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Manufacture Analytical Science, Technology and Equipment, Technology and Equipment

The Future’s RoSA

Facundo Fernandez and his team at Georgia Tech have been working on combining a robotic arm with mass spectrometry (robotic surface analysis – RoSA-MS) (1) – and it could prove a boon to pharma manufacturing. According to Fernandez, as mass spectrometers have grown more user-friendly and powerful, the bottleneck in the analytical pipeline has become the sampling process. “I feel it’s time to marry advances in automation and machine learning with mass spectrometry, opening new possibilities in analytics of complex systems,” he explains.

RoSA-MS uses a 3D laser scanner mounted on a robotic arm, which scans the object to be analyzed, producing a 3D representation. The user then selects points to be sampled on the surface of this representation using custom-built software. The robotic arm moves sequentially through each one of these points, “touching” the surface with a sampling probe (a spring-mounted thin needle), then placing the needle into an open sampling port that washes away material detached by the needle. The material is then dissolved and analyzed, giving the user a mass spectrum for each point.

Fernandez is confident that the robotic arm could have a range of applications, including forensics and drug screening. “In the pharma industry, it could detect substandard products in an assembly line by rapidly using the computer vision capabilities of the system to scan 3D objects (such as a tablet), and then probing its composition quickly without having to crush, dissolve, and analyze by HPLC. It could also be used to map the distribution of drugs on 3D delivery systems, and to map tissue samples. The sky is the limit!”

Now, Fernandez is working on improving the technology by arming the robots with lasers… “We would like to develop a next generation system that uses a laser ablation probe for sampling the surface, which should increase our spatial resolution and generate more detailed images,” he says.

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  1. Anyin Li et al., “Robotic surface analysis mass spectrometry (RoSA-MS) of three-dimensional objects”, Anal Chem, 20, 3981–3986 (2018).
About the Author
Joanna Cummings

A former library manager and storyteller, I have wanted to write for magazines since I was six years old, when I used to make my own out of foolscap paper and sellotape and distribute them to my family. Since getting my MSc in Publishing, I’ve worked as a freelance writer and content creator for both digital and print, writing on subjects such as fashion, food, tourism, photography – and the history of Roman toilets. Now I can be found working on The Analytical Scientist, finding the ‘human angle’ to cutting-edge science stories.

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