Like Batman and Robin, or Han Solo and Chewbacca, combining gas chromatography with Orbitrap technology was always going to be a winning combination. With needle-sharp chromatographic peaks and high mass resolving power, the dynamic duo has picked the lock on so many analytical challenges since the introduction of the Q Exactive GC five years ago. So, although he doesn’t have the task of saving the galaxy from the Imperial Forces, Dr. Nicholas Warner’s work at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research (NILU) does make contributions to saving our planet through his environmental research. I recently caught up with him about life in Tromsø and how GC-Orbitrap supports his research.
Could you tell us about yourself and your role at NILU?
Originally from Canada, I moved to Norway about 12 years ago to study the relationship between climate change and the impacts it will have on pollutant exposure in Arctic environments and ecosystems. I am currently a Senior Researcher at the Norwegian Institute for Air Research located with the Fram Centre in Tromsø Norway and hold a 10% position at the University of Tromsø in the Department of Arctic and Marine Biology.
What environmental research projects are you currently working on?
My current research interests are in the development of analytical methodology to discover emerging exposure risks to pollutants in Arctic environments. Over the past 10 years, much of my research has focused on understanding the environmental fate of volatile methylsiloxanes in Arctic environments. However, my research interests have expanded into search for new and unknown pollutants that pose a risk to environmental health.
How has GC-Orbitrap helped your research?
The GC-Orbitrap has been the best investment in our research institute as it provides us with so much flexibility to meet our various research needs. Currently, much of my research focus has been on developing new analytical methods for the measurement of chlorinated paraffins. As this class of chemicals contains thousands of isomers, the high-resolution capabilities of the Orbitrap allows us to be able to measure these chemicals with more certainty and provide reliable data by avoiding chemical and/or isobaric interference's present in our samples. In addition to this, it is a central tool in our non-target research to identify unknown pollutant exposure risks to human and ecosystem health in the Arctic. Finally, as our research is focused in polar regions, many of the chemicals we are searching for are at very low concentrations. However, the Orbitrap detection capabilities at part per trillion levels in our target analysis helps meet these needs, while still providing us capabilities to collect full scan data for unknown screening simultaneously. These were demonstrated in the recent application note titled "Versatility of GC-Orbitrap mass spectrometry for the ultra-trace detection of persistent organic pol...."
What is the future in environmental research?
I believe the future of environmental research will focus more on an exploratory approach. Labs all over the world have the potential to analyze classical pollutant risks to the environment such as PCBs or organochlorine pesticides. Although these are still important to monitor as they are still found at elevated concentrations, environmental researchers must shift their focus to search for potential new exposure threats as industries adapt to produce new chemicals/products to meet the needs of society while adhering to current environmental regulations. So many chemicals exist in commerce that display potentially harmful properties, but we have so little knowledge on them. Thus, the need for exploratory research and the analytical tools to carry out this work.
What’s the best thing about living in Tromsø ?
I can honestly say that the best thing about living in Tromsø is the beautiful scenery and the Northern lights. Not many people can say that they walk in any direction after leaving home and be hiking up any mountain within 15 minutes or be enjoying the aurora from your own balcony. There is also a good balance between work and social life in Norwegian culture. As researchers, we tend to give much of our free time to pursuing our research interests so it is good that we have that flexibility that we take time for ourselves and enjoy the beautiful nature around us to recharge our mental batteries.
Will you take advantage of the reduced industrial activity due to the pandemic in your research?
I am very curious how the reduced industrial activity caused by the pandemic will affect environmental emissions of pollutants. At NILU, we were extremely fortunate to be able to continue operating our various monitoring stations during this time period. I feel this situation has changed our thinking in how our society must function in order to work. If we can carry out our work responsibilities from home on a more regular basis, this may have a huge impact on reducing pollutant and greenhouse gas emissions, helping us combat climate change and provide a safe and clean environment.
You can find out more about Nick's research in the on-demand webinar below. Please follow link to register: Webinar: Orbitrap GC-MS - Take detection of environmental contaminants to the next level – Dr Nick Warner, NILU.