Franco Basile is an Associate Professor of Analytical Chemistry at the University of Wyoming. The Basile Group at the University of Wyoming focuses on the application of Mass Spectrometry. Basile has been in Wyoming since 2003, and he is originally from Venezuela.
When I asked Basile to describe exactly what an analytical chemist does, he explained it to me very well. Unlike the classical synthetic chemist, he doesn’t make new molecules. Instead, he analyzes molecules in terms of telling its structure and also how much of it. He does what is called qualitative and quantitative analysis of molecules. To do this, he uses instruments called mass spectrometers. They can weigh the mass of molecules, so that’s how he can tell them apart is by their mass.
Analytical chemistry is the branch of chemistry that is tied to technological advances in computer hardware. When I asked Basile what exactly got him interested in all of this, he explained to me, “I was always fixing things like my bike and my motorcycle. And so that type of chemistry always interested me because that’s where instrumentation and chemicals interact, and I found that to be fascinating.”
One thing imparticular that he found to be very important in his research is that everyone thinks that when you heat a protein to really high temperatures the whole amino acid sequence falls apart and it sort of chars, but Basile and his research team found that if you heat it to a temperature that is not too hot but not too cold, unique reactions happen and those reactions are very reproducible. So the protein breaks at only a certain amino acid, and that’s very useful in chemical analysis of big proteins because big proteins are hard to analyze because they are so big. So it would be nice to cut it into smaller pieces. People do that with enzymes but that takes time, you have to put it in solution and so on. The method that they develop with heat does it in ten seconds.
In the next few years, Basile sees his research going further. He wants to branch more into clinical microbiology and also into analysis of tissue sections, and looking at proteins directly through tissue sections.