Olivier Donard: pioneering elemental speciation

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Olivier DonardPioneering elemental speciation

Olivier F.-X. Donard's work is focused on the fate of trace elements in different environmental compartments. Most of his research over the past 30 years has been driven by the use of the total concentration of elements. Previously, it had been long established that the physico-chemical properties were determined by chemical species, thus modifying and regulating the flux of elements between the different environmental compartments. This chemical "speciation" also closely regulates both their essential or toxic effects as regards biological systems.

Twenty years ago, most of the research in the area was performed with major atomic spectrometers. As a postdoctoral fellow, working in the United States for both the National Science Fondation (NSF) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA), Olivier Donard made significant advances by developing a hyphenated technique using cryofocssing and atomic absorption spectrometry. Further, with a colleague, he pioneered the ethylation of elements and organometallic compounds in water to simplify sample preparation procedures. This procedure is now used throughout the world as major derivative reagents that simplify the concepts of speciation and make it available to most research and analytical laboratories.

Back in France, Olivier Donard also pioneered and promoted the use of microwave extraction procedures which reduced the time of sample preparation from twelve hours to three minutes. All of these advances, including the hyphenation of both liquid and gas chromotography to Inductively Coupled Mass Spectrometry have allowed speciation to be promoted as a routine analytical technique, thus improving our understanding of the fate of elements in the environment as well as associated chemistry applied to remediation processes.

For this work, Olivier Donard was awarded the CNRS Bronze Medal in Analytical and Environmental Chemistry in 1989, and shortly thereafter, in 1993, the National Prize of the French Chemistry Society in the Analytical and Environmental Chemistry Division, and finally the Prize of the Japanese Spectroscopy Society in 2000.

As a result, many collaborations have been created with leading instrumentation suppliers such as Agilent, Thermo Elemental and Perkin Elmer. Much of the equipment available today using ICP/MS for detectors is developed in Pau. To accompany this dynamic, Olivier Donard promoted a series of European Projects. He was co-coordinator of SPECIATION 21 Speciation for the 21st Century (a fifth PCRD project), and then of a follow-up project, EVISA (European Virtual Institute for Speciation Analysis, a fifth PCRD project). This virtual institute continues to operate with more than 60,000 visits per months, in continual progression.

After bringing a second dimension to elemental information with speciation and the hyphenation of liquid or gaseous chromotography to quadruple ICP/MS, further information is now being evaluated using ICP/MS with multicollection. Elements in a sample are present under several species. By controlling transient signals and using multicollector IPC/MS detection, we can now demonstrate that the different species of an element in the same sample have very different isotopic signatures. This raises a whole new array of questions to improve our understanding of the environment, food and industrial processes. These questions were recognized in 2012 with the obtention of the Equipex MARSS project: "Center of MAss Spectrometry for Reactivity and Speciation Sciences". This project brings together four major mass spectrometry instruments, two of which are prototypes development in close collaboration with the manufacturers Nu Instruments and CAMECA. This guarantees the ongoing development of the instrumentation and the continuous opening of new scientific frontiers in the field of speciation, and elemental understanding in all fields of environmental, food, medical and industrial research.