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Learning GC MS - best practices and advice needed


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I have a business opportunity which requires the results of a GC/MS to be successful. It is basically testing medications for their active compound and the potency of the compound. This is legal in the place/country in which I am looking for the type of substance I am planning on testing. All in all there will probably be about 40 different types of substance derivitaves which I will be testing for, most either in a carrier oil with a small amount of solvent or in a powder form with some form of binder. So that is what I would like to do, test the samples customers send in and publish the findings online.


I have no experience with GC/MS and I need to know where to start. I have a little chemistry background and an very good with technology (I work in the IT/IS field for a living, so I will pick up the procedure pretty quickly I would guess). What I need to know is how difficult is the testing for this kind of setup and can it be taught to a lab technician and assistant? Does one need a chemistry degree to do the testing or will a few classes in Chem be enough to understand the principles of what is going on.


My final question is about the GC/MS library of which I can compare results to to find out what the substance is. How do I get this and is there a way to buy specific examples of medications for a base line comparison? Let's say I want to test over the counter supplements and the library doesn't include them. Is there a way to obtain a base sample and use that for future comparison?


I'd love to learn more about GC/MS so if anyone can advise of something to read or point me in the right direction I would be greatly appreciative of any input. Also is LC/MS similar or possibly the way I want to go?


Finally, I will need to buy the machine and library on a budget so I would like to get some ideas on how I can find something like this for a good deal. Does anyone have any ideas on this?

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If you're testing medicines for the correct compositions you'll need a degree to show that you're competent enough... I hope. What country are you in? xD


Using analytical techniques will require practical, as well as theoretical practice and know-how to be successful.


I don't know, but I think GC/MS machines cost an arm and a leg.


Reading chromatographs and spectras requires supervised practice and you need to know all of the flaws involved with the techniques that might give false readings and stuff.


Either go for a degree, or an apprenticeship, which places like GSK offer I think.

Edited by Iota
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A decent GC/MS is quite expensive. With everything included you are looking at around 20k and up. For a standard LC-MS/MS in pharmaceutical validation we are talking more towards 50k and up (though used ones may be around for around 30k, maybe).



While in my opinion I do not think that it is too hard to master (though I may be biased), I doubt that one would hire someone as a technician without at least a bachelor in a related area.

Labwork and IT are for the most part extremely different skill sets. The majority of the time will be involved in creating sample prep protocols, analytical methods and validating them. The interpretation is for known compounds is fairly easy, if you are not looking into very complex matrices. There are commercial database for spectra searches (cost an arm and leg), though often just reference material is used (which is usually better, anyway, if you follow non-standard protocols).

I would really figure out whether you can get training on the job, rather than trying to get one on your own.

LC/MS is in principle similar, but it depends on the compounds you want to look at. I.e. can you use LC for separation or is GC more suitable (e.g. how volatile are the components to be identified).


If you want to start a business (i.e. offer services for sample analysis) then you are in a world of pain of getting your system certified.

Edited by CharonY
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Thanks for the info everyone! This is very helpful. Testing will take place in either Mexico or Canada and the material tested will most often be an oil based hormone mixture with a variety of solvents. As far as certification to have the results be considered legit, that isn't a big deal because my customers just want the results and can't use them for anything except personal verification of their own product. This isn't going to be used in court or for QC/QA just individual satisfaction that they got what they ordered. The reason it is those countreis is because it isn't illegal to possess the substances being tested so the procedure should be ok with no lab certifications or licenses.

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  • 4 weeks later...

A good method developer and analyst for GC/MS or LC/MS methods is more than just a technician who knows how to operate the instruments. It is kind of like saying "I should be able to sprint as fast as Usain Bolt, since all he is doing is running and we all know how to do that". Sorry, I do not mean to be insulting, but you really can't substitute a proficient analytical chemist for someone who has just learned to use the machine and be able to check for library matches. Experienced users can predict retention/elution times based on stereochemistry, Log P, boiling point (for GC) to verify compound identities. They will also instinctively know when something does not seem right, and know other ways to test for validation (FTIR, Raman, cNMR, etc.). In addition, they will know how to model/predict other variables such as response factors of different compounds to obtain more accurate quantity estimations. Not to mention, knowing the various sample preparation (SPE, SPME, SBSE, solvent extraction, SAFE) and derivatization techniques to allow less volatile compounds to be analyzed that may be required for extraction from different matrices due to different compound solubilities makes an experienced analytical chemist very valuable. I am not trying to say it is impossible for a non-experienced person to obtain these skills, but I would say you need a very strong interest to progress past this steep learning curve as well as a lot of time to develop this "analytical chemist" instinct.


A used GC/MS system can be purchased for about $15,000 USD (an Agilent 5890 GC with an Agilent 5972 MS is considered an older but very reliable workhorse). The mass spectral database in learning will likely cost extra (up to $5000). LC/MS although much more versatile allowing higher MW compounds that can be solubilized in different mobile phases to be analyzed, it will cost more in capital expenses ($50,000+), require more maintenance, and peak resolution decreases overall allowing less compounds per run to be analyzed.


My advice is partner-up with someone with this experience. It will benefit you in the short and long term. In this age of an ever-innovating and updating world, we cannot know everything so it is best to focus on what we are specialized in and very good at, and trust in those who know the other areas well that complement our skills. By sharing the wealth, it will ultimately bring in more wealth.

Edited by Carvone
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