An instrument that quickly and more effectively analyzes complex biological and environmental samples was named one of the past year's 100 most significant scientific and technological products or advances.

The innovation was recognized by R&D Magazine in their annual R&D 100 Awards competition and was developed by researchers at the U.S. Dept. of Energy (DOE)'s Pacific Northwest National Laboratory (PNNL).

PNNL has now won 90 R&D 100 Awards—sometimes referred to as the "Oscars of Innovation"—since the contest began in 1963.

Identification of small molecules that indicate disease, known as biomarkers, promises to significantly improve human heath through early diagnosis and customized treatment. However, improved research instruments for separation and identification of specific molecules in complex samples are needed to achieve this objective.

PNNL researchers have recently developed a new instrument that can process such complex samples rapidly and accurately, detecting rare yet important molecules for early diagnosis that cannot be adequately characterized using existing instruments.

The PNNL-developed instrument effectively merges two complementary analysis techniques—one known as multiplexed ion mobility spectrometry (IMS) and the other as ultrafast quadrupole time-of-flight mass spectrometry—into the Combined Orthogonal Mobility & Mass Evaluation Technology, or CoMet.

The combination of the two distinct approaches enables CoMet to exhaustively characterize samples, some of which have many different components that vary greatly in abundance. This wide range of quantities commonly trips up less advanced separation methods. The exceptional speed of IMS permits CoMet to analyze large numbers of samples rapidly and inexpensively. This can be crucial in biomedical research, clinical practices, natural product management—where sample analysis is conducted by oil and mining industries—and in environmental studies.

Source: Pacific Northwest National Laboratory