Select Page
How Mira Became Mobile

How Mira Became Mobile

Handheld Raman spectrometers are truly like no other analytical chemical instruments. All spectrometers (e.g. IR/NIR, UV-Vis, GC/MS, and Raman) rely on interactions between matter and energy and include detectors that collect information about resulting atomic and molecular changes. This information is used to qualify and/or quantify various chemical species. Typically, a spectrometer is a benchtop instrument attached to a computer or other visual display that is used by an analytical chemist in a laboratory.

Classical Raman spectrometers fall into this category. Lasers, filters, detectors, and all associated hardware for sampling is combined in one unit, while data processing and viewing occurs nearby.

For a comparison of other spectroscopic techniques, visit our previous blog post «Infrared spectroscopy and near infrared spectroscopy – is there a difference?».

Raman is a unique investigative analytical technique in many ways. It is said, «If you can see it, Raman can ID it.»

Indeed, Raman’s strengths are its simple sampling methods combined with its specificity. Direct analysis is possible for many pure substances without sample preparation. Sampling is performed via direct contact with a substance, remotely, or through a barrier. Even solutes in water may be directly identified. This technique is highly specific; each material investigated with Raman produces a unique «fingerprint» spectrum. Raman spectroscopy is successful at positively identifying each distinct substance, while accurately rejecting even very similar compounds.

Mira (Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzer) with several sampling attachments for easy analysis: with or without sample contact.

The Raman spectrum

Raman spectra contain peaks across a range that correspond to specific molecular connectivity and can be used to determine the composition of a sample. The spectral range is dependent on spectrometer design, and embodies a balance of resolution and sensitivity.

The «fingerprint region» (400–1800 cm-1) is used to ID unknowns and verify known materials. The region below 400 cm-1 is helpful in the analysis of minerals, gemstones, metals, and semiconductors. For most organic materials (oils, polymers, plastics, proteins, sugars/starches, alcohols, solvents, etc…), very little information above 2255 cm-1 is useful in Raman applications, as carbon-hydrogen chains contribute little to molecular qualification.

A selection of different bonds and functional groups with their general regions of activity in the Raman portion of the electromagnetic spectrum (click to enlarge).

Mira’s measuring range of 400–2300 cm-1 is perfect for most Raman applications, including:

  • Pharma & Other Regulated Industries
  • Food
  • Personal Care & Cosmetics
  • Defense & Security
  • Process Analytics
  • Materials ID
  • Education & Research

Mira is available in different configurations for all kinds of applications and user needs.

Good things come in small packages

Technology, analysis, ease of use, accuracy—handheld Raman has all of this in a small format that escapes the confines of the lab. It also invites many new types of users who employ Raman for vastly new and exciting applications. In the rest of this blog post, I share details about the development of components that led to miniaturization of Raman. This is followed by the origin story of Metrohm Raman, manufacturer of Mira (Metrohm Instant Raman Analyzers).

Four significant innovations came together to create Mira: diode lasers, specialized filters and gratings, on-axis optics, and the CCD (Charge Coupled Device) in a unique design called the «astigmatic spectrograph». These basic components of a Raman spectrograph can be seen in the graphical representation above (click to enlarge). Note that this is not an accurate depiction of the unique geometries found within Mira’s case!

Raman spectroscopy is a technique which relies on the excitation of molecules with light (energy). C.V. Raman’s discovery of Raman scattering in 1928 was enabled by focused sunlight, which was then quickly replaced with a mercury lamp for excitation and photographic plates for detection. This resulted in a simple, popular, and effective method to determine the structure of simple molecules.

C.V. Raman. India Post, Government of India / GODL-India

The first commercial Raman spectrometer was available in the 1950’s. As lasers became more available in the 1960’s, followed by improved filter technology in the 1970’s, Raman grew in popularity as a technique for a wide range of chemical analysis. Integrated systems were first seen in the 1990’s, and the miniaturization of instruments began in the early 2000’s.

Miniaturization of Raman spectrometers

Diode lasers were the first step toward handheld Raman. For those of you at a certain age, you may remember that these are the kind of small, cool, low energy lasers used in CD players, stabilized at the source with a unique kind of diffraction grating.

