"Remote control research" a first for the U of L and National Research Council

December 14, 1999

Two Canadian biophysicists have broken new ground in the innovative use of internet technology for scientific research. University of Lethbridge Physics professor David Siminovitch and National Research Council (NRC) researcher Dr. Harold Jarrell have, for the first time, successfully tested remote operation of an NRC nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometer. From his laboratory at the U of L, Siminovitch ran NMR experiments on a unique, state-of-the-art NMR spectrometer at NRC's Institute for Biological Sciences in Ottawa. Among the projects Siminovitch is working on with a long-distance colleague is an area of breast cancer research which focuses on a particular type of receptor protein.

"This is a first for the U of L, and a first for NRC," Siminovitch said recently. " To use this state-of-the-art equipment from my own lab here on campus means that I can save time and money. I can also have resources available to me that you don't find at Universities our size. This means that our students will have an opportunity to learn and develop leading-edge NMR techniques using state-of-the-art instrumentation."

Just as astronomers use telescopes to examine the large-scale structure of the universe, condensed matter physicists use "spectroscopic" microscopes such as NMR spectroscopy to study the structure of matter on a molecular scale. Siminovitch, a biophysicist who uses NMR spectroscopy to study bio-molecular structure and dynamics, has a particular interest in the function of proteins and peptides in cell membranes.

Siminovitch said progress in his research program has been slowed by the limitations of his own "home-built" NMR spectrometer. Now that he will have "remote" access to the NRC spectrometer, with all of its enhanced capabilities, he expects to be able to tackle much harder and more interesting research problems. In particular, he will take advantage of remote NMR facilities to advance his research collaborations with Dr. Harold Jarrell at NRC, Dr. Hans Vogel (University of Calgary) and Dr. Chris Grant (University of Western Ontario). In the case of the latter collaboration, Siminovitch and Grant are trying to figure out the function of a receptor protein implicated in the development of breast cancer.

Instead of an expensive and time-consuming trip to Ottawa, or sending his NMR samples off to be handled by other researchers without him being present, Siminovitch used a computer link to the NRC's NMR lab in Ottawa, and a high-speed internet connection. In real time, he could then control the remote NMR spectrometer and analyze the NMR data to his satisfaction. Siminovitch said the cost of duplicating such a state-of-the-art facility locally would be in excess of $2 million. The technology that he can now access is a direct benefit NRC's broad-based mandate to bring more research services to more institutions in a very innovative way.

"Knowing we can work from here means that other faculty members who are contemplating research which uses this technology can take their projects in a new direction," Siminovitch said. "Establishing and testing the 'NMR Gateway' would not have been possible without the help of colleagues at both U of L, and NRC. David Kaminski and the Mathematics and Computer Science Department generously donated a computer work station which was used in my lab to link with the remote NMR workstation, and Jeff Oliver of Information Technology worked on establishing fast and secure links over the internet." At the NRC node, Dr. Jarrell loaded the NMR samples, set up the protocols, and oversaw the initial tests. Another NRC employee, Lise Bramall, ensured that remote users from Siminovitch's lab would have access to NRC equipment.
-end-
Contacts: Dr. David Siminovitch, U of L Physics Department (403) 329-2359 siminovitch@uleth.ca
Sandra Crossfield, NRC Media Relations (613) 998-0761 sandra.crossfield@nrc.ca

U of L Communications and Public Relations Contact: Bob Cooney, Communications and PR Officer (403) 382-7173

National Research Council of Canada

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