With the arrival of ever more sophisticated chemicals the importance of knowing exactly which chemicals are present in our lives and food is more important than ever. A Eureka-funded project claims it has the answer with its new software system MUSAC.
The system is said to assess the accuracy of the percentage contents listings of products, or the risk of pesticide contamination in food and medicines.
In the near future the International Organisation of Standardisation (ISO) will require companies to state just how reliable their chemical measurements are. The commercial MUSAC system has thus been designed to help companies judge if they are in breach of chemical limit regulations.
Matthias Roesslein of Swiss-based project leader EMPA Research Institute explained: "In the past, companies have already been challenged for uncertainty statements. In food control, for example, it is important to show that pesticides are really below a limit defined by government."
Around 20 partners contributed to the MUSAC project. The finished software system evaluates measurement uncertainty in four steps. It asks for the quantities of each chemical and possible sources of uncertainty (such as changing lab temperatures) before calculating the margin of error and simulating uncertainty levels over the production base.
One method to measure uncertainty is illustrated by a plasma flame, say the scientists. If atoms like cadmium or iron are present, they are excited and then emit a very characteristic light.
According to Roesslein, Nestlé is helping to commercialise the MUSAC system and is supposedly thinking about using this product in its labs worldwide.
Meanwhile, while some of the MUSAC partners have put together a spin-off company to market the new software, MUSAC has also provided the impetus for the development of a related system to quantify uncertainty in physical measurements, such as component length and electric current.
Commenting on the collaboration, Roesslein said that these computer-based techniques would have been impossible to develop outside the Eureka forum. "We had people from laboratories, programmers and those that understand measurement uncertainty. Eureka brought them together under one roof. It was a new experience and it's important that we undertake more interdisciplinary projects in the future."