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Introduction to Analytical Instrument Qualification – Part 2

Introduction to Analytical Instrument Qualification – Part 2

Welcome back to our blog, and happy 2021! We hope that you and your families had a safe and restful holiday season. To start the year, we will conclude our introduction to Analytical Instrument Qualification. 

Metrohm’s approach to Analytical Instrument Qualification (AIQ)

Metrohm’s answer to Analytical Instrument Qualification is bundled in our Metrohm Compliance Services. The most thorough level of documentation offered for AIQ is the IQ/OQ.

Metrohm IQ/OQ documentation provides you with the required documentation in strict accordance to the major regulations from the USP, FDA, GAMP, and PIC/S, allowing you to document the suitability of your Metrohm instruments for your lab’s specific intended use.

With our test procedures (described later in more detail), we can prove that the hardware and software components function correctly, both individually and as part of the system as a whole. With Metrohm’s IQ/OQ, you are supported in the best possible way to integrate our systems into your current processes.

Our high quality documentation will have you «audit ready» all the time.

The flexibility of a modular document structure

Depending on the environment you work in and your specific demands, Metrohm can offer a tailored qualification approach thanks to documentation modularity. If you need a lower level of qualification, only the required modules can be executed. Our documentation consists of different modules, each of which documents the identity of the Metrohm representative along with the qualification reviewer, combined with the details of each instrument, software, and document involved in the qualification.  Thanks to this, each module is independent, which guarantees both full traceability and reliability for your system setup.

Cost-effective qualification from Metrohm

Metrohm supports you by implementing a cost-effective qualification process, depending upon your requirements and the modules needed. This means that a qualification is not about performing unnecessary actions, qualification is about completing the required work.

The risk assessment analysis defines the level of qualification needed and based on it, we focus on testing only what needs to be tested. In case you relocate your device to another lab, which qualification steps (DQ, IQ, OQ, PQ) are really needed in order to fulfill your requirements? Contact your local Metrohm expert for advice on this matter.

A complete Metrohm IQ/OQ qualification includes…

Metrohm IQ/OQ documentation is based on the following documentation tree, beginning with the first module, the Master Document (MD), followed by the Installation Qualification (IQ) and eventually the Operational Qualification (OQ). The OQ is then divided again into individual component tests (Hardware and Software) and a holistic test to validate your complete system.

Master Document (MD)

Each qualification starts with the Master Document (MD) – the central organizing document for the AIQ procedures. It not only describes the process of installing and qualifying the instruments, but also the competence and education level of the qualifying engineer. The MD identifies all other components to be added to the qualification, resulting in a flexible framework on which to build up a set of documentation.

Installation Qualification (IQ)

Once the content of the documentation is defined in the MD, the Installation Qualification (IQ) follows. This set of documentation is designed to ensure that the instrument, software, and any accessories have been all delivered and installed correctly. The IQ protocol additionally specifies that the workplace is suitable for the analytical system as stipulated by Metrohm.

Operational Qualification (OQ)

After a correct installation comes the main part of the qualification: the Operational Qualification (OQ). In the first part of the OQ, the functionality of the single hardware components is tested and evaluated according to a set of procedures. This is to ensure that the instrument is working perfectly as designed, and is safe to use. Rest assured that you can rely on the expertise of our Metrohm certified engineers to conduct these comprehensive tests on your instruments using the necessary calibrated and certified tools.

The second part of the OQ consists of a set of Software Tests to prove that the installed Metrohm software functions correctly and reliably on the computer it was installed on. The importance of maintaining software in a validated state is also related to the data integrity of your laboratory. Therefore these software tests can be repeated periodically or after major changes. In particular, these functionality tests cover verifications on user management, database functionalities, backups, audit trail review, security policy, electronic signatures, and so on.

At Metrohm, we constantly work to improve our procedures and use state of the art tools and technologies.  For this reason, we have implemented a completely automated test procedure for validating the software of our new OMNIS platform. This ensures full integrity in the execution and delivers consistent results with a faster and completely error-free test execution. This innovative and automated software validation eliminates manual activities that are labor intensive and time consuming. This therefore expedites testing and removes the inefficiencies that plague the paper-based software validation.

Your benefit is clear: save valuable time and reduce unnecessary laboratory start-up activities during qualification. That’s time you can spend on other work in your lab!

Holistic Test (Performance Verification, PV)

Once each individual component has been separately tested, the performance of the system as a whole is proven by means of a holistic test (OQ-PV).

