Position: Technical Manager, Field: Analytical chemistry, Organisation: Cawthron Institute.

Paul McNabb works as the Technical Manager at the Cawthron Institute in Nelson. This involves the management of a team of analytical chemists focused on research for industry. Usually this involves the analysis of new food andnutraceutical products.

Paul studied chemistry and biochemistry at Otago University. He then worked as a research assistant and completed an honours degree. Still not convinced he wanted to be an academic, he left for a stint of working and travelling, including a few months in London at a clinical laboratory. After returning to New Zealand and working some odd jobs, Paul became an analytical chemist with the Ministry of Agriculture and Fisheries in Wellington. As a born and bred Nelsonian, he wanted to get back to the sun. Paul moved to Nelson and was able to continue his career at the Cawthron Institute.

Paul’s interest is in liquid chromatography in any form. He is especially interested in automated systems for the analysis of trace components in a range of biological samples. He has expertise in the coupling of HPLC (high performance liquid chromatography) and UPLC (ultra performance liquid chromatography) to mass spectrometers in the form of modern liquid chromatography-mass spectrometry (LC-MS) systems.

Most of Paul’s experience with LC-MS is with investigations of marine and freshwater toxins, usually produced by microalgae and found in shellfish. Some of these toxins are the target of international food regulations. Paul has set up a testing laboratory at the Cawthron Institute to ensure New Zealand’s seafood is tested using the best possible science. New Zealand, the Cawthron Institute and the lab Paul established are now recognised as world leaders for the testing of toxins in shellfish. He travels regularly to international conferences, and the work done at Cawthron has been published in papers, books and other media.

At the bottom of it is a fundamental understanding of biology, so these studies will lead on to discoveries about biology that could be significant to other areas that we can’t imagine – areas like health and other scientific endeavours.

Paul continues to be involved in the routine testing of shellfish for toxins and acts as an advisor and mentor to the staff working in the routine testing laboratories at Cawthron. Currently he is working on the source of tetrodotoxin (TTX) in grey side-gilled sea slugs. He is trying to find out more about TTX’s occurrence in New Zealand’s coastal environment.

Paul enjoys outdoor pursuits, including mountain biking, running and multi-sport. Most of his free time is taken up with family life, school events, kids’ sports and concerts. He also spends time on things like house renovation or gardening – reluctantly. Paul’s dream is to sail into the Pacific for a couple of years. He regrets not wasting more time learning to play guitar.

This article is based on information current in 2012.

    Published 4 September 2012