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Flexibility for the


future


Testing the environment and ensuring that products don’t damage natural systems are both highly topical


and very competitive. Siân Harris fi nds out how a good LIMS system can help labs stay on top of their


environmental data


think about the amount of data generated in monitoring and ensuring that the drinking water is safe. However, for water companies – as for many companies bringing natural products to customers or ensuring that chemicals and other products do not harm the environment – such considerations are everyday concerns. Monitoring environmental conditions


W


and testing the environmental impacts of products require extensive work. Often studies go on for many months and generate large quantities of data from multiple sites. They might use instruments from a range of vendors and collect data in a range of formats. What’s more, the data collected has


hen we turn on the tap to get a drink of water we often take the safety of the water for granted. Certainly few people are likely to


are addressing with powerful laboratory information management systems (LIMS).


High volumes, long studies The high volumes and complexity of data involved in testing is a major challenge. ‘One of the key aspects of environmental data is the often low levels of contaminants being analysed, as well as the large numbers of components being identifi ed from a single environmental sample,’ comments Colin Thurston, director of product strategy, process industries, for Thermo Fisher Scientifi c. ‘One pesticide residue analysis method, for example, may identify more than 170 different chemical compounds at concentrations of the order of 10 parts per billion, and it is simply no longer possible for the checking of such large volumes of data to be carried out accurately by hand.’


ONE OF THE KEY ASPECTS OF ENVIRONMENTAL DATA IS THE


OFTEN LOW LEVELS OF CONTAMINANTS BEING ANALYSED, AS WELL AS THE LARGE NUMBERS OF COMPONENTS BEING IDENTIFIED FROM A SINGLE ENVIRONMENTAL SAMPLE


to be traceable and comply with increasingly stringent regulations. Samples might also be time sensitive and meeting such criteria is critical in what can be a highly competitive market for analytical laboratories. All these factors pose challenges for environmental labs – challenges that they


8 SCIENTIFIC COMPUTING WORLD Huw Loaring, systems director at


LabLogic Systems, which provides LIMS for a range of applications in environmental fate and metabolism studies, noted that labs might collect 4,000-5,000 data points over the course of a study for each of 100 samples. ‘It’s very hard to manage this manually in


Excel,’ he


observes. In


addition, a LIMS


helps labs


keep track of lengthy studies and ensures that ongoing work


is carried out on schedule. ‘Soil studies typically go on for six to nine


months and the labs need to keep the water content constant throughout that time. The LIMS keeps track of soil weight and how much water needs to be added and when. Our moisture maintenance module fl ags up things that have been missed by end users,’ Loaring explains. Neil Chapman, who is responsible for


international distributor management at Autoscribe, says that LIMS can help labs keep track of when to start work too: ‘We have systems in use in water and waste water laboratories, plus a number in the nuclear power generation industry. In many of the systems they are scheduling the collection of routine samples in the future, often for weeks ahead. They can then check that the samples are received and processed according to their schedules,’ he says. ‘Once collected, the samples are tested and results obtained. In the Matrix system we have the


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