Powerful, efficient optical filters also contribute to miniaturization by controlling laser light scattering within the spectrograph. The development of sensitive, small Charge Coupled Devices (CCDs), which are commonly used in mobile phone cameras, permitted the detection of Raman scattering and efficient transmission of the resulting signals to a computer for processing.

The astigmatic spectrograph simplified both geometry and alignment for the many components within a Raman spectrometer; this design was the final advancement in the development of handheld Raman.

From Wyoming to Switzerland

By the 1990’s, new technologies developed for diverse industries were being incorporated into Raman spectroscopy. In Laramie, WY (USA) at the time, Dr. Keith Carron was a professor of Analytical Chemistry with a focus on Surface Enhanced Raman Scattering (SERS). Dr. Carron already had robust SERS tests, but he envisioned a low-cost Raman system that would introduce his tests to industrial, medical, or defense and security markets. His next steps would revolutionize Raman spectroscopy. 

Using commercial off-the-shelf parts, Dr. Carron and his team developed an economical benchtop instrument that eliminated the high cost of Raman analysis, helping to enable its use in university curricula. In the early 2000’s, a research and education boom began as Raman grew from an esoteric technique used in high-end applications to becoming widely available for all kinds of tasks. Dr. Carron is responsible for ushering Raman into the current era. A collaboration led to a portable Raman system and, ultimately, to a new astigmatic spectrograph design in a very small instrument.

The U.S. tragedies on September 11, 2001 created an immediate push for technology to detect terrorist activity. Around this time, anthrax scares further enforced the need for “white powder” analyzers. Fieldable chemical analysis became the goal to achieve.

Dr. Carron was inspired to invent a truly handheld, battery powered Raman device for the identification of explosives and other illicit materials. A number of iterations led to CBex, a palm-sized Raman system (even smaller than Mira!) designed by Snowy Range Industries, in February 2012 (see image). CBex caught the attention of Metrohm AG, and an offer of cooperation was sent to Dr. Carron in August 2013.

Along comes Mira

Mira was born in 2015. Not only is it a novel analytical instrument, but it is also unique amongst handheld Raman spectrometers. Mira has the smallest form factor of all commercially available Raman instruments. What truly sets Mira apart from the competition is its built-in Smart Acquire routines, which provide anyone, anywhere, access to highly accurate analytical results. It is rugged, meeting MIL-STD 810G and IP67 specifications—you can drop Mira or submerge it in a liquid to get an ID.

Once Raman escaped the confines of the laboratory, it suddenly had the potential for new uses by non-technical operators, who could perform highly analytical tests safely, quickly, and accurately.

In fact, miniaturization of Raman has revolutionized safety in a number of ways:

  • Direct analysis eliminates dangers from exposure to laboratory solvents and other chemicals.
  • Through-packaging analysis prevents user contact with potentially hazardous materials.
  • Simplified on-site materials ID verifies the quality of ingredients in foods, medicines, supplements, cosmetics, and skin care products.
  • ID of illicit materials such as narcotics, explosives, and chemical warfare agents supports quick action by military and civilian agencies.

What’s Next?

I hope that you have enjoyed learning about the evolution of Raman technology from benchtop systems to the handheld instruments we have today. In the coming months we will publish articles about Mira that describe, in detail, several interesting applications of handheld Raman spectroscopy—subscribe to our blog so you don’t miss out!

As a sneak preview: In 1 month we will be introducing a brand new system, aimed at protecting consumer safety through the ID of trace contaminants in foods. Stay tuned…

Free White Paper:

Instrument Calibration, System Verification, and Performance Validation for Mira

Post written by Dr. Melissa Gelwicks, Technical Writer at Metrohm Raman, Laramie, Wyoming (USA).

How to determine if your edible oils are rancid

How to determine if your edible oils are rancid

Rancidity is the process through which oils and fats become partially or completely oxidized after exposure to moisture, air, or even light. Though not always that obvious, foods can go rancid long before they become old. For oils, whose antioxidant properties are highly valued, such as for olive oil, this is especially problematic. A simple (and free) test for rancidity of oils can be performed at home using your own analytical instruments: your senses of smell and taste.