This includes a series of «wet-chemical» tests, performed using certified reference materials, to prove the system is capable of generating quality data, i.e. results that are accurate, precise, and above all fit for purpose. Based on detailed, predefined instructions (SOPs), a series of standard measurements are performed, statistically evaluated, and compared to the manufacturer’s specifications.

Differences between Performance Verification (PV) and Performance Qualification (PQ)

The Performance Verification (PV) is a set of tests offered by Metrohm in order to verify the fitness for purpose of the instrument. As mentioned in the previous paragraph, the PV includes standardized test procedures to ensure the system operates as designed by the manufacturer in the selected environment.

On the other hand, the Performance Qualification (PQ) is a very customer specific qualification phase (see the «4 Q’s» Qualification Phases found in Part 1). PQ verifies the fitness for purpose of the instrument under actual condition of use, proving its continued suitability. Therefore, PQ tests are defined depending on your specific analysis and acceptance criteria.

Now my questions to you—is your analytical instrument qualified for its intended use? Is your lab in compliance with the latest regulations for equipment qualification and validation? Get expert advice directly from your local Metrohm agency and request your quote for Metrohm qualification services today!

Check out our online material:

Metrohm Quality Service

Post written by Lara Casadio, Jr. Product Manager Service at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

«Analyze This»: 2020 in review

«Analyze This»: 2020 in review

I wanted to end 2020 by thanking all of you for making «Analyze This» – the Metrohm blog for chemists such a success! For our 60th blog post, I’d like to look back and focus on the wealth of interesting topics we have published this year. There is truly something for everyone: it doesn’t matter whether your lab focuses on titration or spectroscopic techniques, or analyzes water samples or illicit substances – we’ve got you covered! If you’re looking to answer your most burning chemical analysis questions, we have FAQs and other series full of advice from the experts. Or if you’re just in the mood to learn something new in a few minutes, there are several posts about the chemical world to discover.

We love to hear back from you as well. Leaving comments on your favorite blog posts or contacting us through social media are great ways to voice your opinion—we at Metrohm are here for you!

Finally, I wish you and your families a safe, restful holiday season. «Analyze This» will return on January 11, 2021, so subscribe if you haven’t already done so, and bookmark this page for an overview of all of our articles grouped by topic!

Stay healthy, and stay curious.

Best wishes,

Dr. Alyson Lanciki, Scientific Editor, Metrohm AG

Quickly jump directly to any section by clicking a topic:

Customer Stories

We are curious by nature, and enjoy hearing about the variety of projects where our products are being used! For some examples of interesting situations where Metrohm analytical equipment is utilized, read on.

From underwater archaeological research to orbiting Earth on the International Space Station, Metrohm is there! We assist on all types of projects, like brewing top quality beers and even growing antibiotic-free shrimp – right here in Switzerland.

Interested in being featured? Contact your local Metrohm dealer for details!

Titration

Metrohm is the global market leader in analytical instruments for titration. Who else is better then to advise you in this area? Our experts are eager to share their knowledge with you, and show this with the abundance of topics they have contributed this year to our blog.

For more in-depth information about obtaining the most accurate pH measurements, take a look at our FAQ about pH calibration or read about avoiding the most common mistakes in pH measurement. You may pick up a few tips!

Choose the best electrode for your needs and keep it in top condition with our best practices, and then learn how to standardize titrant properly. Better understand what to consider during back-titration, check out thermometric titration and its advantages and applications, or read about the most common challenges and how to overcome them when carrying out complexometric titrations

If you are interested in improving your conductivity measurements, measuring dissolved oxygen, or the determination of oxidation in edible fats and oils, check out these blog posts and download our free Application Notes and White Papers!

Finally, this article about comprehensive water analysis with a combination of titration and ion chromatography explains the many benefits for laboratories with large sample loads. The history behind the TitrIC analysis system used for these studies can be found in a separate blog post.

Karl Fischer Titration

Metrohm and Karl Fischer titration: a long history of success. Looking back on more than half a century of experience in KFT, Metrohm has shaped what coulometric and volumetric water analysis are today.

Aside from the other titration blog posts, our experts have also written a 2-part series including 20 of the most frequently asked questions for KFT arranged into three categories: instrument preparation and handling, titration troubleshooting, and the oven technique. Our article about how to properly standardize Karl Fischer titrant will take you step by step through the process to obtain correct results.

For more specific questions, read about the oven method for sample preparation, or which is the best technique to choose when measuring moisture in certain situations: Karl Fischer titration, near-infrared spectroscopy, or both?

