Understanding spectroscopy with a view to rationalizing spectrochemical analysis: an abysmal adventure or a realistic ideal?

  • Boumans P
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This paper presents a view on the creation, transfer, and use of knowledge that constitutes or should constitute the basis of spectrochemical analysis methods. This view is projected on a communication network of "spheres" of which physics, spectrochemical physics, methodology development, instrument development, and applications development form the nuclei. According to the author's definition, the knowledge created in the sphere of methodology development is based partly on parametric studies of sources or atomizers, partly on analytical or spectroscopic approaches inherent in and characteristic of spectrochemical methodology development. On the other hand, methodology development is understood to derive a rational backing from an indispensable interaction with spectrochemical physics and physics. Methodology development is argued to occupy a crucial and central position in the communication network because it searches for concrete answers to generally analytical or spectrochemical questions and provides these answers by building up systematic knowledge that is directly usable in both instrument and applications development. This philosophy and the pertinent question raised in the title of this paper are discussed in a concrete context by reviewing and analyzing the developments in three domains of spectrochemical analysis: inductively coupled plasma (ICP) atomic emission spectrometry (AES), spark AES, and glow discharge (GD) spectroscopy. The pivot position of methodology development is illustrated by the developments of both ICP-AES and GD-AES, where methodology development has substantially contributed to the implementation of rational approaches. This situation is contrasted with the development of spark AES, where a vast reservoir of profound fundamental knowledge has been acquired but has also been locked up in an ebony tower, because there has been little or no demand from the side of instrument manufacturers for a rationalization of spark-AES analysis. This has created a "spark-AES methodology gap", which, for various reasons discussed, is not likely to be bridged in the future. GD spectroscopy is shown to cope with a rather fundamental handicap: the lack of local thermal equilibrium in GDs. The further rationalization of GD spectroscopy is concluded therefore to require an essential expansion of spectrochemical physics using basic input from physics and the implementation of approaches not yet very common in the spectrochemical field. On the whole, the author expresses his concern not so much about the unavailability of knowledge that would help rationalizing spectrochemical analysis, but about the proper transfer of this knowledge to the recipients. In particular, the author emphasizes the need for making fundamental knowledge in the circuits of methodology development and spectrochemical physics better consumable, not only to applied analysts but also to chemometricians in order to prevent the proliferation of artificial intelligence that rests on practice only but lacks a really rational basis. © 1991.

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  • P. W.J.M. Boumans

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