  1.  Pour a few milliliters of the oil into a shallow bowl or cup, and breathe in the scent.
  2.  If the smell is slightly sweet (like adhesive paste), or gives off a fermented odor, then the oil is probably rancid.
  3.  A taste test should be performed to be sure, since some oils may have a naturally sweet scent.
  4.  Ensure the oil sample is at room temperature, then sip a small amount into your mouth without swallowing. Similar to tasting wine, slurp air across the oil in your mouth, then exhale to determine if the oil has flavor.
  5.  If the oil has no flavor, it is most likely rancid. Do not consume it!

Once food has turned rancid, there is no way to go back and fix it. So, if you find out by means of the sensory test that the oil is rancid, it is already too late. For those of us who would rather skip this step to avoid having rancid food in our mouths, the possibility to accurately predict the future oxidation behavior of edible oils would be great. In fact, this is exactly what the Rancimat from Metrohm can do if you follow our tips and tricks in this article.

Rancimat to the rescue!

With the 892 Rancimat and the 893 Biodiesel Rancimat, Metrohm offers two instruments for the simple and reliable determination of the oxidation stability of natural fats and oils and of biodiesel, respectively. The method, also known as the Rancimat method or Rancimat test, is the same in both cases. It is based on a simple principle of reaction kinetics, according to which the rate of a chemical reaction (here the oxidation of fatty acids) can be accelerated by increasing the temperature.

The 892 Rancimat (L) and the 893 Biodiesel Rancimat (R) from Metrohm (click to enlarge image).

How does it work?

During the determination, a stream of air is passed through the sample at a constant temperature (e.g. 110 °C according to standard EN 14214 for biodiesel). Any oxidation products that develop are transferred by the air stream to a measuring vessel, where they are detected by the change in conductivity of an absorption solution. In addition to the temperature (both the accuracy and stability of which are guaranteed by the Rancimat system), the preparation of the measurement and the condition of the accessories also influence the quality and reproducibility of the results. In this blog post, we have compiled some practical experience in using the Rancimat to help you.

Oxidation stability: practical tips and tricks from the experts

Remove foreign particles from the reaction vessel

Foreign particles in the reaction vessel can catalyze reactions in the sample, leading to measurement results which are not reproducible. Remove foreign objects such as packaging remains from the reaction vessels using a strong gas stream (preferably nitrogen).

Weigh sample with a plastic spatula

Weigh the sample directly into the reaction vessel. Make sure that the maximum filling height does not exceed 3.5 cm. An error of ±10% in the sample weight has no influence on the final result.

Metal spatulas should not be used for weighing, as the metal ions could catalytically accelerate oxidation.

Reaction vessel lid

The green reaction vessel lid (see following image, article number: 6.2753.100) must seal the reaction vessel tightly. If this is no longer possible, the lid must be replaced. Leaky reaction vessel lids lead to incorrect and non-reproducible measurement results!

Tip: to make it easier to seal or to remove the lid, a fine film of silicone oil can be applied with a finger to the upper outer edge of the reaction vessel, to a height of about 1 cm.

Position and stability of the air tube

The stable, vertical positioning of the air tube (article number: 6.2418.100 or 6.2418.130) in the reaction vessel increases the reproducibility of the measurement results.

The air tube should protrude straight down into the vessel as illustrated in the following graphic representation (click image to enlarge).

Absorbent solution in the measuring vessel

Deionized water is used as the absorption solution with the Rancimat. Prior to beginning the analysis, the electrical conductivity of the water in the measuring vessel should not exceed 5 µS/cm.

If this value is higher, check the filters of the water system, and also ensure that there are no other sources of contamination.

Need replacement measuring vessels?

We’ve got you covered.

Positioning of the cannula for air supply

The PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene) cannula for the air supply into the absorption solution (article number: 6.1819.080) must be aligned properly so that no air passes over the electrodes of the conductivity measuring cell, as shown in the graphic (click image to enlarge).

Air bubbles at the electrodes lead to noisy measurement curves that are difficult to evaluate.

