Martin Perkins

19th February 2014

A group of visitors were being shown around a laboratory complex. The senior scientist, proudly walked the visitors past every individual room, following the same path that clients samples took; from sample reception, to sample storage, to prep lab, to instrument labs through to the offices where results were checked before being sent to clients.

By any standard, this was an impressive operation. The scientists in charge had decades of experience in their particular specialisation and every time a visitor asked a question – however challenging, the senior scientist conducting the tour could provide a comprehensive and satisfactory answer.

On their way to lunch, the party passed a lab at the end of a corridor. The parties guide made no reference to the work carried out in this room.

One of the visitors glanced through the glass door panel and could see an immaculately tidy laboratory and the figure of an elderly lady with white coat and even whiter hair, working alone. She was hunched over a balance, and surrounded with volumetric glassware.

“What goes on here?” one of the visitors asked.

His guide turned around and replied: “Ah, that’s Mary’s lab. Mary makes up all of our standards. She is really good; never makes a mistake. We used to have issues from time to time, but moving the production of all standards into Mary’s lab solved all of our problems”

“What happens when she retires?” one of the visitors queried.

“She can’t retire!” was the half-joking, slightly nervous, response…

GC-MS and LC-MS instruments work by comparing the size of peaks in samples of unknown concentrations, with standards where the concentrations are known. The results that any lab produces can only be as good as the standards that are used.

The problem with making-up standards by hand (like sample preparation in general) is that the “technique” of individual bench chemists can determine the accuracy of your standard solutions and, to some degree, their precision depends upon the degree that an individual can focus, without distractions, on the job in hand.

The organisation in the example above was fortunate to have a member of staff with the special skills and mind-set that this kind of work requires. However, putting something as mission critical, as the making-up of standards into the hands of a single individual – however special that person may be, exposes the organisation to a significant risk if, one day, something unfortunate happens.

Good practice is always to rely upon good systems, rather than good people.

The making up of standards is the kind of repetitive, high precision work that only some people are good at. Machines on the other hand, have an inherent advantage when it comes to the reliable execution of routine tasks, removing significant risks.

Making-up standards by hand uses a lot glassware and accounts for significant useage of high purity solvents. Automation provides a great opportunity to miniturise the process and reduce both costs and waste, without sacrificing quality.

Once you have the standards you need, the MPS can also be used to auto-spike your samples with standards and surrogates. Again, the MPS will guarantee that every sample is dealt with in precisely the same way, with no variations due to differences in operator technique.

If you would like to see how the GERSTEL MultiPurpose Sampler can help improve the way you work with standards, please call us on +44 (0)1223 279210 or email: