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Cawthron's first LCMS
3 July 2017

Old faithful hangs up its hat

After 16 years of service, Cawthron’s first liquid chromatography–mass spectrometer (LC-MS) is hanging up its hat, making room for new technology. The inner workings of the retired instrument dubbed ‘Old Faithful’ has been mounted in honour of its interesting and varied life.

Cawthron Marine Toxin Chemist, Dr Tim Harwood worked closely with the instrument and said, “Old Faithful played a vital role in New Zealand’s marine toxin monitoring history.

“When Cawthron installed the machine in 2000, the near $1 Million price tag made it a hefty investment. Since then it’s certain paid its dues; essentially running continuously from 2000 until 2015.

“It was with Old Faithful that Cawthron developed a method that replaced the mouse test for lipophilic marine toxins in shellfish. The mouse test was known to be unreliable, and there was an ongoing ethics consideration around animal testing.

“The test developed using Old Faithful received international validation and is now used in various locations around the world, which is a credit to the LC-MS technology and those involved in developing the method.”

Carl Sheehan explains how the LCMS-basd tests used by the Biotoxin laboratory, and the analyses carried out by the Phytoplankton laboratory, help keep the public, and New Zealand's shellfish exports, safe from naturally occurring toxins.

LC-MS is a powerful analytical technique which provides information about sample components. Using LC-MS, scientists are able to accurately analyse samples which previously were difficult to study.

Cawthron staff have placed the ion optics of Old Faithful in a transparent case for preservation. The result is a piece of scientific art which will proudly be displayed at the Institute.

Cawthron Analytical Chemist Sam Murray was involved in this initiative and said, “Old Faithful was the start of Cawthron’s analytical chemistry journey using LC-MS, so we’ve mounted it to preserve this important piece of history. It also now serves as a teaching tool and is a great to show guests.

“It’s quite unique to have an LC-MS displayed this way, and feedback suggests not many people have ever seen the inside of one.”

Old Faithful’s full technical name is the Micromass Quattro Ultima triple quadrupole mass spectrometer.

Mr Murray explained that since Old Faithful’s day, LC-MS technology has moved on.

“New instruments are much faster, have better technology and electronics, and can perform more sophisticated analysis. In the past, scientists would analyse 10 toxins in a 30 minutes injection, now they analyse 30 toxins in an 8 minute injection.

“We use LC-MS for a whole range of applications now, from monitoring marine toxins in seafood to analysing for components found in dairy products.

“The advancement in speed revolutionised the way we use mass spectrometers,” said Mr Murray.

As Cawthron has expanded over the years, so too has its tech collection. For more on our capability contact Analytical Services.