GAINESVILLE---It's not a World Wide Web site that will draw big crowds, but it is the only one of its kind in the world.
University of Florida researchers have linked a powerful nuclear magnetic resonance, or NMR, system to the Internet, giving scientists, students and curious Web surfers a chance to see and use real time laboratory experiments in microbiology and cell science.
"Until recently, our NMR instrument could be used by only one person at a time, and it was not an efficient way to provide large numbers of students with hands-on experience," said Marian Buszko, microbiologist with the UF's Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences, who developed the Web-based system.
"Now, this technology can be accessed and operated from any desktop computer on the Internet by using a Web browser," he said. "Our World Wide Web NMR spectrometer provides universal access to real, research-grade instrumentation. Even untrained users can operate the system, thanks to the popularity of Web browsers and an easy-to-use graphical layout."
NMR technology and a related system known as magnetic resonance imaging allow scientists to measure biological and chemical processes at a level of detail unmatched by any other technology, Buszko said.
In most experiments, living micro-organisms or cells, including cancer cells, are placed in the NMR spectrometer to measure tumor growth or metabolism over an extended period, Buszko said. From the convenience of their office or home computer, participating scientists and students can watch how cells react to various treatments applied in the laboratory.
He said the system is a major step forward in interdisciplinary research and distance education.
Currently, 20 students in the microbiology and cell science department are participating in the NMR teaching program, which started about two years ago, said department Chairman Edward Hoffmann.