McGill IR group developing new analysis tools
IR group carries out R&D in sophisticated systems that identify the presence of bacteria and chemicals using infrared technology.
"A fantastic facility...engaged in exciting high level research and training. The IR Group has already produced promising inventions which are valuable in both diagnostic and manufacturing applications and I am certain that their techniques will continue to find important new applications in many areas." Thats how McGill Universitys Dean of the Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences, Dr Deborah Buszard, describes the multidisciplinary research group that is co-directed by Drs Ashraf Ismail and Fred van de Voort, from the Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry Department of her faculty. Combining the knowledge and research findings of experts in infrared spectroscopy, food science, medicine and biochemistry with industrial and health sector partners outside the university, the group is researching and developing sophisticated yet highly practical systems to precisely identify the presence of specific substances such as bacteria and chemicals in several manufacturing and diagnostic processes.
Although infrared spectroscopy is a widespread and well-established analysis tool, it is only by coupling this technology to advanced mathematical techniques and other innovative developments that the new methods have been made possible. These systems offer faster, more flexible, more reliable and more accurate analyses of many important substances than previously possible. Moreover, these gains actually come at a lower cost than traditional procedures. With the assistance of McGills Office for Technology Transfer, the IR Group has entered into a number of projects with industry partners in fields such as identification of bacteria and analysis and treatment of oil products. Descriptions of these two projects are attached.
Professors Ismail and van de Voort believe that these new applications of IR analysis are ony the tip of the iceberg which is gradually being discovered, in many cases though university-industry partnerships such as theirs. They foresee applications in many other areas where fast, efficient substance identification is required. Health and environment are two obvious fields where these techniques can have tremendous impact. Meanwhile, they are happy to know that industry involvement in their high level research at the University is providing graduate students with support for the advanced training which will make them more employable when they graduate.
Examples of successful projects with industry
1. IMMEDIAä Bacterial Identification System
Bacterial identification is an overriding concern in the health, environment and food sectors. In 1994, Professor Ismail and Mr. Roger Boulais of Quelab Laboratories Inc. combined their expertise to develop a cheaper, more objective method for bacterial identification. Professor Ismail brought his knowledge of Fourier transform infrared spectroscopy to the project, while Mr. Boulais contributed the background in bacterial culture media. The result was IMMEDIAä, a non-destructive identification system which can accurately identify an unknown species by comparison of its spectrum with the spectra of several hundred bacterial species, which are contained in a database. Even where only minute differences exist between bacterial spectra, the identification can be made quickly and with great accuracy in a one-step process by a minimally trained operator. In May 1998, an IMMEDIAä prototype was exhibited at the 98th Meeting of the American Society for Microbiology, where, according to Mr. Boulais, "the enthusiasm was overwhelming."
2. Continuous Oil Analysis Treatment System (COAT) and Portable Infrared Analysis System (PortIA)
Professors Ismail and van de Voort have been collaborating for over ten years with Mr. David Pinchuk, from Thermal-Lube Inc. to address the analytical needs of the users and manufacturers of oils and lubricants. Together, they have developed two versatile systems: COAT and PortIA. These can identify the side products of oil degradation, restore levels of depleted additives and, in the case of PortIA, accurately measure and blend the components of lubricant formulations. Both systems can be custom-designed to meet the analytical and blending needs of customers and can be used either continuously or intermittently. The partnership has earned them an Honourable Mention at the University/Industry Synergie Awards, in 1997. The COAT system is currently being used by a major automobile manufacturer in Korea, which is also planning to distribute the COAT system nationally.
McGill IR Group
Department of Food Science and Agricultural Chemistry
Faculty of Agricultural and Environmental Sciences
Macdonald Campus, McGill University
Dr Ashraf Ismail
Dr F. Van de Voort