Did You Know?: Analytical chemistry at Purdue

August 20, 2014  

Analytical chemistry

Yu Xia (left), assistant professor of chemistry, and postdoctoral scholar Xiaoxiao Ma use a mass spectrometer to profile tissue lipids. (Photo courtesy of the Department of Chemistry)
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The study of analytical chemistry reverberates throughout Purdue's West Lafayette campus, from the University's elite graduate program to the discipline's quiet undercurrent in a variety of undergraduate majors.

Analytical chemistry involves the separation, identification and quantification of natural and artificial chemical components. If that sounds like a broadly defined discipline, that's because it is, says Pete Kissinger, professor of chemistry.

"Anything that exists physically is a chemical, and anything that involves deriving measurements and data from a chemical is analytical chemistry," Kissinger says. "Analytical chemistry has almost unlimited applications."

At the undergraduate level, students who take analytical chemistry classes learn about quantitative and instrumental analysis. These classes are built into Purdue's chemistry major, Kissinger says, but students from academic departments across campus also take them.

For example, analytical chemistry helps materials science students learn how to collect data from the new materials they design and create. The discipline is also useful to nursing students, who must learn how to draw and analyze blood and other bodily fluids, and it's useful to food science students, who often need to know the precise chemical makeup of the food they study.

On the graduate level, Purdue's doctoral program in analytical chemistry is consistently ranked among the best in the country. In fact, in 2014, it achieved a No. 1 ranking from U.S. News & World Report. It is one of six chemistry graduate programs at Purdue.

The program typically involves about 130 graduate students, who study under and conduct research with Purdue's world-class faculty members. They include R. Graham Cooks, who in 2013 received the international Dreyfus Prize for his innovations in mass spectrometry and analytical chemistry.

Beyond Purdue's academic achievements, there are several firms in Discovery Park that conduct pharmaceutical research based on analytical chemistry innovations discovered at the University, Kissinger says.

The pharmaceutical industry is a primary employer of Purdue graduates who studied analytical chemistry. That's because, Kissinger says, analytical chemists are needed at every stage of the drug manufacturing process; they're needed to ensure that compounds are suitable before manufacturing, to check for chemical stability and purity during manufacturing, and to ensure quality after manufacturing.

Purdue graduates who studied analytical chemistry also are qualified for a vast array of jobs, from lab and hospital equipment sales to industrial quality control to the development of agricultural herbicides and pesticides. Analytical chemists also are in demand at companies that produce consumer goods and at energy companies, particularly those that blend and sell gasoline.

The wide applicability of analytical chemistry dovetails nicely with Purdue's land-grant mission, Kissinger says.

"Our research and our graduates are constantly benefiting citizens not only here, but across the globe," Kissinger says.

"Our work in analytical chemistry also has a huge effect on companies and industries nationwide. We're very proud of that footprint -- it's what makes us Boilermakers." 

Writer:  Amanda Hamon Kunz, 49-61325, ahamon@purdue.edu

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