FOI chemist Tomas Gustafsson is in humorous mood, saying that chemists are often conservative and that today’s methods differ little from those used in Strindberg’s time.
“One puts two substances in a lab flask and stirs until one gets the reaction one wants.”
So when the Västerbotten County Council wanted to find ways of automating work on blood and urine samples, FOI’s scientists saw an opportunity to bring the chemistry up to date. FOI’s scientists took their inspiration from the oil industry where large hoses are used to mix fluids continuously but built a miniature variant using small pumps controlled by a computer. These are used to pump out chemicals at the desired rate and these streams are then mixed in a reactor chip.
Tomas Gustafsson explains a number of advantages.
“We get a safer and more controlled reaction. This makes it easier to repeat a test correctly and the heat which a reaction can generate is monitored and conducted away by the fluids in the long tubes,” he explains.
In the instrument one can increase the pressure on the chemicals and thereby raise the temperature of the liquids being mixed to beyond their boiling points. This gives a radical increase in the production rate, an increase of ten degrees halving the process time in the same way that the processes that make fresh food spoil are faster at the higher temperatures outside the refrigerator.
Increased production rate
Other factors too lead to increased safety and production rate.
“Not only can we mix several substances in a single process instead of doing it in several stages but we can also allow the process to continue round the clock since it is being monitored by a computer,” explains Tomas Gustafsson.
Apart from our partners Västerbotten County Council, this work is being followed with considerable interest by, for example, the Swedish Armed Forces who would like to able to speed up creation of simulation substances for use in decontamination exercises, and by other researchers whose experiments would be made safer and easier to repeat.