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The endless possibilities of spectroscopy

Date of news: 3 December 2018

Thursday November 29, prof. Jos Oomens held his inaugural speech, entitled: ‘Spectroscopy in action: from astrochemistry to biomarker discovery’. He convinced the audience that spectroscopy - especially integrated with mass spectrometry - is an exciting, useful and certainly not boring research area with a lot of applications.

oratie Oomens

Among colleagues, family and friends he outlined the history of infrared spectroscopy and mass spectrometry. He showed that integration of these techniques is essential for fundamental research, for example in astrochemistry and ion chemistry, but also to identify unknown molecular structures in complex mixtures like blood, urine or water.

Oomens and his team work together with the Radboud university medical center to identify biomarkers for metabolic diseases and with Janssen Pharmaceutica to determine the molecular structure of oxidation products of their medicines in cell cultures. And the list goes on. “Plants, vegetables and fruit can also be regarded as a ‘complex mixture’ of innumerable molecular components. We try to identify unknown compounds with researchers from Wageningen. With the Water Research Institute KWR we will try to identify unknown contamination in drinking water. For me, these applications make spectroscopy very interesting and exciting.”

Fundamental science
The method can also be used for more fundamental research, for example to better understand organic reactions by mapping structures of reactive intermediates. “The possibilities are endless. And because the FELIX Laboratory  is an open facility, every scientist can use it. In the coming years we will build a ‘Molecular ID Lab’ together with the Radboud university medical center, in which besides mass spectrometry and ion spectroscopy, we also want to apply ion mobility and high-resolution mass spectrometry for accurate and more-dimensional structure identification.”

Less thematic research
At the end of his inaugural lecture, Oomens plead for more freedom for scientist, to make interesting side-roads, go off the beaten track and even radically change course. “Scientific research is a search for the unknown. This quest can’t be delimited by the boundaries of set research themes, or recorded beforehand by milestones and deliverables. Let each scientist determine his or her own agenda. Let’s give free research enough space, ensure an acceptable award percentage in open calls and some structural research funding. My own research is a good example of this: when we worked on the spectra of ionised polyaromatics, we could not have imagined that we could use our techniques to contribute to research into severe metabolic diseases.”

Jos Oomens (1968) obtained his doctorate at Radboud University in 1996 on a topic in the field of molecular spectroscopy. From 1999 to 2013, he was affiliated with the FOM Institute for Plasma Physics Rijnhuizen in Nieuwegein, where he developed a method in which the FELIX free-electron laser is used to record infrared spectra of gaseous molecular ions with a mass spectrometer and implemented this method into a large number of ionised systems. In 2009, he was appointed adjunct professor of Action Spectroscopy at the University of Amsterdam. In 2013, he moved together with the FELIX Laboratory to the Radboud University, where he was appointed Professor of Molecular Spectroscopy and Dynamics.