The 1970’s and 80’s were a time of exponential growth in the application of mass spectrometry, and gas stable isotope ratio analysis was one of the leaders, with branches in geological, archeological, environmental, medical and forensic research.
At the time, a major drawback was the productivity of the instrumentation, requiring offline sample production rigs and complex sample inlet systems.
Pioneering work attaching GCs and Elemental Analysers directly to isotope ratio mass spectrometers by American, French and UK researchers had the potential to increase productivity by orders of magnitude opening up the field for the first time to many more researchers.
VG and FinniganMAT were the leading companies at this time and both were becoming wide-ranging corporate beasts and less willing to risk disturbing existing markets.
Within the VG group some pioneering work had been done interfacing GCs to IRMS with a French group at Pernod and EAs to IRMS with UK scientists Preston and Owens. The potential of the latter was recognised by VG’s Andy Barrie and Clive Workman, who later branched out in order to explore this potential further. This was 1985, and thus Europa Scientific was born.
Maintaining contact with Tom Preston and Nick Owens and others in the UK stable isotope community, Europa Scientific developed a dedicated Elemental Analyser, the RoboPrep, for interfacing to existing VG mass spectrometers, giving them a firm foothold in this fast-advancing science.
Andy and Clive were soon joined by several more ex-VG employees and now had a compact desktop IRMS, the TracerMass, to go with the EA, as well as a development team to take the company forward.
Scientists appreciated the new found ability to analyse labelled and natural abundance 15N and 13C samples en mass in their own laboratories and soon Europa Scientific’s continuous flow isotope ratio mass spectrometer (CF-IRMS) systems were to be found in every continent, with CF-IRMS eventually becoming the new norm for general stable isotope analysis by all manufacturers by the end of the eighties.
We’re saving the story of Sercon’s roots in the 1990’s until next month, so keep following us!