Is it time to start the determination yet?

First, the temperature of the heating block (which is defined in the method) must be reached and stabilize before the reaction vessel is inserted into the instrument.

The sample identification data is then entered in the  StabNet software by the operator.

After connecting all of the tubing for the air supply, the reaction vessel can be inserted into the heating block. The sample measurement begins immediately after pressing the button on the Rancimat.

Cleaning: important for reproducible results

To obtain reliable analysis results, cleaning all accessories is of the utmost importance.

Both the reaction vessel and the inlet tube are disposable items. You can dispose of these materials immediately after cooling down. The rest of the accessories can be cleaned with a laboratory dishwasher (or equivalent) at maximum temperature and maximum drying time.

If you use glass or polycarbonate materials for the measuring vessels, you can of course also clean them in the same manner. The same applies to the measuring vessel lid with integrated conductivity electrode, the transparent silicone tubing, or the black Iso-Versinic tube, as well as the reaction vessel lid.

Tip: the silicone or Iso-Versinic tubing should be washed in a vertical position inside of the dishwasher to ensure it is thoroughly cleaned inside.

After washing, the transfer tubes and the reaction vessel lids should be heated at 80 °C for at least two hours in a drying cabinet, since the materials of these accessories absorb reaction products. This step further reduces the possibility of carryover to the next measurement which leads to unstable measurement results.

Maintenance

Depending on the use of the Rancimat, a regular visual control of the air filter on the back of the instrument is recommended. A clogged filter will lead to fluctuating air flows. The molecular sieve may also need a regular change depending on the instrument usage.

I hope that these tips have given you some helpful suggestions which will save you a little time and troubleshooting when using the Rancimat for determination of the oxidation stability of edible oils and other products. Good luck with your determinations!

Want to learn more?

Check out all of the stability measurement options offered by Metrohm.

Post written by Simon Lüthi, PM Titration (Meters & Measuring Instruments) at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Benefits of NIR spectroscopy: Part 2

Benefits of NIR spectroscopy: Part 2

This blog post is part of the series “NIR spectroscopy: helping you save time and money”. 

Infrared spectroscopy and near infrared spectroscopy – is there a difference?

This is the second installment in our series about NIR spectroscopy. In this post, you will learn the background of NIR spectroscopy on a higher level and determine why this technique might be more suitable than infrared spectroscopy for your analytical challenges in the laboratory and in the process.

Spectroscopy… what is that?

A short yet accurate definition of spectroscopy is «the interaction of light with matter». We all know that light certainly influences matter, especially after spending a long day outside, unprotected. We experience a sunburn as a result if we are exposed to the sun for too long.

A characteristic of light is its wavelength, which is inversely correlated to its energy. Therefore, the smaller the wavelength, the more energy there is. The electromagnetic spectrum is shown in Figure 1. Here you can see that the NIR region is nestled in between the visible region (at higher energy) and the infrared region (at lower energy).

Figure 1. The electromagnetic spectrum. (Click to enlarge.)

Light from both the infrared (IR) and near-infrared (NIR) region (800–2500nm) of the electromagnetic spectrum induces vibrations in certain parts of molecules (known as functional groups). Thus IR and NIR belong to the group of vibrational spectroscopies. In Figure 2, several functional groups and molecules which are active in the NIR region are shown.

    Figure 2. Major analytical bands and relative peak positions for prominent near-infrared absorptions. Most chemical and biological products exhibit unique absorptions that can be used for qualitative and quantitative analysis. (Click to enlarge.)

    The difference in the vibrations induced by IR or NIR spectroscopy is due to the higher energy of NIR wavelengths compared to those in the IR region.

    Vibrations in the infrared region are classified as fundamental—meaning a transition from the ground state to the first excited state. On the other hand, vibrations in the near infrared region are either combination bands (excitation of two vibrations combined) or overtones. Overtones are considered vibrations from the ground state to a level of excitation above the first state (see Figure 3). These combination bands and overtones have a lower probability of occurring than fundamental vibrations, and consequently the intensity of peaks in the NIR range is lower than peaks in the IR region.

