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History of John Burgener with an emphasis on Burgener Research and Burgener Nebulizers
Burgener Research really has its origins in the mid 1940s during World War II, when my Father, John E. Burgener, was offered the opportunity to work with the Aluminum Company of Canada to start a spectrographic lab. He was sent to Arvida, Quebec, and began a battle to show that spectrographic analysis were able to provide as good or better results than wet chemistry techniques. The turning point came with a bad batch of Aluminum. The Aluminum was critically necessary for airplanes being built by Canada and England during the war. The spectrographic techniques caught the problem, and the wet chemistry missed it. The spectrographic lab then became the major analytical lab of the company. After the war my father was asked to set up spectrographic labs across Canada for the Aluminum Company. After doing so for a while, he decided that the way of life as a management person in the Aluminum Company was not what he wanted. He chose to start his own company instead. He and my mother and my oldest brother moved back to Ontario and after building his own 3 meter photographic spectrograph, he began Technical Service Laboratories or TSL Labs, which offered analytical services to Canadian mining companies. (Note: his original spectrograph was in daily usage for about 40 years)
His company grew and became one of the top labs in Canada. My father loves to build machines, and continued to develop instruments. He had an Arc/Spark "direct reader" produced by Hilger as the main instrument in the lab for many years, but found the readouts to be too slow, so he built a complete electronic readout system for it himself. As a kid, I was asked to help in the wiring as my father had trouble working with tiny parts. So I have been building spectrometers and related equipment for about 50 years now.
I officially began to work with my father at the age of 15 when I was asked to help build his portable "Spectrochem" - a 1.5 meter portable arc/spark spectrometer designed to be used for sorting and checking metals visually by looking at the spectrum of a standard and of a sample simultaneously. The instruments were selling well, but the staff did not have enough time to build them, and I needed to earn some money to pay for my high school fees. I built about 10 Spectrochems in three months.
Once I got to university, I was able to get some exceptional jobs due to my experience with instruments. My first and second year summer job was as biologist / repair person for a U of T biology project in the high Arctic. Duties included scuba diving under 6 feet of ice to collect samples of mud and to catch fish for the studies, and then to spend hours using microscopes to count the tiny creatures in the mud samples. After that, with "Arctic experience" I was hired to work as a geologist in northern Ontario, then to work as a geophysicist on the northern coast of Canada, and then to work again with my father setting up a lab in Yellowknife for geochem analysis.
I spent a year traveling after university, and did a cross Africa trip and a cross Asia trip. In the summer of 1977 I began full time work with my father working on automating the production of glass vacuum pin tubes for sampling steel, and manufacturing and selling energy conservation equipment.
For many years Technical Service Labs was the Canadian sales agent for Jarrell Ash. As Jarrell Ash reps, we worked closely with the factory, and when they issued their first production ICP, either the first or the second one produced was delivered to us. My father assigned one of his best chemists to work on the ICP and get it running mining samples. The potential was there, but not the procedures. It was not an easy task. The PDP 8 computer used to operate the ICP had about 16 k of ram, used paper tape for program storage and used a 110 baud teletype as the data input and output. Typically, the PDP 8 crashed once or twice a week, and it took about 3 to 4 hours to get it up and running again.
The nebulizers were glass capillaries in a cross flow housing with many adjusting screws to align the tips of the glass capillaries. They worked very well for a few minutes before they would plug up or change their alignment or just break. A typical day would be spent with several hours getting the computer running and then another hour or so getting the nebulizer working and then only a half hour starting the finicky plasma, and finally trying to run some samples before anything stopped. (note: in 2010 most ICP instruments start by pushing a "On" button or clicking a "Start" icon on a computer).
In my spare time, my father asked me to look at the ICP and see if I could get it into routine production. The ICP was operational, but still not producing good analysis. My father and I felt that whole rock analysis would be an ideal type of analysis for the ICP, but no one had yet succeeded in doing good whole rock on an ICP at that point. Several researchers were working on it, especially some in France and South Africa. But productivity was poor, and no one had accomplished whole rock as a simple, routine analysis. Whole Rock analysis is an attempt to determine everything in a rock, with the ten major elements being calculated as oxides and the total of the oxides being required to add to 98% to 102%. With the ICP we could do about 20 other elements at the same time, so the results should have totaled to 100% and covered all the main elements required for geological exploration.
