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Whether in the Lab or in the Field - It's All About Chemistry

Whether in the Lab or in the Field - It's All About Chemistry

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I was recently at a lunch meeting with a client to re-engage me in a historical project that I worked on many years before but had stalled due to lack of funding. We were discussing the project once again, and it was to begin in short order . . . But, even though I stay incredibly busy with my existing workload, I always feel obligated to finish projects for clients that I have worked on previously. Seeing projects to completion is rule number one for me.

During the lunch meeting, he asked about what I was working on. I told him about my different projects in all different areas, from air monitoring to POPs litigation cases. He stopped and said, "No wonder you are so busy, you are into so many things."

I paused and wondered if that was a good thing or not. Was I trying to do too much on too many things? Sort of a jack-of-all-trades but an expert in none? I went through all the projects I’ve been working on in the past couple years, and realized that I had, in fact, been working on a lot of “different” projects . . . or were they?

Chemistry: The Central Science

Fading back into my conversation with my client, I quickly pointed out that I was just doing chemistry. The commonality of all my projects is solid, scientific approach using chemistry. Chemistry is a central part of all environmental work. Being the central science, it has a lot to offer all environmental-based projects. The central science is the foundation of this very hard-to-define profession.

Chemistry explains a very large component of environmental science and environmental forensics. This includes everything from how samples are collected, to how they are analyzed, to how they are interpreted: It is all based on chemistry.

So, yes, I have a lot of different projects on a variety of seemingly unconnected projects but, in reality, I am only doing chemistry and applying the fundamental knowledge of chemistry to a variety of projects. Sampling air and sampling sediments are very different processes, but the chemistry determines why and how best to sample both.  If you understand the chemistry you understand how and why to sample the different matrices.

I tried to think of another profession that is similar. The one example I could think of is statistics. If you are a statistician, it doesn't matter if you are analyzing web analytics or blood contaminant concentrations, you are simply applying statistics to the data. You may have more experience in one area, but that doesn’t mean you cannot do the other. Average clicks per day and average blood concentrations are still calculated averages. Chemistry is similar.

A fundamental knowledge of chemistry can be applied to study design (how and where to collect samples) to analysis of samples (what compounds to look for and why), or to interpretation of the data (why certain compounds are not present in the sample or maybe why some appeared that you weren't expecting). It is all just chemistry!

At Chemistry Matters, we do work on a large variety of projects covering different contaminants and different environmental matrices; but the common things applied to all is sound scientific process and the application of chemistry to help solve the problem, or answer the questions being asked.

About the Author

Court Sandau

Court is the President and owner of Chemistry Matters – a niche environmental consulting firm which specializes in geoforensics, environmental forensics, biomonitoring, and arson investigations. As an international speaker and expert chemist, Court is often called upon to provide his expert services in oil & gas investigations and litigious chemistry issues.

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