Ion Chromatography (IC)

Ion chromatography has been a part of the Metrohm portfolio since the late 1980s. From routine IC analysis to research and development, and from stand-alone analyzers to fully automated systems, Metrohm has provided IC solutions for all situations. If you’re curious about the backstory of R&D, check out the ongoing series about the history of IC at Metrohm.

Metrohm IC user sitting at a laboratory bench.

Common questions for users are answered in blog posts about IC column tips and tricks and Metrohm inline ultrafiltration. Clear calculations showing how to increase productivity and profitability in environmental analysis with IC perfectly complement our article about comprehensive water analysis using IC and titration together for faster sample throughput.

On the topic of foods and beverages, you can find out how to determine total sulfite faster and easier than ever, measure herbicides in drinking water, or even learn how Metrohm IC is used in Switzerland to grow shrimp!

Near-Infrared Spectroscopy (NIRS)

Metrohm NIRS analyzers for the lab and for process analysis enable you to perform routine analysis quickly and with confidence – without requiring sample preparation or additional reagents and yielding results in less than a minute. Combining visible (Vis) and near-infrared (NIR) spectroscopy, these analyzers are capable of performing qualitative analysis of various materials and quantitative analysis of a number of physical and chemical parameters in one run.

Our experts have written all about the benefits of NIR spectroscopy in a 4-part series, which includes an explanation of the advantages of NIRS over conventional wet chemical analysis methods, differences between NIR and IR spectroscopy, how to implement NIRS in your laboratory workflow, and examples of how pre-calibrations make implementation even quicker.

A comparison between NIRS and the Karl Fischer titration method for moisture analysis is made in a dedicated article.

A 2-part FAQ about NIRS has also been written in a collaboration between our laboratory and process analysis colleagues, covering all kinds of questions related to both worlds.

Raman Spectroscopy

This latest addition to the Metrohm family expands the Metrohm portfolio to include novel, portable instruments for materials identification and verification. We offer both Metrohm Raman as well as B&W Tek products to cover a variety of needs and requirements.

Here you can find out some of the history of Raman spectroscopy including the origin story behind Mira, the handheld Raman instrument from Metrohm Raman. For a real-world situation involving methamphetamine identification by law enforcement and first responders, read about Mira DS in action – detecting drugs safely in the field.

Mira - handheld Raman keeping you safe in hazardous situations.

Are you looking for an easier way to detect food fraud? Our article about Misa describes its detection capabilities and provides several free Application Notes for download.

Process Analytics

We cater to both: the laboratory and the production floor. The techniques and methods for laboratory analysis are also available for automated in-process analysis with the Metrohm Process Analytics brand of industrial process analyzers.

Learn about how Metrohm became pioneers in the process world—developing the world’s first online wet chemistry process analyzer, and find out how Metrohm’s modular IC expertise has been used to push the limits in the industrial process optimization.

Additionally, a 2-part FAQ has been written about near-infrared spectroscopy by both laboratory and process analysis experts, which is helpful when starting out or even if you’re an advanced user.

Finally, we offer a 3-part series about the advantages of process analytical technology (PAT) covering the topics of process automation advantages, digital networking of production plants, and error and risk minimization in process analysis.

Voltammetry (VA)

Voltammetry is an electrochemical method for the determination of trace and ultratrace concentrations of heavy metals and other electrochemically active substances. Both benchtop and portable options are available with a variety of electrodes to choose from, allowing analysis in any situation.

A 5-part series about solid-state electrodes covers a range of new sensors suitable for the determination of «heavy metals» using voltammetric methods. This series offers information and example applications for the Bi drop electrode, scTrace Gold electrode (as well as a modified version), screen-printed electrodes, and the glassy carbon rotating disc electrode.

Come underwater with Metrohm and Hublot in our blog post as they try to find the missing pieces of the ancient Antikythera Mechanism in Greece with voltammetry.

If you’d like to learn about the combination of voltammetry with ion chromatography and the expanded application capabilities, take a look at our article about combined analysis techniques.

Electrochemistry (EC)

Electrochemistry plays an important role in groundbreaking technologies such as battery research, fuel cells, and photovoltaics. Metrohm’s electrochemistry portfolio covers everything from potentiostats/galvanostats to accessories and software.

Our two subsidiaries specializing in electrochemistry, Metrohm Autolab (Utrecht, Netherlands) and Metrohm DropSens (Asturias, Spain) develop and produce a comprehensive portfolio of electrochemistry equipment.

This year, the COVID-19 pandemic has been at the top of the news, and with it came the discussion of testing – how reliable or accurate was the data? In our blog post about virus detection with screen-printed electrodes, we explain the differences between different testing methods and their drawbacks, the many benefits of electrochemical testing methods, and provide a free informative White Paper for interested laboratories involved in this research.

