Christian Nielsen’s Career Insights

Introducing Christian Nielsen

MSCi is delighted to welcome Christian Nielsen as our Sales Manager from Bjørn Thorsen A/S where he was Technical Service Manager.

We asked Christian a few questions to find out what makes him tick scientifically and the career experiences that have led him to this point.

In this deep dive into Christian’s experiences, you’ll learn about his academic roots in mass spectrometry and his hands-on roles in building production facilities, analytical lab and why he chose a career in chemistry over insurance.

It’s a fairly long read but well worth your time. 

Welcome Christian.

Could you provide a brief overview of your background as an analytical chemist?

Sure, I’ll focus on the bits that are more relevant to analytical chemistry as I’ve had quite a varied career. I did my master’s at Københavns Universitet, in 2002, where I had access to one of the first and only sector mass spectrometers in Denmark,  working on answering fundamental questions about chemistry with mass spectrometry. In the same endeavour, I was also using more advanced and research type mass spectrometers, such as TOF-SIMS and a storage ring mass spectrometer (ELISA) in Aarhus.

Agilent MS Machines

Agilent LCMS from Christian’s early career

After my master’s, I turned to use mass spectrometry in a more hands-on approach and learned to use GCMS as well as other techniques such as MALDI-TOF as tools for working with small-scale synthesis for research questions. Answering analytical questions also requires other techniques and I quickly adopted hands-on experience with other methods as well – not to mention calculations of uncertainties and errors, which goes hand-in-hand with analytical chemistry.

Christian in the lab

What area of scientific study were you into at a younger age? Was it more life sciences or chemistry that excited you?

Mathematics, actually. I minored in mathematics and chemistry when I studied, but you have to make a decision at some point and my heart was beating more for chemistry. I like to think of myself as a person who likes to solve problems around science or answering scientific questions through the lens of a chemist. I felt it would be much more interesting and suited to my personality than working with mathematics in industry, which typically revolves around programming or insurance mathematics.

Young Christian Nielsen

Young Nielsen

Can you share your experiences in the industry?

I’ve worked in research development departments, and in my last role, I actually built production facilities for mixing liquid products. I realised early on that measurement and quality control are incredibly important things, and you can’t launch a product or anything else for that matter, without guaranteeing the quality of those products in an accurate, qualitative way. 

Well, you could, but you’d get into a lot of trouble!

Can you tell us more about building production facilities?

I was helping to build the big reactor tanks for a small company who wanted to grow and establish something bigger. So I actually built the mixing vessels, all the electrical factors around it, the electrical engines, and everything that supported that such as ventilation just to name one example. But also environmental approvals is an important aspect in building a facility like that – and in here, goes analytical chemistry. For example, quantifying the volatiles that are expected in the exhaust and also quantification of chemical and biological oxygen demand for oxidizing compounds found in the waste water from the facility. 

SunChemical Milling Factory

How about your experience in building analytical labs?

Well, first comes the question: What is it that needs to be quantified and in what amounts, which leads to the type of equipment in the lab. Second is to design a test method that mimics a real life situation, which can be used to collect samples that are then analyzed with the analytical instruments

I set up an analytical lab with mass spectrometers not only to support the development of printing inks that are in contact with foods – there are now regulations and guidelines for the amount of chemicals that is allowed to migrate into the food, but also to be used for quality control. After all, once the inks were developed according to all the rules and guidelines, we also had to check that when produced, we could vouch for the compliance with all these regulations. 

My job was to build the analytical chemical laboratory from the ground-up with a bird’s eye view of how everything fit together. I had to take a very agnostic approach to answering the many, many questions involved.

Is this experience beneficial at MSCi?

Absolutely. To give you an example, we have a customer developing a product where they are trying to quantify the different compounds in their formulations. Again, if there are no specific written routines to lean on, we have to look in other fields to find suitable methods – in this example, we are looking to ISO standards originally written for measurements on construction materials.

The ability to navigate these regulatory frameworks is something I’ve taken with me that is already helping our customers which is very satisfying.

Are there any upcoming regulatory challenges?

This is always something that when doing product development you have to keep an eye on. The real challenge is to have the knowledge of the regulatory landscape. Bigger companies have regulatory departments working only with navigating in this growing field. As such, this is something that is not directly influencing us as suppliers of analytical chemistry instrumentation. But it is affecting our customers and we want to support our customers! 

It is not enough simply to know the regulations; there is also how to test. And this is where we can help our customers by knowing where to look for these things and having an understanding of the best ways to perform the tests that satisfy such varied standards.

Entering conversations with this kind of information helps foster a much more collaborative relationship with our customers.

Is this collaborative approach to solving problems something that attracted you to MSCi?

When I had to build an analytical laboratory, I was myself a customer of MSCi and it was crucial that MSCi could provide a service, where they not only supplied the instrumentation, but also engaged in all the practicalities of setting up the lab. For example, how to set up supply of nitrogen and helium for the instrumentation. 

I think one of MSCi’s advantages is its focus on the customer and their needs. We have the luxury of getting into less regimented conversations that are rooted in a shared curiosity of how to get to the best possible work.

We aren’t required to stuff a specific product down a customer’s neck!

With any new technology, it isn’t the large centralised companies that move things forward but the enthusiasts that tinker with it and share information because they’re curious about what is possible. I think that’s the same in analytical chemistry and particularly the relatively new automated sample prep capabilities.

Having that trust with customers where you have the space to have a trial and error process is where we shine.

Is there one piece of work you’ve been particularly proud of in your career?

I developed a product for inks made in a milling process using a 10,000 litre large ball mill. The mill itself is a big 10,000-litre cylinder vessel with a lot of little steel balls inside. You use it to mill two components into each other to change the physical properties – specifically the colour properties of ink.

Aside from the technical side of developing the product, what I found fulfilling was that you could see the change you’ve made in a tangible way – just by looking at it.

Industrial processes of manufacturing pigments and inks of ink is one of the oldest chemical industries.

Most aspects of chemistry are used in the pigment and ink industry: Physical chemistry, organic synthetic chemistry, inorganic chemistry etc. Analytical chemistry is used both for quality control but also in development of production processes. For example, are nitrous gases developed during the process?

Then further down the production process, you have to look for impurities and other things you need to meet regulations so it is a good place for aspiring analytical chemists to start out.

I hope that answers the question!

Schematic of a milling machine

Is there one problem facing the analytical testing industry you’d like to be involved with solving?

I’ll try to frame it in a different way. 

There is a lot of concern for exposure to chemicals – some is justified and some is not. But to answer these concerns, we need to ask questions such as which chemicals from for example inks and plastics used in our food packaging are we exposed to? What is the dosage? How can we easily measure for them?

This is a simple example but very illustrative of the fact that in our daily lives, we are exposed to many chemicals which we need to quantify and understand the effect of. 

And who is Christian away from work? What do you do in your free time?

Free time! I remember the days. I have two kids so I don’t get much in the way of free time any more but I like to keep active. Particularly by running and playing floorball when I get the chance.