May 24, 2004

New environmental research centre opens at U of T Scarborough campus

A new facility at the University of Toronto's Scarborough campus (UTSC) will take molecular analysis of organic matter to an unprecedented level, shedding new light on fields such as climate change, environmental contamination and forensic science. The $2.47-million Environmental Nuclear Magnetic Resonance (NMR) Centre is the first of its kind in Canada dedicated to research in environmental science.

Bruker BioSpin Canada donated the facility's instrumentation--a gift-in-kind worth $1.57 million--while the Canada Foundation for Innovation, Ontario Innovation Trust and U of T each provided $300,000. Installation of the NMR spectrometer began in October 2003 and was completed in March with the assistance of one of Bruker BioSpin's engineers who travelled from Germany to help with assembly of the technology.

The lab's specially designed instrument (the NMR spectrometer) and innovative technology allows researchers to analyze organic matter, such as that found in soil, water, leaves and air, at the molecular level. Once a sample is analyzed, the instrument produces a computerized "molecular map" of the compounds present in the substance. Researchers are compiling a database of compounds which have already been analyzed, to make subsequent identification of samples easier.

Husband-and-wife researchers Myrna Simpson, a U of T assistant professor of environmental chemistry, and Andre Simpson, a UTSC assistant professor of chemistry and the new centre's director of NMR research, will supervise activities at the facility.

"Any research is limited by the quality of the research tools," Myrna Simpson explained. "By having access to this unbelievable instrumentation, we're going to be able to make leaps and bounds in our understanding of environmental processes. We'll be able to solve a lot of fundamental problems." The instrument can also be used to scan a sample on multiple occasions over a period of time, providing a "time-lapse" glimpse of decomposition, she added.

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