Our electrochemistry instruments have also gone to the International Space Station as part of a research project to more efficiently recycle water on board spacecraft for long-term missions.

The History of…

Stories inspire people, illuminating the origins of theories, concepts, and technologies that we may have become to take for granted. Metrohm aims to inspire chemists—young and old—to be the best and never stop learning. Here, you can find our blog posts that tell the stories behind the scenes, including the Metrohm founder Bertold Suhner.

Bertold Suhner, founder of Metrohm.

For more history behind the research and development behind Metrohm products, take a look at our series about the history of IC at Metrohm, or read about how Mira became mobile. If you are more interested in process analysis, then check out the story about the world’s first process analyzer, built by Metrohm Process Analytics.

Need something lighter? Then the 4-part history of chemistry series may be just what you’re looking for.

Specialty Topics

Some articles do not fit neatly into the same groups as the rest, but are nonetheless filled with informative content! Here you can find an overview of Metrohm’s free webinars, grouped by measurement technique.

If you work in a regulated industry such as pharmaceutical manufacturing or food and beverage production, don’t miss our introduction to Analytical Instrument Qualification and what it can mean for consumer safety!

Industry-focused

Finally, if you are more interested in reading articles related to the industry you work in, here are some compilations of our blog posts in various areas including pharmaceutical, illicit substances, food and beverages, and of course water analysis. More applications and information can be found on our website.

Food and beverages
All of these products can be measured for total sulfite content.

Oxidation stability is an estimate of how quickly a fat or oil will become rancid. It is a standard parameter of quality control in the production of oils and fats in the food industry or for the incoming goods inspection in processing facilities. To learn more about how to determine if your edible oils are rancid, read our blog post.

Determining total sulfite in foods and beverages has never been faster or easier than with our IC method. Read on about how to perform this notoriously frustrating analysis and get more details in our free LC/GC The Column article available for download within.

Measuring the true sodium content in foodstuff directly and inexpensively is possible using thermometric titration, which is discussed in more detail here. To find out the best way to determine moisture content in foods, our experts have written a blog post about the differences between Karl Fischer titration and near-infrared spectroscopy methods.

To determine if foods, beverages, spices, and more are adulterated, you no longer have to wait for the lab. With Misa, it is possible to measure a variety of illicit substances in complex matrices within minutes, even on the go.

All of these products can be measured for total sulfite content.

Making high quality products is a subject we are passionate about. This article discusses improving beer brewing practices and focuses on the tailor-made system built for Feldschlösschen, Switzerland’s largest brewer.

Pharmaceutical / healthcare

Like the food sector, pharmaceutical manufacturing is a very tightly regulated industry. Consumer health is on the line if quality drops.

Ensuring that the analytical instruments used in the production processes are professionally qualified is a must, especially when auditors come knocking. Find out more about this step in our blog post about Analytical Instrument Qualification (AIQ).

Moisture content in the excipients, active ingredients, and in the final product is imperative to measure. This can be accomplished with different analytical methods, which we compare and contrast for you here.

The topic of virus detection has been on the minds of everyone this year. In this blog post, we discuss virus detection based on screen-printed electrodes, which are a more cost-effective and customizable option compared to other conventional techniques.

Water analysis

Water is our business. From trace analysis up to high concentration determinations, Metrohm has you covered with a variety of analytical measurement techniques and methods developed by the experts.

Learn how to increase productivity and profitability in environmental analysis laboratories with IC with a real life example and cost calculations, or read about how one of our customers in Switzerland uses automated Metrohm IC to monitor the water quality in shrimp breeding pools.

If heavy metal analysis is what you are interested in, then you may find our 5-part series about trace analysis with solid-state electrodes very handy.

Unwanted substances may find their way into our water supply through agricultural practices. Find out an easier way to determine herbicides in drinking water here!

Water is arguably one of the most important ingredients in the brewing process. Determination of major anions and cations along with other parameters such as alkalinity are described in our blog post celebrating International Beer Day.

All of these products can be measured for total sulfite content.
Illicit / harmful substances

When you are unsure if your expensive spices are real or just a colored powder, if your dairy products have been adulterated with melamine, or fruits and vegetables were sprayed with illegal pesticides, it’s time to test for food fraud. Read our blog post about simple, fast determination of illicit substances in foods and beverages for more information.

Detection of drugs, explosives, and other illegal substances can be performed safely by law enforcement officers and first responders without the need for a lab or chemicals with Mira DS. Here you can read about a real life training to identify a methamphetamine laboratory.

