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Sizing up the future

19 December 2014 No Comment

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I’m just back from DDL25, the Drug Delivery to the Lungs conference in Edinburgh. Unlike previous years the snow wasn’t here to stay and we were able to enjoy the conference without too many meteorological distractions.

tomorrow's world

Photo courtesy of bbc.co.uk

It was the 25th DDL and retrospection was the order of the day, with the DDL Lecture given by Prof Peter Stewart (Monash University) reviewing the history of powders for inhalation from 1989 to today and offering predictions of developments in the next 25 years. In 1989, powder scientists were beginning to consider inhalation, and what had been an empirical development process became more directed. Increased understanding of agglomeration and the role of fines followed, improving aerosolization and bringing the potted history up to the present day. In the next 25 years, Prof Stewart suggests we could see the development of combined sensor-dose devices for the ongoing management of chronic conditions or the use of stem cell therapies to eliminate the need for inhalers altogether.  He also called for a better alignment of objectives between academics (citations) and industry (products) for the benefit of the patients. So what if I take a similar format and apply it to myself and particle characterization? I’ll begin with a little about where I was and who I was in 1989…

In 1989 I was a brownie and I was obsessed with space. My heroes were Valentina Tereshkova and Maggie Philbin on the BBC’s Tomorrow’s World TV programme (see image to the left). I was desperate to watch Patrick Moore on another show, The Sky at Night, but it was far too late for me to be allowed to stay up and we didn’t have a VHS system. Meanwhile, in Malvern, Zetasizer was 7 years old and Mastersizer was celebrating its second birthday. This year, 25 years later, I joined Malvern Instruments as a technical specialist working with laser diffraction technologies. Laser diffraction (Mastersizer) and dynamic light scattering (Zetasizer) remain at the heart of Malvern Instruments’ business, but these technologies have been joined by sixteen others to allow characterization of particle size and shape, rheology and viscosity, molecular weight, size and structure, zeta potential and chemical identification. We’ve just launched exciting new accessories for both the Mastersizer – the Hydro Sight and Hydro SV – and the Zetasizer – the NanoSampler for automated size measurements, and the addition of microrheology. In 2039, 25 years on, I predict that instrument size ranges will have been extended, increasing the overlaps between microscope, laser diffraction and dynamic light scattering. The bigger revolution willParticle Master be in how the instruments are used. The separate instruments on the bench will be replaced by a combined unit, capable of running several techniques on the same aliquot of sample and reporting results either by technique, or on a combined basis. The instrument – let’s call it the Particle Master! – would be able to perform a quick test to identify the most appropriate means of sample preparation and automate most of the steps required, enabling the scientist or production specialist to walk up, add powder to the instrument, and walk away while the instrument does the repetitive work. By freeing the users up from hands-on operation of the instrument, they would be able to concentrate on the higher-level issues of experiment design and data interpretation. Isn’t it great to be able to conjure up a dream machine like this? Oh wait, that’s what our New Product Introduction team is for! I’ll be sure to pass on my ideas….

And as for me, in 2039 I’ll be 61. The retirement age may have been scrapped and I’m sure I’ll be pleased to be keeping up with advances in technology. I’ll probably have been too old and/or too poor to make it into space, but I’ll be devouring the space news, documentaries and immersive entertainments set off-Earth.  So here’s to the next 25 years of DDL & particle characterization!