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Virtual mass spectrometry laboratory transforms learning experience

At $1 million, many schools cannot afford the latest spectrometry equipment to help students conduct experiments such as determining the composition of a polymer, detecting the presence of cocaine in a hair sample or identifying an anesthetic. But that may soon change, thanks to collaboration between Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh on the development of the first virtual mass spectrometry system.

This interactive Internet educational tool has the potential to enable thousands of students and researchers to learn how to solve real problems from different scientific disciplines. Dubbed the Virtual Mass Spectrometry Laboratory (VMSL), this computerized tool is being presented Sunday, March 23, at the 225th meeting of the American Chemical Society (ACS), March 23-27, in New Orleans.

"The development of this system will allow us to educate many more undergraduate students at one time in challenging technologies that are increasingly essential for conducting much of today's research," says Mark Bier, director of the Mellon College of Science's Center for Molecular Analysis in the Department of Chemistry at Carnegie Mellon.

"Since the VMSL is carefully designed to allow students great freedom with no risks, we believe it will engage them via the discovery process in a way traditional course experiments rarely can," says Joseph Grabowski, professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.

According to Bier, who is presenting results of their polymer case study at the ACS meeting, typically only one or two students at a time can use a mass spectrometer. Moreover, in many universities, faculty monopolize this equipment for their studies. VMSL (http://mass-spec.chem.cmu.edu/VMSL/) allows many more students to learn at the same time, doing so without interrupting ongoing faculty research.

Smaller colleges that cannot afford the instrumentation, which to
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Contact: Lauren Ward
wardle@andrew.cmu.edu
412-268-7761
Carnegie Mellon University
23-Mar-2003


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