Drinking water regulations are put in place by authorities out of concern for our health. Herbicides are important to measure in our drinking water as they have been found to be carcinogenic in many instances.

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

Introduction to Analytical Instrument Qualification – Part 2

Introduction to Analytical Instrument Qualification – Part 1

When talking about the subject of Analytical Instrument Qualification (AIQ), my first thought is of regulated industries, like pharmaceuticals and food. 

You may be wondering—Why do we need to qualify analytical instruments in this environment? Why does my titrando or my OMNIS system need such a service?

Consumer safety here is of paramount importance. Medicines that may represent a health hazard for patients or do not provide the intended therapeutic effect are undesirable and costly, therefore steps must be taken to safeguard the manufacturing process and prevent fatal implications. By qualifying the used analytical instruments, we can ensure that active ingredients and finished pharmaceutical products are manufactured in a safe environment.

In addition, procedures that prove instrument accuracy and repeatability are a must. Metrohm qualification procedures provide this documentation, fully traceable evidence which is also required for inspections and audits by regulatory authorities.

When auditors come knocking

In case an auditor observes any violations of the United States Food and Drug Administration (FDA) guidelines for example, this will be communicated in an inspectoral observation or a Warning Letter. If we look to pharmaceutical Warning Letters in the past, we can see that the FDA is mainly concerned with issues related to qualification and data integrity.

Some typical findings are e.g. the usage of an unqualified system, or the use of an instrument outside of the calibration range for which it was initially qualified. This proves the point that qualification of analytical instruments in regulated environments cannot be ignored.

Metrohm Compliance Services can help to prove the full data traceability of your qualification activities, simplifying your audit preparation and at the same time maintaining a constant state of inspection readiness for your laboratory.

Instruments in regulated environments need to be qualified periodically according to the main regulatory bodies. The United States Pharmacopeia (USP) is the leading pharmacopeia that has a general chapter dedicated to Analytical Instrument Qualification (AIQ), USP <1058>. Therefore, it has global significance, making laboratories subject to regulatory requirements either directly or indirectly. This is why Metrohm Compliance Services are based on this important chapter.

What is Analytical Instrument Qualification (AIQ) exactly?

As per USP <1058>, it is «the collection of documented evidence that an instrument performs suitably for its intended purpose.» This indicates that AIQ is the foundation for generating quality data with the needed data integrity. By using qualified instruments, you gain confidence in the validity of generated data and that your instrument meets specifications of regulatory standards.

AIQ is not a single activity, but a continuous process over the lifetime of the instrument. AIQ already starts before the instrument purchase with the formal writing of User Requirement Specifications (URS), where the lab’s requirements for a specific instrument are documented. And yes, for e.g. a fully equipped Metrohm Dual IC system as well as for a single Metrohm pH meter, there is the same need to document the laboratory requirements and its intended use.

After clarification of the intended use and the evaluation of the right technology, a Risk Assessment (RA) needs to be carried out to determine the required qualification strategy to prove the «fitness for purpose» of the purchased analytical instrument.

The extent of the next qualification stages depends on the outcome of the Risk Assessment. The following activities are grouped into four phases: Design Qualification (DQ), Installation Qualification (IQ), Operational Qualification (OQ), and Performance Qualification (PQ), the so-called «4 Q’s».

Whereas the DQ is the documented verification that the instrument specifications meet the laboratory requirements, the IQ provides the proof that the equipment has been installed properly. In the OQ phase, it’s demonstrated that the system operates correctly in the selected environment as per manufacturer specifications, while the PQ confirms that the instrument consistently performs according to your defined specifications.

During the lifecycle of the instrument, major repairs might be needed, it might be subject to major updates / upgrades, or it might even be transferred to another lab. In all of these cases, the original URS should be reviewed again and adjusted if necessary. The URS is a living document that can and must be changed and updated when needed. Based on a risk assessment analysis, it will then be defined what the qualification steps are that should be repeated after the needed changes (IQ, OQ, PQ).

Eventually the instrument’s life comes to an end, and we arrive at its retirement. This final step of the AIQ is often considered as the «forgotten child» of validation activities. To put this a bit more in perspective, consider when you make a new electronic purchase, such as a PC. The situation is similar to when a new analytical system is bought. It’s easier to focus on something new—concentrating on getting the training for its proper usage, and making sure it’s working correctly. We begin to ignore or forget that the old system is still there.

Therefore, decommissioning of an instrument is a critical part of the validation process that must also be very well documented. For the old system, a final system qualification might be necessary if required. Afterwards, all data have to be removed and stored in a safe location. It is extremely important to ensure that the data can be read from this location (data migration) for a number of years, depending on your retention procedures.