    Figure 3. Schematic representation of the processes occurring with fundamental vibrations and with overtones. (Click to enlarge.)

    This can be better understood with an analogy about climbing stairs. Most people climb one step at a time, but sometimes you see people in a hurry taking two or three stairs at once. This is similar to IR and NIR: one step (IR – fundamental vibrations) is much more common compared to the act of climbing two or more stairs at a time (NIR – overtones). Vibrations in the NIR region are of a lower probability than IR vibrations and therefore have a lower intensity.

    Theory is fine, but what does this mean in practice?

    The advantages of NIR over IR derived from the theoretical outline above are:

    1. Lower intensity of bands with NIR, therefore less detector saturation.

    For solids, pure samples can be used as-is in a vial suitable for NIR analysis. With IR analysis, you either need to create a KBr pellet or carefully administer the solid sample to the Attenuated Total Reflectance (ATR) window, not to mention cleaning everything thoroughly afterwards.

    For liquids, NIR spectra should be measured in disposable 4 mm (or 8 mm) diameter vials, which are easy to fill, even in the case of viscous substances. IR analysis requires utilization of very short pathlengths (<0.5 mm) which require either costly quartz cuvettes or flow cells, neither of which are easy to fill.

    2. Higher energy light with NIR, therefore deeper sample penetration.

    This means NIR provides information about the bulk sample and not just surface characteristics, as with infrared spectroscopy.

    However, these are not the only advantages of NIR over IR. There are even more application related benefits:

    3. NIR can be used for quantification and for identification.

    Infrared spectroscopy is often used for detecting the presence of certain functional groups in a molecule (identification only). In fact, quantification is one of the strong points of utilizing NIR spectroscopy (see below).

    4. NIR is versatile.

    NIR spectroscopy can be used for the quantification of chemical substances (e.g. moisture, API content), determination of chemical parameters (e.g. hydroxyl value, total acid number) or physical parameters (e.g. density, viscosity, relative viscosity and intrinsic viscosity). You can click on these links to download free application notes for each example.

    5. NIR also works with fiber optics.

    This means you can easily transfer a method from the laboratory directly into a process environment using an analyzer with a long, low-dispersion fiber optic cable and a rugged probe. Fiber optic cables are not possible to use with IR due to physical limitations.

    NIR ≠ IR

    In summary, NIR is a different technique than IR, although both are types of vibrational spectroscopy. NIR has many advantages over IR regarding speed (easier handling, no sample preparation needed), providing information about the bulk material as well as its versatility. NIR allows for the quantification of different kinds of chemical and physical parameters and can also be implemented in a process environment.

    In the next installment of this series, we will focus on the process of implementing a NIR spectrometer in your laboratory workflow, using a specific example.

    For more information

    about NIRS solutions provided by Metrohm, visit our website!

    We offer NIRS analyzers suitable for laboratory work as well as for harsh industrial process conditions.

    Post written by Dr. Dave van Staveren, Head of Competence Center Spectroscopy at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

    Determining the total sulfite in food and beverages: faster and easier than ever

    Determining the total sulfite in food and beverages: faster and easier than ever

    The chances are good that if you’re reading this, you are an analytical chemist or somehow connected to the food science sector. Maybe you have had the lucky experience of measuring sulfite (SO32-) before in the laboratory. I certainly have, and the adventure regarding tedious sample preparation and proper measurement of such a finicky analyte still haunts me today, years later.

    Why sulfite?

    Sulfite is a preservative added to a vast range of foods and beverages to prevent browning or oxidation. Some individuals are sensitive to sulfite additives and may experience a range of allergic reactions. Therefore, both the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and European Union (EU) laws require that the presence of sulfites be declared on food labels when the concentration exceeds 10 mg/L.

    To put this into perspective, an Olympic size swimming pool can hold about 2,500,000 liters, meaning anything beyond 25 kilograms (the average mass of one young child!) would need to be reported.

    So, which foods contain sulfite?