I found that one problem had been the attempt to use synthetic standards. With perfect linearity, the instrument should be able to be calibrated with synthetics. I decided that that was not realistic, and started using NIST and South African standards as the calibrating solutions. Whole Rock is best done by Lithium Metaborate fusion. We tried using Bunsen burners to do the fusions and found that they did not produce a hot enough fusion. We then tried electric furnaces and still had a lot of samples fuse poorly. Finally we tried a Leco induction furnace with graphite crucibles, and found that with the higher temperatures we were able to produce a good fusion of virtually any material, and were able to produce stable solutions that remained in solution for months.
But the ICP computer was not workable. So we bought a newer computer - a DEC PDP 11, and I spent a few months working out how to use the PDP 8 simply to read the photomultiplyers, and to send the teletype data to the PDP 11 which was used to turn the raw intensity data into calibrated results. This did work, and by 1980 we were running about 100 whole rock analysis a day, with a staff of 4 people. Much better than the few per day per person necessary for wet chemical whole rock, and much more accurate.
In 1980 I went to Kenya for two years to set up a geochem laboratory for Geosurvey International. When I returned the ICP was not working well, and the PDP 8 was more of a problem, and I was asked to work on fixing it and also to clean up the lab and start a gold assay lab. As mining lab manager, head of R&D, general problem solver and chief computer programer, I was fairly busy. We hired Guy Legere to work on the ICP. With his help we made major ICP changes. One of his tasks was to buy and try every nebulizer available in the market. None worked well with our whole rock analysis. Dr. Meddings' MAK nebulizer was the best we found, but it too would salt up in a few hours. Most nebulizers would salt in a few minutes with our 3% Lithium Metaborate solutions. Guy came up with the idea of using Teflon since salts probably would not stick to it. His first attempts were the then popular Babington pillar designs in which the sample was dripped over a post. The post had a gas orifice on one side, and some of the sample would flow down that part of the post and be atomized. But most of the sample went down the rest of the pillar. I suggested skipping the sample dripping onto a post and instead have the sample delivered above the gas orifice in a blocky sort of arrangement with a path from the sample to the gas orifice. As far as I am aware this was the first of the now common Babington V Groove nebulizers (I would be pleased to be corrected on this if anyone knows of an earlier design). Although I suggested the basic shape, Guy did all of the work in making, testing and improving the design to become a working system, so the nebulizer is correctly call the Legere Nebulizer. The Legere Nebulizer solved our nebulizer headaches, but not the electronic and computer problems. So Guy hired an electronics engineer, Manny Phull, to design a better electronics system. Manny was able to produce a total replacement of the PDP 8 with a IBM clone based system (8087 running at 8 MHz with 128 kBytes of Ram!), and I was able to produce the operating computer programs. With new electronics and new software and new nebulizer, we were able to bump our production up to one sample every 3.5 minutes, or 400 a day including standards and blanks and QC samples. Manny's electronics continued to be improved, which led to the development of Trulogic Systems Inc. and their ICP retrofit with improved electronics for photomultiplyer based instruments (Trulogic is now Questron Canada).
With our whole rock analysis being the world's best at the time, we began to attract customers from all over the world, and the company began to grow rapidly. We set up branches in Spokane, Saskatoon, Timmins, and Vancouver. We expanded into materials testing and forensic testing, and joint ventured the startup of Activation Labs for neutron analysis. Eventually we had five ICPs, usually running 24 hours a day. In the summers we would run two to three thousand samples a day on ICPs, along with hundreds of GC environmental samples, a thousand fire assays, and a great many other analysis. By 1990, we were certified by the Standards Council of Canada for over 2000 different procedures.
In 1988 my father retired and sold the company to me, my brother Paul, and two others - Dan Bileski and Walter Grondin. In 1990 we sold the company to a group who were going to merge us with two other Canadian labs, with the expectation that we would be the largest lab in Canada and then we would grow to be the largest in North America. Unfortunately, the new owners did not live up to their promises, and being non technical, they did not understand how to run an analytical lab, and they did not like the advice my brother and I gave them. Technical Service Labs went bankrupt in a year and a half.