Support when and where you need it

The fact that users have responsibilities for the instrument qualification (USP <1058>) does not mean that all qualification activities must be conducted alone!

Metrohm supports you over the lifetime of your investment, from advising you during the purchase process to the first installation and qualification. Additionally, our IQ/OQ documentation provides you the required documentation in strict accordance with the current regulations. To ensure your Metrohm device remains in a qualified state, we offer requalification services at scheduled intervals as specified in your requirements, to guarantee the accuracy and precision of your system over its lifetime. 

An advantage of relying on Metrohm as the manufacturer of your analytical instruments is that we have all the necessary experience for performing IQ/OQ procedures. Most importantly, our certified service engineers bring along all calibrated and certified reference instruments that are required for the qualification. To ensure the quality of Metrohm Service is maintained, our service engineers undergo compulsory re-training on a regular basis according to a globally standardized program.

Buying Metrohm equipment is the first step to success, but maintaining it in a qualified state is the key! Just contact your local Metrohm dealer and let us handle the rest.

For more details about which qualification phases can be fully handled by Metrohm and where we can support you, read Part 2!

Check out our online material:

Metrohm Quality Service

Post written by Lara Casadio, Jr. Product Manager Service at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.

Electrochemistry in orbit

Electrochemistry in orbit

For over twenty years now, there has been continuous human occupation off our planet.

The International Space Station (ISS), launched in 1998, is a modular satellite in low orbit around the Earth, which is visible even with the naked eye.

Since November 2, 2000, the ISS has had a constantly revolving crew from a variety of nations, working on projects to further push the boundaries of our knowledge. Aside from their important scientific duties, these astronauts must live their daily lives like us – exercising, relaxing, cleaning, and sleeping – albeit in microgravity.

The International Space Station celebrated 20 years of constant habitation in November, 2020.

In October, an Antares rocket carrying a Cygnus resupply ship was launched by NASA at Johnson Space Center. This cargo ship carried an experimental system on board used to study the oxidation of ammonia under microgravity conditions to convert urine into water on the ISS.

Improving this waste management system has far-reaching repercussions for longer exploratory missions where the weight of the payload must be optimized with the amount of water needed (which is heavy) to sustain life during the trip. Given the limited resources aboard a spaceship, the recovery of water from all processes is of great importance.

Future missions which may benefit from this study include trips to the moon (Artemis) and eventually to Mars (Orion).

This system uses Metrohm DropSens screen-printed electrodes (SPEs). The novel nanomaterial coating of the electrodes was developed by researchers at the University of Alicante in Spain in collaboration with the University of Puerto Rico. In this article, we would like to introduce the people behind the project and elaborate on the research they are doing in space with Metrohm products.

Meet the researchers

Dr. José Solla Gullón (Ph.D. 2003, Chemistry)

Dr. José Solla Gullón in his laboratory at the University of Alicante, with Metrohm DropSens and Metrohm Autolab products on the bench.

I am currently a Distinguished Researcher at the Institute of Electrochemistry of the University of Alicante, Spain. My research mainly focuses on the synthesis, characterization and electrochemical properties of different types of nanoparticles with well-defined size, composition, shape, and surface structure. My overall publication record includes about 175 publications (h-index 53). I have also given more than 250 contributions in international and national meetings.

Ms. Camila Morales Navas

Camila Morales Navas holding the Nanoracks 2U, where the electrochemical equipment is kept inside.

I am a senior graduate student in the Department of Chemistry at University of Puerto Rico (UPR). I am working on a research project in collaboration with NASA, titled «Elucidating the Ammonia Electrochemical Oxidation Mechanism via Electrochemical Techniques at the ISS», or «Ammonia Electrooxidation Lab at the ISS (AELISS)» for short. The purpose of this project is to improve the water processing system and to identify new technology for long-term missions in space.

The project is attributed to NASA-ESPCoR, University of Puerto Rico, University of Alicante, NuVant Systems, and Nanoracks, with support from Metrohm DropSens.

Read more about the project on the NASA website:

The AELISS project

For a brief overview by Camila and her graduate advisor, have a look at the video provided below by NASA:

Here, you can see the Metrohm DropSens instruments used for this study: the screen-printed carbon electrode (SPCE8X110) and its corresponding flow-cell (FLWCL8X1C).

The Metrohm DropSens 8X110 carbon SPE (left) and the FLWCL8X1C flow-cell (right).
Instrumentation setup for the AELISS project which was launched to the ISS in October, 2020.

How did the AELISS project begin?

