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What is thermal desorption used for?

Wednesday, 7 December 2016 at 12:17:PM

Application guides - thermal desorptionAmbient air monitoring? Of course… but TD is used for a lot more besides, and in recent years the scope has been expanding further.

Our popular series of Application Guides have long been the ‘go-to’ source of information on TD applications, but as the last edition of these dated from 2009, they were well in need of an update!  

New Application Guides

So a little while ago, we set about re-writing these documents to reflect new standard methods, emerging trends in analysis, as well as the latest exciting research from academia and industry. The result is our brand-new set of seven Application Guides, which we released yesterday. (You can read our news release about it here).

As well as a sizeable number of examples on core TD applications such as ambient air monitoring and assessing emissions from consumer products, we’ve picked out a whole load of studies in new areas, from food aroma profiling to forensics.  

So what’s new?

Lots! To whet your appetite, here are just a few of the most exciting application topics that have pages devoted to them:

  • Volatiles from plants can influence other organisms, and researchers are using TD to understand the fascinating details of this field of ‘chemical ecology’.
  • Hazardous chemicals from wildfires have been studied using on-line TD in an aeroplane!
  • Fragrances from air fresheners can be continuously monitored to understand how the profiles change over time.
  • Stack emissions used to be analysed by solvent extraction, but TD now features in the key standard method in this area.
  • Museum display cases can emit chemicals that cause artefact degradation – and this is now being studied by TD.
  • Refinery fenceline monitoring is now being carried out using TD, following the release of US EPA Method 325.
  • Chemicals in breath are attracting attention for their potential to non-invasively diagnose serious diseases.
  • Volatiles from melons have been used to help assess whether VOCs could be used to monitor the shelf-life of ready-to-eat fresh food.
  • Polycyclic aromatic hydrocarbons in ambient air are now being studied using TD rather than solvent extraction.
  • Packaged meat can be assessed to check for contaminants from packaging.  

Collaborating with researchers

As part of the process of updating these Application Guides, we wanted to expand our coverage of the latest research using TD. The scientific literature is a great place to start, and although searching through papers is quite time-consuming, it’s highlighted some great work carried out using our equipment.

A few emails later, and the result is over 25 pages in these guides that feature work from researchers around the world. For example, take a look at the ‘Biological profiling’ e-book to learn about how TD is being used to study emissions of monoterpenes from rainforest, carried out by Drs Angela and Kolby Jardine at the Instituto Nacional de Pesquisas da Amazônia, Manaus.

Alternatively, maybe forensics is your thing? The ‘Defence and forensic’ e-book showcases a study by Professor Shari Forbes and colleagues at the University of Technology, Sydney, who have been using TD to aid our understanding of emissions of soil-borne VOCs from cadavers, and so improve the response of emergency workers to natural disasters.

Across these applications and many others, it’s been very interesting to talk to our customers about their research, and rewarding to create case-studies describing how TD helped them achieve new insights into the role of VOCs.  

Easy to read and browse

Do you ever find that documents describing the uses of scientific instruments are word-heavy, highly technical, and difficult to browse?

At Markes, we think that technical needn’t mean dull, so in these Application Guides, we’ve made a big effort to keep the word count down, liven the pages up with some colourful imagery and diagrams, and explain complicated concepts as clearly as possible with the minimum of technical terms.

In addition to this, we hope that the addition of clickable cross-references and hyperlinks to useful papers and application notes makes these documents even more useful!  

Want to judge for yourself?

So if you’d like to find out more about the applications of TD – or even if you just want something different to look at over your lunch – download one of the guides​ from, and discover the numerous ways in which analysts are making the most of its capabilities. I hope you enjoy looking through them.

David Barden

David BardenDavid Barden received his Ph.D. in Organic Chemistry from Cambridge University in 2004, and during his time as an editor at the RSC wrote news pieces for Chemistry World on various scientific topics. He is now Technical Copywriter at Markes International, where he draws on the expertise of his colleagues to explain how new thermal desorption and mass spectrometry technologies can be applied to analyse volatile organic compounds in a wide variety of situations.

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