The RSC roadmap for the chemical sciences makes a commitment to develop solutions to the challenges which it identifies but there is one challenge which gets little mention in the document. Most of the challenges can be achieved only with major developments and innovations in our present capability to achieve meaningful analytical measurements. In order to have meaningful measurements we need to solve the entire analytical problem – and make sure we are doing it with measurements which address the customers’ real needs. For example, in industry what are the implications of not being able to ‘measure’ correctly what is manufactured? This can only be achieved if we go beyond the present emphasis on the bottle which arrives at the laboratory door and the narrow viewpoint which results from that perspective of the analyst’s world. In addition, the ‘black box’ approach to analysis is becoming increasingly prevalent with serious consequences for achieving meaningful measurements.
How can we begin to address these issues?
- Defining the original problem in terms of the measurements required to solve it
- Correct sampling to address the problem, including deciding what samples are needed, packaging and transport of samples to a lab, online sampling and process control, etc
- Knowledge of instrumentation used in the measurement process
- An understanding of the measurement process/technique/technology utilised to obtain the raw data
- Correct use of calibration procedures, data handling and processing software, 'reporting' software, etc.
- Integrating data from multiple methods, interpretation of data, informatics, etc.
- Communication and other issues that result from sub contracting
- The intent and the reality of requirements such as accreditation, traceability or method validation.
- Many labs, whether contract or in-house, no longer have sufficient experience or wider knowledge of the measurement methods or of the applications for which the measurements are required
- Quality systems and financial drivers have forced contract labs down the road of delivering what is set out in contracts even if they recognise a problem which should be addressed.