By Robyn Sanders
A new mass spectrometry lab will soon be under construction in the Baylor Sciences Building and should be completed sometime during the spring of 2012.
Mass spectrometry is a technique that measures the molecular weight of molecules and atoms, Dr. Touradj Solouki, professor of chemistry, said.
“It allows us to go and maybe break those molecules into pieces so we can see how they are constructed,” Solouki said.
One of the ongoing areas of research in mass spectrometry looks at how the composition of proteins in saliva change when the body is in different emotional states.
Solouki said there are three prongs of research areas for the lab: biomedical studies, environmental studies and analytical chemistry.
“Overall function of the lab will not only be for our own particular research, but we’re hoping that we will help also others who have need for these ultra high resolution mass spectrometers,” Solouki said.
One of the areas of research in which Solouki will continue once the lab is completed is cancer biomarkers.
This research was started while he was a chemistry professor at the University of Maine.
Solouki said these biomarkers are either a single molecule or panel of various molecules that only exist if somebody has cancer.
Solouki said the goal of this research is to be able to detect cancer as early as possible.
“We’re working to see if we can find noninvasive biomarkers, or biomarkers that can be collected noninvasively, like from saliva or from sweat or from breath.”
Dr. Patrick Farmer, professor and chair of the chemistry department, said Solouki was hired to fill the position of senior analytical chemist in the department he came to.
Farmer also said Solouki’s new lab will dramatically expand the capabilities of the department.
“Mass spec is one of our specialties here,” Farmer said. “[Solouki’s] specialty is really in the medical applications of mass spectrometry.”
The lab will be home to two ultra-high-resolution mass spectrometers and a superconducting magnet, as well as a number of other instruments.
“People here in the chemistry and biochemistry [departments] have been really fantastic … helping us making sure that we address everything before we start,” Solouki said. “We’ve had, I think, our last meeting with the engineers.”
The lab will be in the C wing on the first floor of the Baylor Sciences Building.
“[The lab] follows the general design that we have here for most of the science labs,” Solouki said. “And then it’s a little bit different than other labs because we have sort of a bigger footprint for this system.”
Student involvement will range from undergrads to post-docs, and Solouki said he also hopes to enhance the group collaborations that already exist in the science department with this lab.
“We can’t wait till we put the whole thing in place,” Solouki said. “I think it’s going to look beautiful.”