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May 7, 2013

Dreyfus Prize goes to developer of mass spectrometry instruments

Scott Jenkins

The Camille and Henry Dreyfus Foundation (New York; www.dreyfus.org) has announced that R. Graham Cooks, the Henry Bohn Hass Distinguished Professor of Chemistry at Purdue University, is the recipient of the 2013 Dreyfus Prize in the Chemical Sciences, conferred this year in chemical instrumentation. The international prize, awarded biennially, consists of $250,000, a citation, and a medal. The award ceremony will be held at Purdue University in the fall and will feature a lecture by Professor Cooks.

Graham Cooks is recognized internationally as an innovative giant in the field of mass spectrometry who has enriched analytical chemistry in unparalleled ways. Virtually every pharmaceutical and biotechnology company relies on mass spectrometry  at a level that has become possible, in part, through Cooks’s innovations.

Mass spectrometry is the science of accurately determining the masses of molecules in a sample from which we can learn the elemental composition of each constituent molecule. Cooks advanced this analytical capability with the introduction of tandem mass spectrometry in which selected ions generated from complex mixtures are further fragmented and the masses of the fragment ions determined. By putting together these pieces of a jigsaw puzzle, a picture emerges of the molecular structure of the parent ion. Cooks has also made groundbreaking advances in ambient desorption/ionization in which ions from a sample at room-temperature in air are introduced into the mass spectrometer for analysis, removing many of the difficulties associated with sample preparation and volatilization in previous, complex mass spectrometric techniques.   

In a remarkable accomplishment, Cooks and colleagues have recently created miniature mass spectrometers, enabling the remote deployment of these analytical instruments including under battery power. Mass spectrometers, once roughly as large as an automobile, are now reduced to the size of a shoebox, allowing their widespread use in clinics, homeland security, the military, and food safety.

Cooks noted, “We are trying to take powerful and sophisticated instruments out of the lab and into the real environment where, for example, they could monitor fresh produce all along the supply chain, from production to the consumers. This technology has the capability of testing for bacteria in only a matter of minutes as opposed to hours or even days for standard laboratory tests.”

R. Graham Cooks received B.Sc. and Ph.D. degrees from the University of Natal, South Africa, and a second Ph.D. from Cambridge University. He has been at Purdue University since 1971. He is the recipient of many honors. These include the American Chemical Society awards in Chemical Instrumentation, Mass Spectrometry, Analytical Chemistry, and the F.A Cotton Award. He has been recognized internationally with both the Robert Boyle Medal and the Centennial Prize of the Royal Society of Chemistry.

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