About five years ago, the groups from the University of Alicante and the University of Puerto Rico (UPR) began working together on microgravity experiments which led them to collaborate again for this project, which now resides on the ISS.

The electrochemical oxidation of ammonia using platinum as a catalyst is a well-established reaction, first published almost two decades ago by José’s group. The ammonia is extremely sensitive to the surface structure of platinum. However, this is well-known on earth. How does this reaction process behave in a microgravity environment? The groups sought to determine this by performing experiments in the US using a special airplane which mimics weightlessness for brief periods by flying in a parabolic motion.

SPE modification process: droplets of platinum nanoparticle ink provided by the University of Alicante deposited on the carbon SPEs. Platinum acts as a catalyst for the oxidation reaction. Click image to enlarge.

At first, this was purely for research, but later Camila’s group in Puerto Rico thought more about its potential use in space. Urea from urine is converted to ammonia, which then goes through the electrochemical oxidation process, resulting in N2 gas, water, and energy. Perhaps it was possible to use this technology to improve the onboard water recovery and recycling system in the ISS and other spaceships?

Because the UPR group often writes research proposals that are funded by NASA, they are quite knowledgeable in this area regarding the project requirements, as well as what materials are allowed on board a mission. The UPR group has been working in conjunction with NASA for about 20 years.

Unassembled equipment: plastic protector frame (grey), Metrohm DropSens FLWCL8X1C electrochemical flow-cells with 8X110 carbon SPEs (blue/white), and Nanoracks 2U (green). Click image to enlarge.

Combining the expertise in ammonia oxidation research from José’s lab in Spain with the knowledge of Camila’s group in Puerto Rico about NASA’s engineering and safety requirements made the construction and realization of the complex AELISS project possible. However, launching something to the ISS isn’t without its issues…

Has the COVID-19 pandemic had a significant effect on the research? 

Camila Morales Navas assembling the AELISS equipment in the UPR laboratory. Click image to enlarge.

Aside from the usual problems and delays that can pop up during collaborative research projects, the introduction of a global pandemic at the last stages did not help the situation. The COVID-19 pandemic affected the timeline of the AELISS project, especially when it came to traveling and working within the extremely regulated environment of NASA. Additionally, Puerto Rico had already dealt with several large earthquakes and hurricanes in this period.

Keeping each other on track became difficult at times, particularly when Camila had to bring the entire setup back home to finish the engineering. In June, she was able to return to the laboratory and complete the project. However, the stressful part was not yet over because there was still a flight to NASA in the US, and with that the ever present threat of COVID-19 infection during travel.

One positive test result would mean a denial of entry – there can be no chance of infecting the ISS crew.

Ultimately, everything went to plan before and during the launch, and the instrumentation was sent to the International Space Station in October along with other precious cargo for the astronauts. Now that this part of the puzzle is finished, the rest of the work begins…

How will AELISS differ from similar experiments on Earth?

The final goal of this research is to determine how gravity affects the oxidation of ammonia, and also to test out different catalysts for the reaction in microgravity. While several other parameters can be adjusted in the lab such as pH, nanoparticle shape, and more – gravity is a universal constraint we cannot avoid. On Earth, we are only able to mimic the effects of microgravity for a few seconds with freefall. The previous collaboration between the groups in this project also involved performing experiments on special flights that allowed weightless conditions for less than 15 seconds at a time. This is certainly not enough time to draw long-term conclusions, and hence the push to launch the project into orbit. Only then can a true comparison be made, and conclusions drawn about the effects of gravity and the future applicability of this technology.

Dr. José Solla Gullón shown in his lab at the University of Alicante depositing Pt nanocubes on the 8X110 substrates which are used in the FLWCL8X1C electrochemical cell. Click image to enlarge.

One of the major concerns regarding this project is to achieve the most efficient conversion of waste urine into usable water for long-term space missions. Here, water recycling is a critical point. Also, it is important to note that the product of the oxidation of ammonia is nitrogen gas, but the behavior of gases is not the same on Earth as in space. Understanding how the N2 bubbles behave in the absence of gravity is a critical step to study.

Camila’s doctoral research project aims to answer these questions and more, using the realistic conditions of space rather than short periods of weightlessness in flight. So how did the researchers come to use Metrohm products?

There’s Something About Metrohm

So, why choose Metrohm over other providers? I asked José and Camila just what it was that drew them to our products.