    Many foods and beverages contain sulfite – whether added to prolong the freshness, or occurring naturally as a byproduct from processes like fermentation. Typically, the first things that come to mind are wine, beer, or dried fruit snacks. However, many pickled and otherwise preserved items such as sauerkraut, canned fruits and vegetables, and even frozen foods contain significant levels of sulfites. Processed meats, several condiments, and some prepared doughs are also high on the list of offenders, so beware at your next picnic!

    If you think you may be sensitive to sulfites, don’t forget to check the nutrition facts, and try to avoid such foodstuffs.

    How is sulfite usually measured?

    Several analytical methods exist to measure sulfite in food and beverages, however they suffer from repeatability issues, and can be quite cumbersome to perform.

    Traditionally, the optimized Monier-Williams (OMW) AOAC Official Method 990.28 was used for quantification of sulfite in most foodstuffs, but the method detection limit now lies at the regulatory labeling threshold. Automated discrete analysis methods have been reported for sulfite analysis, but they are limited by their strong dependence on sample matrix type. Therefore these methods are less than ideal for laboratories where sulfite analysis is required for a wide variety of food and beverage products.

    Methods based on ion chromatography (IC) with conductivity detection exhibit a lack of selectivity combined with an extended analysis time due to separation challenges. A newer method developed by AOAC (Method 990.31) focuses on the use of ion-exclusion chromatography followed by electrochemical (amperometric) detection of samples.

    Another issue arises concerning the sensitivity of the detector. After a few injections, fouling from contaminants rapidly decreases the electrode sensitivity. Frequent reconditioning of the working electrode is necessary due to a rising background and baseline noise, and can be accomplished in a couple of ways. Manual polishing and utilizing pulsed amperometric detection (PAD) pulse sequences are the most common choices to recondition the surface of the working electrode, while other methods opt for disposable electrodes to avoid this step altogether.

    What has improved?

    Metrohm has filed a patent for an innovative, fast, and accurate ion chromatographic (IC) method based on direct current (DC) mode electrochemical detection. It works with the implementation of a unique working electrode conditioning function (patent pending) in the newest version of chromatographic software (MagIC Net 3.3) offered by Metrohm. A great diversity of food and beverage products were analyzed with sulfite recovery values near 100% in all cases. Using a single, robust chromatographic method, any sample can be treated identically, saving time and making laboratory work much easier.

    Sample of garlic analyzed for sulfite content (spiked: red, unspiked: black). Recovery was calculated at 100%.
    (Click to enlarge)

    No matter what type of sample (solid, liquid), the preparation steps are nearly identical, and much simpler to perform than ever before. Additionally, the retention time of sulfite in the method does not shift. This saves even more time for analysts as they do not have to reprocess data. Since the electrode is automatically reconditioned after each analysis, results are both reliable and reproducible. Waste from disposable electrodes is reduced, as well as costs incurred by the materials and excess working hours which would generally be spent performing other manual steps. This is truly a win-win situation for food analysis!

    Benefits to QC laboratories and beyond

    In real terms, this improved method allows for up to 10x the throughput of samples compared to conventional methods. Previously, the contract laboratories involved in this study could measure 5 samples, with 2 analysts per 8-hour shift (15 samples per 24 hours, if you like). With our patent-pending technique, at 10 minutes per sample, including fully automatic regeneration of the electrode surface, this allows for up to 144 samples to be analyzed every day.

    Whether you work in the food and beverage industry, wastewater analysis, or in daily analytical laboratory work, you can appreciate the numerous benefits this method offers. Robustness, reproducibility, time savings, cost savings, and a simpler procedure for sample preparation across the board – are you interested? With our expertise in ion chromatography as well as electrochemistry, among other techniques, Metrohm is able to offer such cutting edge methods for the most challenging applications.

    Want to learn more?

    Download our free Application Note:

    Sulfite determination in food and beverages applying amperometric detection

    Post written by Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

    Special thanks are given to Miguel Espinosa, Product Manager Ion Chromatography, at Metrohm Hispania (Madrid, Spain) for his assistance in providing the laboratory data for the study.

    The man behind Metrohm: Bertold Suhner

    The man behind Metrohm: Bertold Suhner

    On April 1 in 1943, Bertold Suhner founded Metrohm, in Herisau, Switzerland. Besides being our founder, he was a scientist, a sportsman, a painter, a pilot, and a philanthropist. We owe him a great company, and we are proud to serve the world with our legendary Swiss made instruments and application know-how – then and now.

