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Stanford researchers find a quicker, cheaper way to sort isotopes
Date:6/30/2009

p>Doctors and pharmacologists can use isotopic analysis to measure the targeting precision of a specific drug by testing samples of urine and breath to see if the right organs have properly metabolized it. Also, climatologists can learn more about the ancient earth by studying carbon dioxide locked within cores of ice, Zare said.

Zare and his students worked together with researchers from Picarro, Inc., a start-up company he helped found, to create a prototype. They have successfully tested its performance by measuring carbon isotopes in different organic compounds such as methane, ethane, and propane. The bulky magnets that are the most expensive components of an isotope mass spectrometer are unnecessary in Zare's device, cutting costs while achieving an acceptable level of performance, according to Zare's team. Another advantage: the device can be used with minimal training.

Existing isotope ratio mass spectrometers can weigh as much as 1500 pounds and occupy the space of a large freezer case, such as those found an ice cream shop

Once the prototype is fully developed and commercialized, "It'll fit into the backseat of a car," Zare said. This portability can take isotopic analysis directly into the field, whether it's a doctor's office or a vineyard.

However, the team does see room for improvement.

The instrument's isotope ratio measurements are currently accurate within one to three parts per thousand, which is sufficient enough for the team to make a case for an alternative to isotope ratio mass spectrometry. However, this is still 10 to 30 times less accurate than isotope ratio mass spectrometers. The team emphasizes that their current results are preliminary and are only used to demonstrate the viability of their technique.

"My goal is to become better than and actually replace isotope ratio mass spectrometry," Zare said. He sees this as a possibility within the next 5 to 10 years.


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Contact: Dan Stober
dstober@stanford.edu
650-721-6965
Stanford University
Source:Eurekalert  

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