So in 1991 I was unemployed and not really interested in working for someone else. I decided to try to start a new business using some of what I had developed in Technical Service Labs, and started to get involved in developing reusable rockets for space tourism. I made a few Legere Nebulizers and sold one to Timet in Nevada. Eventually it died, and I sent another. The second did not work, and I sent a third and a fourth. They did not work either, so I gave up and the Timet people bought some glass concentric nebulizers. About 6 months later, they called and begged me to make another Legere as none of the other nebulizers were workable for them. I refused but began to think about why Legere Nebulizers were hard to get working. This led to the development of the Burgener Parallel Path design, with the first such nebulizer produced in 1993. It did solve Timet's problem, and it also worked well for many other people. In 1994, Jarrell Ash asked me to make one with a longer nose comparable to a glass concentric design, and with a few months effort we were able to machine it and produced the Trace and T2002 nebulizers. With Jarrell Ash selling the nebulizers, nebulizers became the main event and Burgener Research was incorporated in 1995 to make nebulizers.
In the late 90s I spent a lot of time renovating the house we were living in, and also spent a lot of time working with Rotary Rocket Corp., and trying to raise funding for reusable rockets (do you know anyone interested in investing a few million in a project that will lead to billions in sales?) (don't laugh - as of June 21, 2004, Scaled Composites flew the world's first private rocket plane to space with a budget from startup to final flights of less than $25 million), so new product development was slow. And manufacturing Burgener Nebulizers was painfully slow, with a highly skilled person able to produce only one nebulizer a day. I spent a lot of time thinking about how to make the nebulizers more efficiently, and in 1998 began trying to use some other methods of assembly of the nebulizer. This led to the development of the Mira Mist and Ari Mist nebulizers. Their "Enhanced Parallel Path Method" is actually radically different than the original Parallel Path Method. It uses very different principals of physics to operate, and is much easier to make. While the labor has decreased, the parts required to make the nebulizer have risen in cost, so the retail prices have not gone down as I had hoped they would.
Today we have over 20 different types and models of nebulizers available, including several industrial nebulizers. As far as I am aware, there is no limit on how large our nebulizers can be, nor on how small. We are working on new designs for industrial needs, but analytical nebulizers are still the main focus. One of my goals has been to reduce the costs of Teflon nebulizers so that everyone can afford to use them. At present, I have not succeeded in that, but I still aim to develop a new design that is still a good nebulizer and one that will cost about 50% of what is presently available.
Since this is a personal history, I should add a few non nebulizer comments:
To date, I have worked as a Biologist, Geologist, Geophysicist, Chemist, Computer Programmer, and Physicist. I have consulted on rocket design, microwave designs, computer automation, and educational software. I have been hybridizing daylilies for about 15 years with ten registered daylilies at present. (jpdaylilies.ca). I have been an investor and consultant to Rotary Rocket Company, Xcor Aerospace (xcor.com), Pioneer Rocketplane, and Rocketplane Global (rocketplane.com). I believe that we can build economical, reusable rockets that everyone can afford to use to travel to other planets in the next 50 years or less.
I had been joyfully married for 22 years to Paula, who sadly died of colon cancer in October, 2008. More sadly, she is one of 6 people I know with colon cancer - far too many for random luck, so I expect that the environment is largely the cause of the disease or it is contageous.
I have spent a lot of effort reviewing Global Warming and found no real science supporting it. There is actually no evidence at all that CO2 has any noticeable effect on the world's climate and I suggest that all scientists should check the data for themselves, and if you also find that there is no global warming, then please tell the non scientists you know, and please tell your government officials. A good web page outlining the real data is: www.noglobalwarming.info
I am now working on the study of comet impacts in recorded history. Apparently there have been many severe impacts drastically effecting the environment and destroying civilizations and causing unimaginable harm. It seems to happen about once every 400 - 500 years, and seems to have effects that last for 10 to 50 years. I hope to be able to publish my findings in the next year or two. In the meanwhile, if you are interested in the topic, the works by Prof. Mike Baillie are worth reading.
Also surprising to some, I am a Catholic, and God is a significant part of every aspect of my life.
As a closing note, a comment on the future: At times, one feels that it has all been done already and development can stop. Or that what one seeks is simply impossible. But when my father started with his home built, photographic, 3 meter spectrometer, his instrument was the height of technology of the times, and he had no need to develop a different or new way of doing spectrometric analysis. Rather than be content with the best available at the time, he continuously worked to develop better instruments and better methods to accomplish chemical analysis. I hope to continue to follow his approach and continue to develop new technology and new understanding of the universe and our existence and our relationship with God. And considering that reusable rocketplanes built by individuals were laughable 20 years ago and are now flying, its apparent that even impossible things often can be done. It just takes effort, time, and money. And a willingness to continue even when others say it can't be done.
Teflon is a registered trademark of E.I. DuPont De Nemours Company and in all cases in this web page refers to PTFE (PolyTetraFluoroEthylene)