PEI

How a $1.3M spectrometer is helping Agriculture Canada scientists on P.E.I.

Scientists with Agriculture Canada on P.E.I. are putting a new $1.3 million piece of equipment to good use, and they hope other researchers will start to take advantage of their high-tech spectrometer.

The equipment takes pictures of molecules, which helps in the study of soil, and more

Chris Kirby hopes other researchers will also take advantage of P.E.I.'s new high-tech spectrometer. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Scientists with Agriculture Canada on P.E.I. are putting a new $1.3 million piece of equipment to good use, and they hope other researchers will start to take advantage of their high-tech spectrometer.

The spectrometer uses nuclear magnetic resonance to take pictures of molecules — similar technology to an MRI.

It's the second spectrometer for the lab, but the first one — now 10 years old — can only look at liquids. With the new machine, samples do not have to be dissolved.

"So we can look at a soil directly, or we can look at a seed and look at the oil inside the seed directly without destroying the seed," explains Chris Kirby with Agriculture Canada. 

Research could help farmers, industries 

The spectrometer is being used for a range of research, including a project looking to create new pigments, made out of waste from the blueberry and grape industries.

It is also being used to test soil, which could tell farmers what can be done to improve their crops.

The spectrometer is being used for a project looking to create new natural pigments. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

Research scientist Jason McCallum is using the spectrometer to test hops, and look at the chemical differences between wild and European hops. 

"We think these chemicals are very important in the natural resistance of the hops. There's pests and fungal diseases on the East Coast that are very devastating to European hops but the local stuff, the wild stuff, seems to be thriving," McCallum said.

Jason McCallum is using the spectrometer to test hops. (Nancy Russell/CBC)

The scientists hope the various research projects they're doing can help farmers, as well as the food and beverage industry and others.

Opportunity for cross-country collaboration 

Kirby would like to see even more researchers taking advantage of the P.E.I. lab, including Agriculture Canada colleagues across the country who currently make use of local university labs. 

"I appreciate sometimes you want things done because it's right next door. But if you have a longer term project with lots and lots of samples, then we can do really good collaborative work," Kirby said. 

"Because sending a sample across the country is not difficult anymore."

More P.E.I. news

With files from Nancy Russell

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