We can really describe the year of 2020 as chaotic and disruptive. So for 2021, we’re excited to share a little bit of good news. Quantum Analytics has become a US distribution partner for Bruker’s line of infrared and near infrared instruments. And a prominent player in this product portfolio is the Bruker ALPHA II FTIR Spectrometer. Joining us today to learn a little bit more about the ALPHA II infrared spectrometer, is Dr. Tom Tague, Applications Manager for Bruker Optics.
Dr. Tague, you have an incredibly rich CV that I’d like to share with everyone, before we dive into some of the questions. You’re a member of the visiting advisory committee of the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York, and on the strategic advisory board of Amplified Sciences. You received your PhD from the University of Utah in physical chemistry and a Bachelor of Science in chemistry from the University of Texas at San Antonio. You’re a member of the American Chemical Society for Applied Spectroscopy, American Physical Society and the Optical Society of America, but wait, there’s more. Dr. Tague, you have more than 90 publications and five patents. And with all that, I can’t think of a more perfect person to talk spectroscopy with than Dr. Tague.
Tom, thank you so much for joining us today and answering a few questions we have about the ALPHA II FTIR from Bruker. So if you could tell us a little bit about this instrument.
Dr. Tom Tague:
I’d be happy to Lauren, and I appreciate the opportunity to meet with you. I just wanted to start by kind of prefacing how we do development at Bruker and across our optics product portfolio. We have what we call three pillars of success. For developing a new product, it has to be easy to use, have high performance, uncompromising performance, which is where a Bruker really got it start in the research FTIR market, and it has to be very reliable. Really. If it doesn’t meet, very easily those three criteria, then we have to go back to the drawing board.
And so the ALPHA platform was designed really from the ground up to provide research quality results. Again, no compromises. It still has to be easy to use and very robust. For example, if a customer changes out of sampling module from ATR to transmission or a reflection or whatever, the system automatically verifies the system performance with the new accessory running by automatically performing the PQ also known as the Performance Qualification tasks, so the customer always knows that the new module is in place and everything is working well. And the wave length accuracy is good enough such that small band shifts can be picked up very reliably. This is really important when you look at characterizing proteins, the difference between alpha helix, random coil and beta sheet. Those small shifts in the band position are very reliably characterized. So you have research quality wavelength precision on this system.
Again, that’s really important for library searching, for example. But first and most important criteria that is used to match a library spectrum is peak position. Even the spectral band shape of the resulting spectra is assured to be right on as to what it should be. This is a really important for doing quantification, so when you get down into the details of trying to press the limits of detectability, even band shape can become important. So, even while these seem like small details, they’re important for achieving the best possible analytical results.
We all have COVID-19 on our brains these days. Is there any sort of connection between FTIR spectroscopy and the development of vaccines or therapeutics that you can share with us?
Well, when we look at the FTIR market from a science perspective, one of the most important and really fulfilling areas where we can have success is into the pharmaceutical and into the biomedical community, where you’re making a real difference at patient care. So in this time of COVID-19 and trying to get product to market, it’s really important to have tools that are effective. And so there are many players in the COVID-19 community, virtually all large pharmaceutical and biomedical communities utilize FTIR spectroscopy, and certainly Bruker is a major player in providing instrumentation across the board, not just spectroscopy, but across the board for analytical instrumentation.
In that community, performance is king. You really need to have the best system for improving the detection limits. Why is this important? It’s important because as you do the development, you don’t have to use so much sample. If you have lower limits of detection, you can analyze smaller amounts of material and so forth. So yeah, there is a connection and it’s a vital one for bringing these types of products and in this case, vaccines to market as soon as possible.
So, this instrument is called the ALPHA II, which makes me think there was an ALPHA One. Are there any cool advancements that have been designed into this latest generation model that you’d like to share with us?
Yeah. I’m glad you asked that because I’ve been around with Bruker long enough that I was there when the ALPHA One was developed. And again, we had formalized that three pillars of success, but it certainly was core to what we were looking to do. And the ALPHA One was just immensely successful in the analytical marketplace. Thousands of these systems had been sold and so, it is our most successful product we have ever done, I would say in the optics group. And there have been improvements implemented across our research, FTIR product line, that we were able to translate to the ALPHA and which we’re very excited about. And at first we were thinking, “well, is this just an incremental product,” but when you take the sum of the innovations that we put into the ALPHA II, I think you would agree with me that this is really a special product.
So, we can just go through a couple of these briefly. So, the source is new. If you look at old sources they might be shaped like a coil or a tuning fork or something like that, so there were bright spots and dark spots that were integrated by the system. So in this case, we have a new source that’s not only brighter with higher signal, but also 100% of the sources admitting as we want, as we would want as designers. And this can be important when analyzing low concentrations and performing mixture analysis with many components split. So, where you would want to take one spectrum off and another, then another doing subtractions, getting down to fourth, fifth, sixth, seventh component, whatever it might be. That really has been an important improvement.
We also implemented OPUS-TOUCH for the ALPHA II. So this is a tablet like interface, where you just touch it, kind of like an iPad or something like that. And you can control everything from viewing the spectrum to processing and so forth. Very kind of state-of-the-art and what people really want. It also, in my opinion, for what I like to do, means that it’s small, it has a very small footprint, the tablets integrated to the FTIR. So I can actually take it with me into a gallery, for example, and measure art objects. In the academia market it’s great, so that you go into a teaching lab, it takes up very little bench space. So, you have all the ease of use and, and flashiness of the tablet interface with not sacrificing anything.
And maybe the last point is that the detector has been further improved. I won’t go into the details there for obvious reasons, but that also improves the spectral quality in being very, very low noise.
