January 8, 2018 - 4:15pm
By Jenn McGarrigle
Is there something strange in your neighbourhood’s air or water? VIU’s Applied Environmental Research Labs is developing new technologies that could revolutionize how we figure out what’s going on in our environment.
Thanks to a $1-million investment from the Canada Foundation for Innovation and BC Knowledge Development Fund, VIU scientists are developing new technologies in a state-of-the-art mobile mass spectrometry lab, a.k.a. the Mass Specmobile, to make chemical measurements of air and water quality on-the-run.
A mass spectrometer sorts molecules based on how heavy they are and can detect very low levels. The Mass Specmobile is essentially the world’s most sensitive nose, “sniffing” the air as it wheels around the block, or “sipping” water samples on-site to detect the unseen. Unique in Canada, the new research vehicle allows for the continuous measurement of molecules that impact the environment and human health.
Why is this so innovative? Right now, measuring contaminants in the air or water involves taking a sample and bringing it back to a lab, where it is analyzed and results are returned a few weeks later. The Mass Specmobile, which is still in the prototype phase, brings these analytical tools to the field, enabling scientists to understand the extent and degree of contamination at a study site in real-time. This molecular-level information can be mapped over time and space, allowing for a greater understanding of regional scale impacts.
“It gives us that information when and where it is needed, allowing for a better understanding of what happens to certain molecules in the real-world,” explains Dr. Erik Krogh, co-director of VIU’s AERL. “This research vehicle will help us answer fundamental questions about the fate and distribution of environmental contaminants, both in the air and in the water, questions that are significant both locally and around the world.”
Aside from Krogh and the lab’s other director, Dr. Chris Gill, undergraduate, graduate and post-doctoral students are involved in this research and development project. For more details, email Gill and Krogh at Chris.Gill@viu.ca or Erik.Krogh@viu.ca.
*This article originally appeared in the Winter 2017/18 edition of VIU Magazine. Check out more stories on the VIU Magazine webpage.