«In my case, I have been working with Metrohm DropSens for many, many years. We have a very good collaboration, not only in the in the case of the nanomaterials, but also in the electrochemical cells, and the use of the screen-printed electrodes for electroanalysis. So, we have a very long history together

Dr. José Solla Gullón

Distinguished Researcher at the Institute of Electrochemistry, University of Alicante

Additionally, José mentioned that it was the fact that the electrochemical cells from Metrohm DropSens were very small, perfectly fitting into their conceptual system, which was another critical point. In fact, only cosmetic changes were needed to the products to be used in this project – all of the used materials were already approved for use by NASA..

For Camila, this was her first time using these products, and she found their out-of-the-box usage incredibly helpful.

«This was my first experience since José suggested it. And I trust them because they’re the people that really know about this subject

Camila Morales Navas

Senior graduate student in the Department of Chemistry, University of Puerto Rico

In the past, José has asked Metrohm DropSens several times to custom design SPEs for his research needs, and has always found them responsive and agreeable.

«I know that I can send an email and in two hours, I will have some response. This is wonderful for me. They are always open to new solutions

Dr. José Solla Gullón

Distinguished Researcher at the Institute of Electrochemistry, University of Alicante

We wish the very best to the research groups behind the ambitious AELISS project at the University of Puerto Rico and the University of Alicante. We at Metrohm are proud that our products can contribute to space exploration.

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

Special thanks go to Dr. José Solla Gullón and Ms. Camila Morales Navas for their important research and taking time to contribute to this article.

History of Metrohm IC – Part 4

History of Metrohm IC – Part 4

In the fourth installment in our series about the history of ion chromatography development at Metrohm over the years, we now focus on some of our combined analysis techniquesThese are unique combinations of Metrohm instruments from different product groups which broaden application possibilities beyond what IC could accomplish alone. Here we will discuss the TitrIC and VoltIC systems.

Did you miss the other parts in this series? Find them here!

TitrIC: combining titration, direct measurement, and IC in one

The combination of titration, pH, and conductivity measurement, as well as ion chromatography in a single analytical system was introduced in the late 1990s. This TitrIC system consisted of a Titrino for the determination of the p- and m-value (alkalinity), pH and conductivity meters, as well as a modular IC from the 732 IC Detector generation.

Figure 1. The first-generation TitrIC system from the late 1990s, including an autosampler for higher sample throughput.

Depending on the analysis requirements, either a second Titrino (for the Ca/Mg water hardness determination) or a second IC channel (for alkali and alkaline earth metal cations as well as ammonium) was selected. The latter enabled an automatic determination of the ion balance for the first time.

The central unit is the autosampler, which directs the water sample to the titration/metering section and to the ion chromatographs. The respective titration software controls the titrators and pH/temperature meters, calculates the results, and transfers them to the IC software (at the time, IC Net). The IC software controls the ion chromatograph and creates the final report. The user only communicates with the master software, making comprehensive analysis a simple task. This combination was available in all Metrohm IC generations (Figures 1 and 2). The most current setup (TitrIC Flex I and II) combines the 930 Compact IC Flex instruments with OMNIS titration.

Figure 2. TitrIC has evolved: TitrIC 7 system with 850 Professional IC series and Robotic Titrosampler has now become the TitrIC Flex (I and II), based on OMNIS titration and the 930 Compact IC Flex series.

Do you want to learn more about the combination of titration, direct measurement, and IC analysis and what it can do for your laboratory efficiency? Take a look at our previous blog post, download a free application note, or check out our brochure full of important information.

VoltIC – Voltammetry and IC

Just as with titration, it also is possible to combine IC and voltammetry in order to further expand application capabilities for enhanced trace measurement of analytes in water. VoltIC Professional integrates these techniques in a single, fully automatic system that is controlled via a common software, providing users with the strengths of both IC and voltammetry. Anions, major cations as well as trace cations may be detected in one determination. 

Back in 2012, the original VoltIC pro system was launched to bridge the gap between these two techniques and to offer a unique solution to the market. In 2013, the new line of 940 Professional IC Vario instruments came along. A few years later in 2016, the 884 Professional VA analyzer was brought to the market, and thus VoltIC on the next level: the current VoltIC Professional system (Figure 3).

Figure 3. VoltIC Professional system developed in 2016 for the enhanced analysis of trace impurities in water samples.

Is VoltIC the right choice for your laboratory? We offer free application notes for download, or check out the Metrohm website and download our brochure!

Next topic:

In Part 5 of our series, we will move on the use of ion chromatography for continuous air monitoring with the MARGA from Metrohm Process Analytics!

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Download our free monograph:

Practical Ion Chromatography – An Introduction

Post written by Dr. Markus Läubli, Manager Marketing Support IC at Metrohm International Headquarters, Herisau, Switzerland.