EDUCATION: Mass Spec Without the Wait

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Science  04 Apr 2003:
Vol. 300, Issue 5616, pp. 27
DOI: 10.1126/science.300.5616.27d

The chemistry technique known as mass spectrometry is useful for everything from busting athletes who take illicit steroids to pinpointing rocks likely to harbor oil. However, universities often can't afford the latest machines, or if they can, give priority use to faculty. Now undergrads can absorb the principles of this powerful tool at the Virtual Mass Spectrometry Laboratory, hosted by Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh. The expanding primer teaches with four realistic scenarios, including screening hair samples for traces of cocaine and comparing proteins from different species. The problems allow students to explore a variety of approaches—using different types of mass spectrometers, for example, or altering how they prepare the specimens—so they can make their mistakes before they work with a real instrument.

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