrial analysis, e.g. analysis of grain, milk, flour and more recently pharmaceutical products. To cope with the interest and lack of spectroscopic expertise in customers’ laboratories, the manufacturers of n.i.r. equipment (and until recently they were not the traditional FTIR makers) have designed packages and sold them. Thus, if you are running a dairy and you want an instrumented analysis based on n.i.r., you buy a system comprising of a spectrometer, sampling system optimised for your particular dairy, computer, software/data analysis and data logging system designed to satisfy your national regulators.
The system requires no skill – once installed it needs about as much intellectual input as operating a checkout at a supermarket, i.e. the spectroscopic analysis has been completely “downskilled”. The packages are expensive but very cost effective to the user. They are expensive to build, but if enough closely related systems can be sold they become very profitable to the instrument builder.
2. Mid infrared equipment, NMR instruments, mass spectrometers, Raman instruments – all are sold to specialist users who, at least to some extent, know what they want, can interpret the results, and with the aid of the accessory makers can devise analytical procedures as they are needed. Infrared is particularly versatile and with skill and experience can be applied to a vast range of industrial problems. In all these spectroscopic areas, the manufacturer produces as versatile an instrument as he can and expects the user to utilise the equipment for a range of problems. [These comments do not apply, of course, to infrared based continuous or process monitoring systems]. The question is “The n.i.r. people have been so successful – should mid i.r. go the same way? Should mid i.r. packages be offered?” My view is a definite “yes” and I put this to the meeting.
3. It is clear that the accessory makers are producing ever more versatile kit and that by using appropriate methods, sampling is becoming easier and easier. Why prepare a KBr disc if diamond ATR will give the results? It is also clear that instrument makers are working with the accessory experts to produce equipment where the results are reproducible, i.e. are such that they can be properly standardised and used within Q.C. protocols. An essential part of this procedure is that the human element has to be minimised and critical operations made automatic or trivially easy. So, it seems to me, the industry is well on the way. The remaining problem is money! The number of analyses based on mid i.r. is vast, so the market for one clearly defined analytical procedure is small. On top of this, the market is split amongst six or more major manufacturers and many many more smaller ones, so the cost of developing the protocols is high and the chances of making a profit small. On the other hand, the market is likely to be driven towards packages, as manufacturers attempt to reduce labour costs by automating and downskilling. If the mid i.r. people do not respond, increasingly their market will drift away to n.i.r. This would be very retrograde because, valuable technique though it is, n.i.r. can never overcome the problem of its fundamentally low extinction coefficients and the equally soundly theoretical fact that it is based almost exclusively on hydrogenic vibrations and will always be. The low extinction coefficients can be an advantage but in a huge range of applications users should adopt a more appropriate method, like mid-i.r. or Raman. If users (and purchasers) are not expert spectroscopists, how are they to judge – they will start to believe the salesman!
4. Early in December, I had a semi-formal meeting with the people from Perkin Elmer based at Beaconsfield, near London, England. Apart from agreeing to continue their generous funding, several other topical matters were talked over. Thus, it was decided not to accept advertisements, at least for the time being, but we are prepared to test products, whether they be new instrument accessories, software libraries, or ancillary products. So, if you manufacturers would like some free publicity – give us a call! In each case we will ask an expert to give the product a thorough test and report his findings – just like the road test of an automobile.
Susan Keese, the Company’s representative, told me something of the readership based on those of you who have sent in addresses. It can hardly be a surprise that Americans are prominent amongst the readership, but it is also clear that folks in Eastern Europe, India and Pakistan, China and the SE Asia areas find us of value. In many cases, I presume the fact that libraries are often poorly supplied with up-to-date material and many are very distant, coupled with the further fact that no cost is involved, making IJVS very attractive. If this is so – please tell us what more we can do for you.
5. Even the very best things come to an end! Mrs. Wendy Hudson, our Editorial Assistant, who has been so valuable in getting the Journal off the ground, has decided to abandon her VDU and retire. All of us owe Wendy our gratitude. May we wish you, Wendy, a long and fruitful retirement. It will be bliss, I am sure, to be free of my dreadful writing and to be spared the stress of “encouraging” authors to come up with that copy they have promised. Fortunately, we have a new person to take over – Louise Martin – who has experience in the advertising industry and has worked here at the University for the past few months. Louise takes up her pen and computer immediately!
If you give us a call over the next few weeks, you may well speak to Wendy – don’t worry, she has not been pre-recorded and NO, you won’t be talking to her ghost, Wendy has agreed to stay on for a few weeks to help Louise ease herself into place. (After all, someone has to show her how to decipher my scrawl!).