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Physical Sciences

Separations, Detection, and Analysis

When studying how specific catalysts drive reactions, scientists are often frustrated by the actions of unrelated molecules in the samples. Now, thanks to a device created by a team at Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, extraneous molecules are separated out of the samples and the desired catalyst is gently placed onto a surface. Enlarged View

We have a signature capability in Separations, Detection and Analysis, developing new science and technology for advanced laboratory analysis and field analytical chemistry. We are performing advanced laboratory analysis that is extending the state of the art in sensitivity and resolution. Our laser spectroscopy achieves single molecule detection limits with appropriate fluorescent tags, while resonant ion mass spectrometry techniques reach sensitivity limits of 10-13 relative abundance sensitivity for atoms. Mass spectrometry methods also address single particle aerosol characterization, high-resolution analysis of biomolecules and direct atmospheric sampling for real-time trace detection of volatile organics.

We are compiling a quantitative high-resolution vapor phase Fourier-transform infrared spectral library with resolution to 0.01 cm-1 and a capability to obtain spectra at 0.0015 cm-1. An automated environmental scanning electron microscope has been developed to determine ultra-trace chemical speciation of particulates collected from air. Photoacoustic spectroscopy is used to detect trace analytes in solution with sensitivity greater than that of conventional infrared techniques, while time-resolved photoacoustic calorimetry is used to determine kinetics and thermochemistry of reactive intermediates in solution.

Our studies in supercritical fluid separations have extended the range of polar molecules that can be separated, while additional studies are addressing fundamentals of reactivity in supercritical solvent environments. We are using microfluidic techniques with spectroscopic detection for biomolecular interaction assays, structure-based toxin detection, and fully automated nucleic acid sample preparation for multiplexed pathogen detection systems.

Probing molecular function in the cell: as part of its systems biology program, PNNL scientists use a variety of technologies and capabilities, such as proteomics, molecular biology, and separation science, to probe the response of a living cell (such as the myocyte shown here) to nitrative stress. Enlarged View

Automated radiochemical analysis methods have been developed to separate and determine radionuclides in complex matrices and to perform continuous autonomous measurement of radionuclides in nuclear waste process streams. Several areas of enabling science and technology are under development to support the analytical chemistry of sensor arrays and the development of microsensor arrays for vapor phase detection, including rational polymer design, nanoparticle sensing materials, preconcentrator/separators, and new chemometric methods for converting sensor data to chemical information.

Our field analytical chemistry addresses needs in environmental science, environmental monitoring, and national security, extending the state of the art while meeting functional requirements and constraints.

Contacts: Grant Johnson

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