A Center of Analytical Technologies in the mediterranean city of Messina (Sicily, Italy)

The analytical and food chemistry research group of the University of Messina is devoted to the development of advanced analytical methodologies for the analysis of complex mixtures.

One crucial event in the growth of the group was the establishment of the “Mediterranean Separation Science Foundation Research and Training Center” in 2005, which brings together forerunners in the field of separation science. The contribution of scientists from several universities around the world paved the way for the development of novel and highly performing analytical methods.

Furthermore, an academic spin-off ( was founded in 2007 to merge the scientific know-how with project management ability. The scope is the creation of a team of researchers converging from complementary disciplines for the realization of innovative projects in many application fields.

A multidisciplinary approach is mandatory and in line with –omic strategies. For instance, in the food area, the evolution in the concept of food chemistry implied a change of the analytical purpose so that the analyst aims not only at the full characterization of the matrix, rather at the determination of “special” molecules, being the marker of authenticity or bioactive compounds with noticeable implication for human health. Then, food chemists work in cooperation with professional figures coming from many scientific sectors, e.g. medicine, environmental and agricultural science, pharmaceutics, biochemistry and veterinary.

From an analytical point of view, comprehensive gas and liquid chromatography (GC×GC and LC×LC) represent two main research lines of the group aiming at a full investigation of a matrix, according to an untargeted strategy in which the increased separation space is essential for the identification and quantification of a major number of analytes, compared to monodimensional techniques.

Miniaturized platforms are also implemented to fulfil the requirements of Green Analytical Chemistry. A portable LC instrument was recently employed for the measurement of cannabinoids in cannabis inflorescences, satisfying most of the “green” precepts, such as the minimal energy and solvent consumption.

Finally, new aspects of separation science are emerging, i.e. the use of direct mass spectrometry to obtain a holistic profile of the samples and the application of chemometrics to achieve a separation of a large set of samples into a multidimensional space.

Luigi Mondello
University of Messina
, Italy

Including sustainability principles in sample preparation

The Affordable and Sustainable Sample Preparation Research Group (AS2P) has a long history in the field of analytical sample preparation, which has evolved from automation and miniaturization to simplicity and sustainability. These last two characteristics are the ones that support its main research line:  the design and development of analytical sample preparation systems that are sustainable and environmentally friendly. For this purpose, we start from substrates of (ligno)cellulosic nature such as paper, cotton or wood, on which we deposit the sorbent phases that allow us to extract the analytes of interest from a wide variety of samples.

In the case of paper, the coatings we have evaluated so far are polymers, including polymeric ionic liquids, nanomaterials and (nano)composites. In most approaches, the cellulosic substrate acts as an extractant phase support. However, very recently we have shown that the hydrophilic character of cellulose in combination with polymeric coatings can be exploited to extract families of compounds with a wide range of polarities. Cotton can be coated with a sorbent phase or modified by temperature-controlled pyrolysis in such a way as to obtain carbon fibers whose polarity depends on the synthesis conditions (temperature and time). Both paper substrates and cotton can be used in different microextraction formats and can be adapted to the sample volume available. In the case of wood, being a lignocellulosic material, it presents a more balanced polarity, being able to interact with non-polar compounds (through lignin) and presenting a certain polarity (cellulose). Its shape is varied and it is suitable for different analytical scenarios, even allowing its direct coupling with mass spectrometry.

In the evolution of the group, the development of affordable extraction units has played a key role. We are committed to the simplicity of the procedures proposed for sample preparation, so that they minimize the set of apparatus and involve the fewest number of steps, in order to reduce their environmental impact. From the analytical point of view, they must present analytical properties equal or superior to those of other materials prepared for similar purposes. Our research is focused on the simplicity of the procedures and the sustainability of the materials, both identified as drivers of change to achieve the integration of the Sustainable Development Goals in the routine of scientific research.

Soledad Cárdenas, Rafael Lucena
University of Cordoba, Córdoba, Spain