05/02/2016

Dr. Rudolf Schneider and Nahla Abdel Shafi are researching into a simple method to determine environmental poisons in waters and drinking water.

Dr. Rudolf Schneider and Nahla Abdel Shafi are researching into a simple method to determine environmental poisons in waters and drinking water.

Source: BAM, photo: Michael Danner

Dr. Rudolf Schneider is Head of Division of Environmental Analysis at BAM – a topic gaining more and more importance, as the chemist explains.

Dr. Schneider, there is a 20-euro note on your bench. Are you going to talk about money?

Dr. Rudolf Schneider: I prefer talking about all that is connected to money ... Ms Abdelshafi’s Ph.D. thesis deals with the drug cocaine. We can show that our innovative methods can detect the smallest traces.

Nahla Abdelshafi: I have tested 65 banknotes and have typically found about one microgram of cocaine per note. Apparently it is normal to stack banknotes on each other in cash dispensers: one banknote that has been in contact with cocaine can then contaminate another and so on...

Which detection method have you actually developed?

Dr. Rudolf Schneider: We employ immunoassays, i.e. tests using antibodies, similar to diagnostics where we have a lot of experience. Now we use them in the search for environmental poisons. Thus, we can detect synthetic substances in waters or drinking water. The advantage is you need much less equipment than in the previous, very elaborate chromatographic laboratory method.

Are several Ph.D. students currently working on this topic?

Right now I am supervising ten Ph.D. students who are researching into this topic here in Adlershof. Our measurement systems should be transportable so it can be used in situations where a decision is rapidly needed. Caffeine or carbamazepine, the latter is an active agent from epilepsy drugs, are used as indicator substances by us. People excrete these substances and if we find them at a certain point in a river, we know that a wastewater discharge point must be close or not very far away.

The Teltowkanal flows right next to your laboratory building. It may offer a lot...

Our goal is to develop measurement stations close to each other to ensure comprehensive tests. So far this has not been available, even in major rivers, because conventional measurements are complicated and expensive. So we started our investigations in the Teltowkanal.

Why is BAM engaged in environmental analysis at all?

My colleagues are involved in the development of norms and standards for the analysis of environmental samples using chromatographic measurement methods. We also produce reference materials and use them in our tests. We have a mandate to explore new technologies and to support them on their way to practical application. Through reliable environmental analysis we contribute to the technical safety of products, processes and people’s life and work.