    Who was Bertold Suhner?

    Bertold Suhner is mostly known for founding Metrohm. That makes sense—after all, Metrohm is the second largest employer in the Swiss canton of Appenzell Outer Rhodes and a successful global business. It’s impossible to overstate Metrohm’s importance for the Appenzell region and for analytical chemistry. However, reducing Suhner to Metrohm alone wouldn’t do him justice. His versatile interests and talents made him much more than an engineer, and his dedication to the community and the environment made him much more than the head of a company.

    Bertold Suhner, founder of Metrohm.

    Suhner was born in Herisau in 1910 as the son of a successful entrepreneur. After finishing school, he left his rural home region for Zurich. Here he studied mechanical engineering at the Swiss Federal Institute of Technology, which is one of the most renowned universities in Switzerland and in the world. But Suhner never lost the connection to his hometown Herisau. So, after having graduated, he returned to take up work at his father’s company. After some years, when Suhner was 33, he decided to start his own business. In 1943, Suhner and his friend Willi Studer founded Metrohm. Together with their team, they planned to manufacture measuring devices for high-frequency engineering and telecommunications.

    Metrohm Headquarters in Herisau, Switzerland: 1943 and today.

    A stoic leader

    Suhner’s leadership style was paternalistic: though always open to ideas and ready to lend an ear, it was still he who made the final decisions. Not everyone always agreed with Suhner, including his co-founder Willi Studer. The two friends did not choose an easy moment in history to found their company; World War II was raging, and both money and materials were scarce. But the employees supported the company, and were eager to join forces and create something meaningful. Perhaps it was this test of stamina during the initial difficult years which laid the foundation stone for the later success of the company.

    When the company debts exceeded the share capital by multiple times in 1947, Suhner decided to take steps to rationalize the company. Despite the difficult situation, he refused to take out further loans; the company would have to sink or swim on its own merits. As a matter of principle, Suhner refused to be dependent on banks. This dispute caused Willi Studer to leave the company after just four years, but it also established the sustainable business philosophy that is still alive at Metrohm today.

     

    Willi Studer, co-founder of Metrohm.

    Belief turns into success

    Bertold Suhner, however, continued to believe that the company had a chance of succeeding. He took over the management of the company on his own, and shaped it according to his own vision. From the start, the company focused on organic growth rather than quick profits. Business strategies were never aligned to peak periods; instead, the company endeavored to grow slowly but surely. «My aim was always to keep the size of the company manageable, and create a solid base rather than just growing regardless of cost,» Suhner said. Over the course of its nearly 77-year history, this strategy is what has helped Metrohm to survive three recession periods.

    The Metrohm workforce in 1953. Today, we have grown from a handful in the Appenzell region to thousands of employees around the globe.

    Bertold Suhner responded to the trust demonstrated by his workforce by holding them in exceptionally high esteem: right from the start, he regarded them as more than mere employees. In 1968, when the company celebrated its 25th anniversary, Suhner wrote a text which summarized how he viewed his team:

    «A single person can never take full credit for making a company successful. It is always teamwork that leads to success.»

    Bertold Suhner

    Founder, Metrohm AG

    The Metrohm Foundation

    Suhner retired from the operational management of Metrohm in 1968. However, he remained active in the background for several years. At the age of 72, Bertold Suhner stepped down from his position as CEO of Metrohm. However, he wanted to ensure that the company continued to exist in line with his vision; Metrohm was to remain an Appenzell-based company, and never lose its innovative spirit by merging or being sold off to a large corporation. As Suhner had no children, he needed to find another way to safeguard the future of the company.

    When he retired completely from Metrohm in 1982, he founded the «Metrohm Foundation» together with his business partners Hans Winzeler and Lorenz Kuhn. All company shares were then transferred to the nonprofit foundation. By initiating the Metrohm Foundation, Suhner was able to ensure Metrohm’s independence even after his resignation, while at the same time doing good for the local community. No longer dependent on profit-hungry shareholders and the pressure they exert, this enabled Metrohm to focus on its values and high quality standards – particularly with regard to the way in which people are treated.

