I’m a BIG fan of the CBS science geek crime drama CSI, particularly the TV character I’d most like to be if I can’t be Mulder and get close to Scully, namely Gil Grissom. I’m a lot like Grissom in real life; at least, I like to think I am. Co-starring in the show, of course, are all of the crime-busting scientific gizmos, including a sleek, sexy, $150,000 Thermo Finnigan’s Trace DSQ gas chromatograph / mass spectrometer. Now you can fantazise about being Grissom to your heart’s content by getting involved in the new virtual mass spectrometry laboratory developed by Carnegie Mellon University and the University of Pittsburgh. 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. “We believe it will engage [student users] via the discovery process in a way traditional course experiments rarely can,” says Joseph Grabowski, professor of chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh.
The VMSL system incorporates four different kinds of mass spectrometers, each of which is used to study the composition of compounds, such proteins, polymers, or small molecules based on their molecular weight and electric charge. The virtual lab instruments include a MALDI-TOF (matrix-assisted laser desorption ionization time-of-flight) mass spectrometer, a gas chromatograph quadrupole mass spectrometer, an electrospray ionization ion trap mass spectrometer and a magnetic sector mass spectrometer. The VMSL contains four entertaining case studies, such as analyzing an animal blood protein (serum albumin) to eliminate ringers from a species Olympics event. Another case study involves analyzing an unknown anesthetic found in a medical bag thought to belong to a Civil-War era physician. Check it out!