Make the tools talk

Undergraduate Instrumental Analysis. Sixth Edition
February 24, 2006

Whether it be the measurement of the composition of the Martian atmosphere or the discovery of a contaminated bottle of water, almost every scientific and commercial endeavour depends on the application of modern instrumental analytical chemistry. In the hands of the untrained, these instruments are purely black boxes, as capable of delivering results of highly dubious quality as they are of doing the job well. The difference between a drug overdose and the correct medication level can depend on the skills and knowledge acquired during the analyst's undergraduate education.

This book is one of several that competes for position as the core text for the teaching of instrumental analysis at undergraduate level. Now in its sixth edition, it has developed and grown in size and stature and is much improved. In 16 chapters it covers, in some depth, most of the expected instrumental techniques (spectroscopy, chromatography, electroanalytical methods, thermal methods and so on). Each chapter comes with a useful collection of additional material such as bibliographies, sources of spectral databases, experiments and problems.

The presentation is generally good, but the varied sources of diagrams and the multiple editions have left a legacy of differing styles, line widths and photographic clarity.

One aspect of the work worthy of specific attention is the coverage of spectral methods. Synthetic chemists have grown to depend on a few analytical techniques (NMR, infrared and mass spectrometry) to find out what they have made, yet most major general textbooks choose to focus on the instrumentation and leave spectral interpretation to more specialised texts. Unusually, this text has incorporated quite extensive sections on the interpretation, and the effect is to remove the artificial boundary between the construction and functioning of the instrument and the understanding of the results that the instrument generates.

The changes in the new edition are almost without exception positive, and it is now a much stronger contender for adoption by course instructors. It is worth considering, however, whether this textbook has, like so many others, reached its size limit. At more than 1,000 pages long, many undergraduate textbooks are now becoming potentially intimidating, and it may be time to trim some of the words; a task that I am sure could be achieved quite easily without degrading the overall quality of the work.

Alan Howard is senior lecturer in analytical and environmental chemistry, Southampton University.

Undergraduate Instrumental Analysis. Sixth Edition

Author - James W. Robinson, Eileen M. Skelly Frame and George M. Frame II
Publisher - Marcel Dekker. Distributed by Taylor and Francis
Pages - 1,079
Price - £49.99
ISBN - 0 8247 5359 3

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