Mass spectrometers: measuring a technological revolution

R. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, West Lafayette, Indiana, and a global expert on mass spectroscopy, will present the second instalment of the Ernest C. Mercier Lecture Series in Entrepreneurial Chemistry on Tuesday, Oct. 11, at 7:30pm in the Robert McEwen Auditorium, Seymour Schulich Building,  on the Keele campus. His lecture is entitled “Measuring Molecules: Mass Spectrometers in Science, Medicine and Business.”

Right:  R. Graham Cooks

Cooks, the lead investigator in establishing the Indiana Instrumentation Institute with the mandate of research and commercialization activities in scientific instrumentation, will share his knowledge about new developments in instrumentation, specifically the mass spectrometer, which are driving some of the most important technological developments in society.

He will background the mass spectrometer and the $3-billion mass spectrometer market, including several companies with which Cooks has been associated. He will also explore the opportunities for start-ups based in a university research park and projects where the university is involved in for-profit corporations. Cooks will include his thoughts on the rapid commercialization of technology, such as the mini mass spectrometer, which is driving a new revolution. He will address the important questions posed by the confluence of scientific, public and business interests.

The mass spectrometer was developed from 19th century experiments on electrical discharges in gases. Its use has led to many discoveries including the detection of isotopes, the separation and collection of enriched uranium, and the measurement of isotopic abundances. The dating of the Shroud of Turin and the identification of pre-solar system dust grains are two well-known examples of use.

Among its commercial uses are the identification of chemical compounds in complex mixtures, chemical analyses essential in modern medicine, and pharmacology, drug discovery, environmental monitoring, chemical manufacturing, and petroleum exploration. Monitoring travellers for hidden explosives is another problem where new technological solutions based on mass spectrometry are forthcoming.

The lecture is the second of an annual series that celebrates the memory of Ernest C. Mercier, who was the executive vice-president of Toronto Dominion Bank  when he retired in 1993. Mercier is the late husband of Eileen Mercier, a York graduate (MBA ‘77) who established the lecture series in her late husband’s name. Eileen Mercier is a member of the Board of Governors of York University.

Right: Ernest Mercier

“Ernest believed that the benefits of discipline and analytical thinking, which his engineering education provided, were basic to understanding the cause-and-effect laws of business. That and a love of working with people were important reasons that he did well,” says Ms. Mercier. “This lectureship will hopefully inspire others to use their education in similarly unique ways.”

More about R. Graham Cooks

Throughout his career, Cooks’ research has on focused mass spectrometry, including the development of new instrumentation. Early in his career, his laboratory made significant contributions to the development of desorption ionization and to tandem mass spectrometry as a method of analysis of complex mixtures. More recently his focus has been on the development of miniature mass spectrometers with commercial applications – for example a backpackable instrument which can be used for pharmaceutical and environmental monitoring. Most recently he is the developer of a method allowing ionization of chemical and biological compounds in the ambient environment – an advance in science with tremendous commercial significance. Cooks has received national and international research awards for chemical instrumentation, tandem mass spectrometry and analytical chemistry.

More about Eileen Mercier

Eileen Mercier was appointed to the Board of Governors in 1996 and is currently the vice-chair of the board, Chair of the Land Use Committee, and serves as a member of the Executive and the Finance and Staff Resources Committees. She is vice-chair of the Ontario Workplace Safety and Insurance Board and is on the board of the University Health Network.

Right: Eileen Mercier

A Fellow of the Institute of Canadian Bankers. Mercier is a former senior vice-president and chief financial officer of Abitibi-Price and is currently president of Finvoy Management Limited, which specializes in financial strategy, funds management, restructuring and corporate governance issues.

To inspire and empower future generations of chemistry students at York with a sense of the possible,  Mercier established the lecture series in her late husband’s name. Bridging the worlds of business and commerce with the intensive research world of chemistry, the annual lecture series presents an entrepreneur and renowned scientist who has used his or her own science education as a springboard to other enterprises.

The Ernest C. Mercier Lecture in Entrepreneurial Chemistry is sponsored by York University’s Faculty of Science & Engineering, the Schulich School of Business and MDS Sciex. For more information about the lecture, contact Carina Hernandez, research officer, Faculty of Science & Engineering at ext. 33342 or by e-mail at