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Picarro Introduces the World’s First Instrument for Simultaneous Carbon and Hydrogen Isotope Analysis

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Picarro, Inc., has announced a powerful new analyzer, which, for the first time, simultaneously measures isotope ratios of carbon and hydrogen from a single sample.

The Picarro 13C+D CM-CRDS (Carbon-13 + Deuterium Combustion Module - Cavity Ring-Down Spectroscopy) Isotope Analyzer provides an extremely precise isotopic ratio measurement with simplicity unavailable from existing technologies.

The 13C + D Analyzer is the latest in a series of breakthrough Picarro instruments that is enabling the mass adoption of isotope analysis for a broad range of scientific and industrial applications.

Isotopes of an element have the same chemical characteristics but have different masses. For instance, the two stable isotopes of hydrogen, 1H and 2H (also known as deuterium, D), have the same chemistry, but deuterium is twice as heavy because it has an additional neutron in its atomic nucleus.

Where H and D follow identical reaction pathways, they proceed at different rates. Deuterium often reacts more slowly because it weighs more.

As a result, the D/H ratio in a biological sample depends on the biochemical pathways in living organisms and the nutrients available to them. Precisely measuring these ratios with the 13C + D Analyzer enables researchers in a variety of fields to gain key knowledge:

• Food origin tracking: The carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios in plants are used to pin-down the origin or appellation of value-added food goods, including cheese, beef, olive oil, cocoa, paprika, and honey. Food adulterated with lower-value substitutes and contaminants can be identified by differences in isotopic signatures.

• Pharmaceutical quality control: As pharmaceutical products go through chemical and biological manufacturing processes, they carry forward unique isotope ratio signatures, which can be monitored for quality control purposes and counterfeit detection.

• Drug enforcement: Law enforcement and border control agencies can determine the origin of marijuana and other illicit drugs through the analysis of isotope ratios.

• Bioplastic verification: Isotope ratios are used to verify that incoming plastic resins are from renewable sources and not from fossil carbon sources.

• Ecological research: The fossil fuels we burn produces CO2 which goes into the air we breathe, the environment in which we live, and the food we eat. Isotope ratios allow researchers to determine the specific pathways carbon and hydrogen follow through our environment.

“The high-precision and ease-of-use of the new 13C+D Analyzer will enable unprecedented lines of inquiry, vastly expanding the utility of isotope analysis in scientific and industrial realms,” said Dr. Nabil Saad, senior scientist at Picarro.

Dr. Saad continued, “When comparing our performance to IRMS, it’s important to keep in mind that Picarro’s precision guarantee is derived from actual sample combustion, whereas IRMS specs are merely based on gas standard pulses. In my experience, their stated precisions are extremely hard to achieve with actual combusted samples.”

Constrained by the cost and hassle of current techniques, such as mass spectrometry, few researchers have explored isotopic analysis for organic samples. Traditionally measuring the carbon and hydrogen isotope ratios requires two separate isotope ratio mass spectrometry (IRMS) techniques and specialized hardware configurations.

IRMS measurements are not made simultaneously, and thus require separate sample preparation and instrument set-up by a highly trained operator. The 13C + D Analyzer supplants both IRMS techniques.

Sample preparation can be as simple as wrapping samples in tin foil and dropping them in the autosampler for a 24-hour continuous run. The samples are burned to produce CO2 and H2O.

The 13C + D Analyzer measures both the carbon and hydrogen isotope ratio of these gases, enabling any person of moderate technical capability to perform world-class isotope analyses.

“We’re enabling the rapid uptake of isotope ratio analysis throughout science and industry by producing products that provide world class results with unprecedented simplicity,” said Michael Woelk, CEO of Picarro. “It’s exciting to have customers prepare to take our instruments on scientific expeditions and implement isotopes analysis into their industrial processes.”

The 13C+D Analyzer evolved from Picarro’s successful 13C CM-CRDS analyzer, the first optical isotope analysis instrument that integrated combustion technology with a Picarro CRDS analyzer.

Picarro analyzers are manufactured at the company's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters and exported to countries worldwide.

Backed by Picarro's patented CRDS technology, Picarro provides its customers with unprecedented flexibility to gather high quality atmospheric gas and isotope ratio data anywhere on Earth to make highly informed decisions for energy production, water management, greenhouse gas emissions, air quality management and food safety.