Global Connection: Field testing in Chile

Guido Verbeck, associate professor of chemistry, center, with doctoral students Phillip Mach, left, and Roberto Aguilar, right, in Chile (Photo by Annah Verbeck)Chemistry associate professor Guido Verbeck and a group of student researchers took a 40-pound mobile mass spectrometer to UNT's sub-Antarctic field station in Chile in December to collect air and water samples throughout the region.

Verbeck created the mobile device, which can be mounted in an electric hybrid car or carried as a backpack, to support chemical analysis in the field. It readily and accurately checks air quality and provides a list of chemicals in the air. It also can be used by crime scene investigators.

"This helps scientists and researchers collect data on the spot in real time, eliminating the need to revisit the site," Verbeck says. "Portable mass spectrometers also will be cheaper, making them available to scientific fields that have limited budgets."

The samples the group took at the Chile field station, which is located in the Cape Horn Biosphere Reserve at the southern tip of South America, make up the first-ever recorded data set on the region's air and water chemistry.

The areas tested have not yet been impacted by humans, but the tourism and energy industries are expected to begin moving in over the next several years as part of the planned sustainable development of the reserve.

Verbeck's readings -- all tagged with GPS -- provide a baseline for future researchers to revisit the same locations and evaluate if and how industry has affected the environment.

Verbeck has created and patented modified parts for mass spectrometers for private companies like Inficon and 1st Detect and patented a nanomanipulator in 2012. He also collaborates with researchers at Cardiff University's School of Bioscience, UT Southwestern and the University of Liverpool.

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