Signal to Noise: Peter Gabriel song or sciency term?

Originally published in Feb of 2020, let’s look into the Peter Gabriel obsession of the writer. Or not!

“Man, I’m losing sound and sight
Of all those who can tell me wrong from right
When all things beautiful and bright
Sink in the night
Yet there’s still something in my heart
That can find a way
To make a start
To turn up the signal
Wipe out the noise.”

~ Peter Gabriel

A couple of the analysts were standing in the main office (where I work) at the counter behind me, looking for ASTM methods for a project. Suddenly, one mentions “Signal to Noise”. I whipped my head around and commented
“I have no idea what you are talking about, but boy, is that a great Peter Gabriel song!”

They had no idea what I was talking about as much as I had no idea what they were talking about. Go figure!

Pete can’t move like this anymore. Neither can I.
Also, if you attended the Secret World tour, I hate you.

So I thought maybe we could learn some interesting terminology, along with our methods and techniques.

And here we are, with signal to noise ratio, defined as the ratio of the power of a signal (meaningful information) to the power of background noise (unwanted signal). The signal-to-noise ratio (S/N) is an important variable that may influence the performance of your method.

Signal to noise ratio is a calculation used in science and engineering in order to calculate how much noise has distorted a signal. The higher the ratio, the less distracting the “background noise” is. It is sometimes used informally to refer to the ratio of useful information to false or irrelevant data in a conversation or exchange. For example, in online discussion forums and other online communities, off-topic posts and spam are regarded as “noise” that interferes with the “signal” of appropriate discussion.

Although SNR is widely cited for electrical signals, it can be extended to any form of signal, such as isotope levels in an ice core, cell-to-cell biochemical signals, or financial trading signals.

Noise interferes with all actual measurements. This includes electronic noise, but it may also include external things that may influence the measured phenomenon, like wind, waves, gravitational pull of the moon, variations in temperature or humidity, etc…, depending on what is measured and the sensitivity of the system. Through tracking the environment, the “noise” can often be reduced. We can use these measurements in many different ways.

The signal-to-noise ratio is sometimes used for expressing the sensitivity of an instrument. To calculate the sensitivity of a GCMS instrument, the signal-to-noise (S/N) ratio is often used as a yard-stick measurement. This will define the S/N ratio. Remember that it is difficult to estimate the realistic detection limit in general, because the limit depends on many factors, such as contaminants, test matrices, etc…

When testing for trace elements, equipment must be accurate and the S/N Ratio is one way to make sure. Impact Analytical uses lots of checks and balances, including testing our methods, to make sure your data is accurate! As a reminder, we perform testing for other businesses, not the general public.

As for Peter?

“Send out the signals deep and loud”

“Turn up the signal
Wipe out the noise”

I don’t need to say anything. He’s a genius!

See you next week for more irreverence and learning!

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