Introduction to the 2016 Emerging Investigators themed issue

This issue of Analyst highlights the work of emerging investigators in the field of analytical chemistry. What is an emerging investigator? While we roughly defined that person as within 5 years of starting an independent position, the better definition might be an engaged scientist showing us the way to the future of science. This collection proves the next generation of independent scientists is leading the way in understanding fundamentals of analytical science to push exciting applications.

In microfluidics, new investigators are finally achieving the dream of automated, point of care analysis in novel ways. Li's group designed a battery-powered spectrometer that can read point of care microfluidic devices while Edwards’ group developed fully on-chip sample lysis and cell culture for metabolomics research. Zeng's group developed a PCR chip that facilitates DNA analysis without fancy microfluidics. Shi's group described a one-step microfluidics-based immunomagnetic isolation method to isolate CTCs directly from the whole blood of lung adenocarcinoma patients.

In the field of electrochemical analysis, the emerging investigators are again leading the way to both deepening fundamental knowledge and new applications. On the fundamental side, Li's group used a new form of electrochemical shell-isolated nanoparticle-enhanced Raman spectroscopy to understand the binding of DNA to gold electrodes, which is critical to developing better biosensors. On the application side, Park's group has led the way to using new optogenetic techniques to extend electrochemical measurements of dopamine to a new brain region, the olfactory tubercle.

Advances in spectroscopy are pushing towards faster measurements in more challenging samples. Schultz's group developed sheath-flow surface-enhanced Raman spectroscopy (SERS) for online detection and quantification of small molecules separated by liquid chromatography. Smith's group applied Raman spectroscopy for the discrimination of morphologically similar lymphocyte cell classes and cell lines. Pring's group presents the first comprehensive non-destructive microelemental characterization of mineral pigments used on Aboriginal Australian objects. Baker's group reports a method for the diagnosis of brain cancer from serum samples using FTIR and machine learning techniques.

A large number of works have focused on the exploration of new materials for analytical chemistry. Yan's group reviews recent advances in employing Janus particles as novel analytical tools for live cell imaging and biosensing. Recent progress in the development of upconversion nanoparticles for biodetection is highlighted by Fan. Dahlin's group fabricated plasmonic nanohole arrays with homogenous and tunable diameters for biosensing, while Xia's group developed DNA-functionalized nanopores for highly sensitive detection of Zn ions.

Innovative instrumentation and strategies in mass spectrometry continue to establish it as one of the central analytical tools in multiple scientific disciplines. In this special issue, Xu's group reviews fundamental studies measuring collision cross sections. Many other mass spectrometrists focused on applications including metabolic profiling by the Nemes and Kim groups and in-depth proteomic profiling by Wu's group. Imaging continues to be an important frontier of mass spectrometry, with emerging investigators highlighting biological imaging, such as the Ellis group using MALDI and the Lanekoff group with DESI. Fine structural determination of small molecules is also a focus, like lipids performed by the Xia group and ubiquitin by the Bleiholder group.

Overall, these contributions demonstrate that young scientists are engaged in incredibly difficult, interdisciplinary work. They are proving that improvements in fundamental analytical chemistry are vital to breakthroughs in many other fields from neuroscience to proteomics to chemical warfare detection and environmental applications. We hope you will enjoy reading this collection of articles by some of the best young analytical scientists and come away with the same conclusion as we did, the future of analytical science is very bright!

Guest Editors,

W. Andy Tao

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Jill Venton

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Chaoyong James Yang

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This journal is © The Royal Society of Chemistry 2016