Founders Comments

Nik Binder (Isomass Ltd) was the founder of the Canadian Continuous Flow IRMS Workshop (Canadian CF-IRMS) in 1994.  In 2011 the name was changed to the Advances in Stable Isotope Research and Applications (ASITA).  Below, Nik shares some memories of the early days of ASITA.

The Beginning of the first CF-IRMS Workshops.

The first Continuous Flow Workshop (CF-IRMS Workshop) was held in September 1994 but I had an idea for such a workshop for a number of years before that.  In the late 1980’s and early 1990’s the established method for analyzing stable isotopes of  CO2 (13C and 18O) and N2 (15N) was by preparing gas samples ‘off-line’ on separate prep lines.  These gas samples were then transferred into a Dual Inlet Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometer directly or by glass break seals or small sample bottles and then analyzed.  Using a Dual Inlet IRMS system allowed for the best analytical precision of analysis available.

In the 1980’s a continuous flow interface was designed by using a splitter valve between an Elemental Analyzer exhaust connection and an IRMS to transfer the contents of a combusted soil or plant sample and then by analyzing the 13C or 15N from the combusted sample.  Reference samples were combusted every 5-10 samples and drift correction adjusted the results allowing for reasonable results to be obtained.  The real advantage, however, was the increased sample throughput that could be achieved thereby decreasing the cost per sample being analyzed.  In the early 1990’s Finnigan MAT (now Thermo Fisher Scientific) and Fisons Instruments started using the reference gas injection technique from their GC-Combustion IRMS Systems on their EA-IRMS Instruments.  This improved sample analysis precision by bringing results close to that of Dual Inlet and no longer required reference samples and drift correction to be included with each batch of samples being analyzed.  By injecting a calibrated reference gas before or after each sample into an IRMS a significant improvement of analytical precision was obtained.  However, acceptance of the technology was very slow, especially in the Geological Sciences field in Canada, since the majority of the IRMS systems being used were in the Geological Science Departments.

This was where I came up with the idea that holding a workshop to introduce Canadian Scientists to the Continuous Flow technology and show how analytical precision was approaching that of Dual Inlet IRMS analysis.  The intent also was to provide technical support for those Labs that currently had CF-IRMS instruments but were struggling because they could not get answers to their questions.

At that time there were three IRMS manufacturers with continuous flow interfaces connected to IRMS Systems;  Europa Scientific (Now Sercon), VG Isogas (then Fisons and now Isoprime) and Finnigan MAT (Now Thermo Fisher Scientific).  To ensure that the latest technologies were being made available, factory representatives from all three IRMS companies and a Product  Specialist from Carlo Erba were invited to participate.

The first CF-IRMS workshop was held September 14-16, 1994 at Agriculture Canada, Lethbridge, Alberta mainly because they had an Optima with a Carlo Erba EA System installed that included the latest reference gas injection hardware.  Finnigan MAT installed a TracerMAT with a Carlo Erba EA and Reference Gas Injection System (Open Split Interface).  A stand alone Carlo Erba EA was being used to demonstrate EA sample handling techniques.  Europa Scientific did not participate.

The second CF-IRMS workshop was held in Toronto and focused on GC-Combustion IRMS.  The organizing of these workshops was then taken over by the Canadian Stable Isotope community that included ‘how-to’ training courses for beginners and experienced instrument operators.  Subsequent CF-IRMS workshops were held in labs that had the latest CF-IRMS technology installed that would offer an opportunity for scientists, grad students and laboratory technologists to see the latest technologies first hand.