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Chemistry LibreTexts

4.1: Analysis, Determination, and Measurement

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    219800
  • The first important distinction we will make is among the terms analysis, determination, and measurement. An analysis provides chemical or physical information about a sample. The component in the sample of interest to us is called the analyte, and the remainder of the sample is the matrix. In an analysis we determine the identity, the concentration, or the properties of an analyte. To make this determination we measure one or more of the analyte’s chemical or physical properties.

    An example will help clarify the difference between an analysis, a determination and a measurement. In 1974 the federal government enacted the Safe Drinking Water Act to ensure the safety of the nation’s public drinking water supplies. To comply with this act, municipalities monitor their drinking water supply for potentially harmful substances, such as fecal coliform bacteria. Municipal water departments collect and analyze samples from their water supply. To determine the concentration of fecal coliform bacteria an analyst passes a portion of water through a membrane filter, places the filter in a dish that contains a nutrient broth, and incubates the sample for 22–24 hrs at 44.5 oC ± 0.2 oC. At the end of the incubation period the analyst counts the number of bacterial colonies in the dish and reports the result as the number of colonies per 100 mL (Figure 3.1.1 ). Thus, a municipal water department analyzes samples of water to determine the concentration of fecal coliform bacteria by measuring the number of bacterial colonies that form during a carefully defined incubation period

    Blue fecal coliform bacteria are dotted around a petri dish growing to various sizes within the dish.
    Figure 3.1.1 : Colonies of fecal coliform bacteria from a water supply. Source: Susan Boyer. Photo courtesy of ARS–USDA (www.ars.usda.gov).

    A fecal coliform count provides a general measure of the presence of pathogenic organisms in a water supply. For drinking water, the current maximum contaminant level (MCL) for total coliforms, including fecal coliforms is less than 1 colony/100 mL. Municipal water departments must regularly test the water supply and must take action if more than 5% of the samples in any month test positive for coliform bacteria.