    Bertold Suhner (left) with Lorenz Kuhn, then head of marketing and distribution at Metrohm.

    When the nonprofit Metrohm Foundation was created, supporting cultural and community projects became a fixture in the company: as sole shareholder of the Metrohm Group, the Metrohm Foundation is able to invest dividends in community projects. The choice of projects supported by the Foundation reflects the strong roots of the company in Eastern Switzerland. Today, the Foundation is one of the most important funding institutions for educational, cultural, and community projects. Amongst other things, it funds a chair for «New Materials» at Zurich University for Applied Sciences, and also supports the Association of Swiss Science Olympiads.

    A Jack of All Trades

    Despite his dedication to Metrohm, Suhner always found time to pursue other interests, and he had many of them. He may have been an engineer by profession, but his heart always beat for the nature and the natural sciences. He spent a lot of time in the mountains, mountaineering and skiing—both cross-country and alpine. Suhner also taught himself to play the organ and to paint. Matching his strong bond with nature, he painted landscapes in watercolors and in oil.

    Perhaps it was these activities that ultimately defined him—much more than his academic achievements or his role at Metrohm. Even with regard to hiring new employees, he said:

    «When I am faced with the task of selecting an employee, I am far more interested in his human qualities than in his technical knowledge. The hobby he pursues in his leisure hours is more important to me than what sort of education he enjoyed or what his testimonials contain. Of course specialized knowledge is essential, especially in a technical concern, but it is useless if it is not allied to human qualities.»

    Bertold Suhner

    Founder, Metrohm AG

    After stepping down as the CEO of Metrohm, Suhner discovered his passion for mineralogy. This had started out as a collection of minerals and gemstones, but ultimately became his second career. Suhner’s thirst for knowledge made him take his new «hobby» so far that, at the age of 73, he obtained a Ph.D. from the University of Basel for his dissertation on the topic of infrared spectroscopy in mineralogy.

    The philanthropist and environmentalist

    Suhner always had strong ties to his hometown, Herisau, and to the Appenzell region at large. After Metrohm’s breakthrough, he had the financial means to give back to his home region. Cultural, environmental, and nonprofit causes could always count on his support. He even initiated a foundation for cultural purposes, the Bertold Suhner Foundation.

    In this period of his life, Suhner became more and more convinced that humankind was causing damage to nature that was beyond repair. He tried to stop this and became active in the protection of nature. He again initiated a foundation specifically for his new cause: the Bertold Suhner Foundation for Nature, Animal, and Landscape Protection.

    It’s not really surprising that Suhner pursued nature conservation with the same vigor that he had applied to all of his earlier undertakings, including Metrohm. But his unwillingness to compromise in environmental questions drove a wedge between Suhner and many of his friends and former colleagues, in particular those from political and business circles. In 1988, Suhner died from his worsening asthma at age 78. At that point, he was largely socially isolated.

    Bertold Suhner: the person

    Suhner never strove for financial wealth, recognition, or popularity. He always stuck to his principles, even if they were inconvenient, uncomfortable, or unpopular. You could call him a hardliner. But even though this sounds as though Suhner was fighting against the community, the contrary was the case: he was a dedicated philanthropist and environmentalist. He always tried to do what was best for society and for the environment.

    What set him apart from others was that he didn’t shy away when this became uncomfortable.

    Bertold Suhner (1910–1988).

    Bertold Suhner built Metrohm around his ideas of independence and sustainability, and despite his departure from the company nearly 30 years ago, I still see Metrohm as a microcosm that is ruled by his values. Suhner’s strong values and his refusal to compromise didn’t always win him popularity prizes. But it’s probably safe to say that, without them, Metrohm wouldn’t be where it is now, as one of the world’s most trusted manufacturers of high-precision instruments for chemical analysis.

    Learn more about Metrohm:

    What sets us apart from the competition?

    Not only our top quality products, but also our world-class experts!

    Post written by Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland. Primary research and content contribution done by Stephanie Kappes.