Accordions, the Adriatic and Analytical Chemistry ... by Charles Gowing

Dr Charles Gowing, BGS
Dr Charles Gowing,
Analytical Geochemist at BGS
My name is Charles Gowing and I have recently attended a workshop in one of the most beautiful locations in Slovenia.

It was the 9th Workshop on Proficiency Testing (PT) in Analytical Chemistry, Microbiology and Laboratory Medicine, held in the coastal town of Portorož. This three-day workshop attracted 200 delegates from 53 countries, with wide ranging attendance from most European countries and extending from sub-Saharan Africa, north Africa and the Middle East across Asia as far as Australasia, and the Americas.

The location of the workshop was idyllic, on the shore of the Adriatic over which the sunsets made beautiful backdrops for end-of-the-day deliberations. One evening we were treated to a guided tour of the beautiful old city of Piran.  A centuries-old city in a protected bay, it has been inhabited variously by the Roman, Venetian and Austria-Hungarian empires and is nestled on Slovenia’s coastline, just 46 km long.

The Slovenian coastal town of Piran
The Slovenian coastal town of Piran
Slovenian hospitality was very generous.  Following the tour we were welcomed by an energetic dancing accordion player and were then taken to a local vineyard for a tasting of local sausages, cheeses and wines (including a most unusual chocolate wine).

A Slovenian sunset
The workshop considered six key topics:
  • the importance of interpretive PT schemes
  • changes to PT schemes in developing countries over the last 10 years
  • implementing the ISO/IEC Standard 17043 for sampling PT schemes 
  • traditional vs virtual PT schemes
  • guidance on the levels and frequency of PT participation
  • the use and treatment of measurement uncertainty in PT schemes
Each topic was discussed in working groups to provide feedback to the European Analytical Chemistry community. It was somehow refreshing to hear that similar issues caused concern across the globe and refreshing to be able to discuss such issues with colleagues from countries as diverse as Egypt, India, Palestine, Greece and Sweden.  I was honoured to be asked to provide feedback on behalf of my discussion groups in the sampling and measurement uncertainty working groups.

Discussions at the workshop
The meeting was further enhanced by 16 oral presentations and 57 posters presenting experiences of PT providers from every continent and useful advice on statistical methods for describing data distributions. Specific points of concern highlighted the incorporation of laboratory measurement uncertainty into PT reports and the logistical headache of having to get PT samples delivered into countries through local customs, that were not always able to respond in a consistent manner.

I was especially enamoured by presentations on the handling of datasets with multiple censored results, on water testing schemes across sub-Saharan Africa run out of Namibia and the difficulties in maintaining homogeneity in samples of manure (which appears to be even more heterogeneous that geological materials).

Delegates at the 9th Workshop on Proficiency Testing (PT) in Analytical Chemistry, Microbiology and Laboratory Medicine 
Building on a legacy of Reference Material production over recent decades, we currently have a project under the innovation initiative for the production of reference materials. Further developing existing links with the Geological Survey of Ireland, we are producing a series of soil Reference Materials. The series is designed to provide significant concentrations of a comprehensive suite of environmentally important elements which can be used to underpin Quality Control of national scale geochemical mapping while being sufficiently specialised to provide targeted materials for individual research projects. Lessons learned from discussion of robust statistical procedures at the Eurachem meeting will be of great use when determining reference values and confidence limits.

Dr Charles Gowing, is Quality Manager in the Inorganic Geochemistry team within the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry and works with the International Association of Geoanalysts on the Steering Committee of the GeoPT Proficiency Testing Scheme for the analysis of Geological materials.