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Research areas and equipment infrastructure

Research areas

Although the McGill IR Group carries out fundamental research, much of it is with practical applications in mind. The main areas where this philosophy has manifested itself in useful developments include:

(1) Analysis of Edible Oils

The IR Group has had a strategic research program in place to develop rapid automated methods for the analysis of edible oils. The hot topic today is new trans labeling legislation promulgated by the U.S. FDA. FTIR spectroscopy is the way to go with these analyses and for this the McGill IR Group has developed an automated system for trans isomer analysis. Other FTIR methods developed include the determination of Saponification Number (SN), Peroxide Value (PV), cis and trans content, Iodine Value (IV), Hydroxyl Number (HN), Anisidine Value (AV), Solid Fat Index (SFI) and Free Fatty Acids (FFA). The basic elements of this body of work have been published in the Journal of the American Oil Chemists’ Society over the years and a number of systems are in commercial use for quality control applications. The benefits of this technology include: (a) speed of analysis, the average analysis taking about 2 minutes per sample; (b) the elimination of time-consuming wet-chemical methods and (c) a substantial reduction in the use of environmentally-unfriendly reagents.

(2) Analysis of Lubricants

In partnership with Thermal-Lube Inc., the McGill IR Group was asked to investigate the development of rapid FTIR methods of lubricant analysis, specifically in relation to condition monitoring. Because of the complexity of the lubricant matrix, new approaches have been developed to allow for the analysis of Acid Number (AN), Base Number (BN) and moisture (H2O) by FTIR spectroscopy to replace ASTM titrimetric methods. These systems are capable of analyzing one sample per minute and are substantially more environmentally friendly than the standard methods.

(3) Microbiological Analysis

The McGill IR Group is one of a few research groups worldwide that has investigated the possibility of employing FTIR spectra for “molecular fingerprinting” of bacteria. Recently, in work performed in collaboration with researchers at Health Canada, the Institute of Medical Microbiology of the University of Zurich, and Sunnybrook & Women's College Health Sciences Centre in Toronto, the potential utility of FTIR spectroscopy as a rapid technique for the identification and typing of antibiotic-resistant staphylococci has been demonstrated. These findings indicative of the potential capability of FTIR spectroscopy to serve as a rapid, simple and reliable method for detection of strains causing infections that do not respond to treatment with first-line antibiotics have elicited a substantial amount of interest at several major clinical microbiology conferences, particularly because the increasing incidence of such infections within hospitals makes it essential that appropriate therapy and intervention for cross-infection control be initiated in a timely manner. Other recent research in this area concerns the application of FTIR imaging technology in the rapid identification of foodborne pathogens.

(4) Analysis of Food Systems

The basic concepts for the general application of FTIR to the proximate analysis of foods was outlined in Trends in Food Science and Technology (Volume 2:1, pp 13-17) in 1990. Subsequent to that, methods were developed for the analysis of a range of food products, including milk, sweetened condensed milk, butter, and emulsified products, with more recent work focusing on wine analysis by ATR-FTIR spectroscopy.

(5) Fundamental Research

The Group also carries out more fundamental spectroscopic research in the areas of protein structure and structure-functionality relationships (Ismail) and lipid oxidation (van de Voort) as well as carbohydrate chemistry, particularly in relation to the Maillard reaction (Yaylayan).

See Publications for more information on Research areas.

Equipment infrastructure

The McGill IR Group has an extensive FTIR spectrometer infrastructure, supported by instrument manufacturers and consisting of some 12 instruments. A number of these are dedicated systems for edible oil and lubricant analysis, some are custom systems (high pressure diamond cell, immunoassay) with the balance being used generically for various applications.