I know that the OPUS-TOUCH is one of my favorite features, as an avid iPad user. So, you’re probably going to disagree with this, but there are some that say that FTIR spectrometers are a bit of a commodity product. So in your opinion, what makes the ALPHA II instrument break that stereotype?
Well, yeah. I probably will disagree with you. We spent a lot of time and resources innovating as we just discussed. And we believe that improved detection times, which yield shorter data collection time. So these improved detection limits, really save time and money. And a very robust system where you know it’s going to work for you all the time, that’s important. And the ease of use means you don’t have to spend any time training people. If you have someone new in the lab, you can go right to it. I think it’s important also for the academia community, because now you don’t have to go through all the trouble trying to train students. The young people know how to use touch screens so, they will be very happy with using this type of system. And again, I mentioned that one of my favorite applications is in the cultural heritage community, where I might pack up the ALPHA, our handheld Raman device called the BRAVO and our XRF Tracer 5i and put them in my backpack and go out to the caves and characterize pictographs.
So again, I’m getting high quality data yet I’m mobile. Very reliable, I don’t have to worry that breaking the instrument if I’m not so careful hiking around and pulling the pack up by a rope or whatever. So really, very nice. If I go into galleries, you have to collect the best quality data in a short period of time. For example, if I go to like the Met or another museum the Curator may only give me 15 to 20 minutes in the gallery before they have to boot me out of there to allow the patrons to view these wonderful works of art. So time is money and really the ability to even get in there. And so there’s really no reason to buy more spectrometers so to speak, than the ALPHA II. Sometimes someone will say, I just want the best out there. And it is the best out there, unless you have some specialized need that falls outside the traditional FTIR measurement, the ALPHA is all you would ever really need.
Okay. So you’re talking about some real use cases of the ALPHA, which is awesome. Let’s switch gears and talk more about applications. A significant portion of Quantum Analytics customers are involved in materials analysis. So, what sort of applications related to materials analysis can the ALPHA II be used for?
So the big buzzword here is reverse engineering. We did a market study about 10 years ago, and we found that the largest market segment is it turned out, that people were using infrared and Raman spectroscopy, was actually for reverse engineering. So that’s really, the core employment of FTIR in the modern lab. We estimate now about a third of all FTIR systems are used for one degree or another to reverse engineer a product. This saves time and important resources. There are confidentiality agreements we have in place with [Birch 00:11:25] all of these companies we work with.
But yeah, there are many examples off the record and with permission that I could give you where it’s vital to keeping up in a rapidly changing market. So, the other market segment that’s really important as QC QA. So, there’s something in your product that doesn’t belong there and what is it? Or something is discolored, it’s something that’s supposed to be white, that may be a dingy yellow or gray, can really affect the customer’s perception of our products. So, doing quality control and quality assessment of defects and other issues, so to speak, those really important applications.
You know, another topic we hear a lot about is microplastics. What can you tell us about the ALPHA II FTIR’s suitability for microplastics research?
So this is really, really important for mankind, in my opinion. And when we look to characterize these microplastic particles, the key is how big are they? If they’re bigger than a one or 200 microns, where you can see them and handle them okay, then the ALPHA II will be the perfect tool. You just place them on your diamond ATR, and you put the clamp down and in a few seconds you get a great spectrum. So it really works well for doing the characterization. You know, you’ll be able to do the identification accurately because each molecule has its own fingerprint signature in the mid-IR. So for smaller particles, you can actually expedite this type of analysis, where you can target them, identify them, count them. And again, if you have many, many particles, you can actually even move to our fulfilled FPA based system for doing imaging over a large area. And there are packages out there commercially available for handling such large files, and you can also handle them in OPUS.
So, we feel that there are two real products that are important in this market. The ALPHA II, for things bigger than you can see, and the LUMOS II, for things that are smaller than you can see with the naked eye that you need to characterize.
We’ll bring you back at another time to talk about LUMOS, as I’m sure I have a lot of questions about that instrument. So, you’ve spoken a bit about colleges and universities. Quantum analytics loves working with professors and students to help educate and train our next generation of scientists. What makes the ALPHA II an ideal teaching and research tool within an academic environment?
Well, I remember what it was like to be an undergrad and we were not the most careful people at doing scientific experiments. So, it’s a really robust platform that’s low cost and really suitable for the most demanding applications, including the undergraduate labs. So, after the initial purchase you can expect to operate it for at least 10 years without expecting any further funds to be needed. That’s a 10 years parts and labor warranty. So, we wouldn’t give that warranty if we figured we’d have to deal with people exercising it, so if you can figure it that way. The ALPHA II really is a great tool for organic, analytical and physical chemistry teaching labs. These lab sessions are well characterized throughout the academic community and particularly the HCL physical chemistry experiment, works really well on the ALPHA II. So you have high enough spectral resolution, and you can see the beautiful band shape with the ALPHA II when doing that experiment.
So, the detection limits are really low, and really with the ALPHA II, and this kind of provides a unique opportunity for teaching Chemometrics with the ALPHA II, because of the really good band shape and the stability of the system, you can really get down to a hundred PPM pretty well with the system. And again, really use the ALPHA II for teaching Chemometrics, as well as the traditional organic and PChem labs. And again, it has really high resolution, so you can teach high resolution spectroscopy and match the theory with the experiment that is typical for the PChem lab.
Fantastic. All right, we’ve reached our lightening round. Tom, what are some of the features that new users of the ALPHA II really appreciate?
Okay. Lightning response – quick and easy with no compromise and performance and it always works.
Well. I think that’s a perfect place to end it. Thank you Dr. Tague, for giving us some of your time today and sharing what you know about the ALPHA II FTIR and its impact on the analytical world.
Great. Well, it’s been my pleasure. Thank you.
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