ARCHIVED - Highlights - Recent Successes at NRC-SIMS

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February 24, 2005— Ottawa, Ontario

The Fundamentals of Innovation...

NRC-SIMS conducts cutting-edge research in selected areas of molecular sciences that have the potential to stimulate entirely new or emerging sectors of the Canadian economy. Strategic molecular sciences research fields include: molecular diagnostics, nanoscience, molecular imaging, dynamics and control, sub-cellular processes, chemical biology, neutron scattering, attosecond laser science, molecular interfaces, and their related technologies.

Our Recent Successes

NRC Scientists make Quantum Leap in Controlling Molecules
Researchers at the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences (NRC-SIMS) published a milestone paper in Nature that demonstrates how a new technology they developed using ultra-fast laser pulses can change the outcome of a chemical reaction. Quantum technologies make use of the molecular scale properties of matter. At this scale, which is different from our everyday world, matter behaves according to the rules of quantum mechanics. The new technology has implications beyond the control of chemical reactions. It can be used for quantum information to encode and control molecular scale data or switches. Other applications for the new technology will enhance the sensitivity of microscopes on living cells, where quantum control methods can be used to sharpen images and even perform molecular scale surgery on individual cells.

NRC Puts Rail Safety on the Right Track
A NRC team of researchers led by Dr. Ron Rogge of the Canadian Neutron Beam Centre (NRC-CNBC) in Chalk River was able to provide new experimental information to the Transportation Safety Board, which was investigating a derailment that occurred near Lake Wabamun, west of Edmonton, back in August of 2005. Suspect pieces of the railway track were analyzed by neutron diffraction to map the stresses inside the pieces of metal. Preliminary tests established that the residual stress field was distorted near features in the metal called 'shells', which are thought to be precursors to fractures. The neutron diffraction method could become an important tool for more thorough investigations into the causes of rail defects or to eventually establish guidelines to improve the reliability of rails and reduce the probability of derailments in the future.

NRC-led Team First to Watch a Chemical Reaction from the Molecule's Point of View
An international team led by NRC's Dr. Albert Stolow was the first ever to see a chemical reaction, in real-time, from a molecule's point of view. Chemical processes underlie just about everything around us and involve a complex dance of both atoms and electrons. This amazing choreography transforms one molecule into another, however, it happens at unbelievable speeds – typically within a millionth of a millionth of a second! The technique, described in one of the world's leading scientific journals, Science, brings us a lot closer to a fundamental understanding of these chemical reactions. "The difference is, to make an analogy," says Dr, Stolow, "it's as if we can now 'film' a car crash from the driver's point of view, rather than that of the traffic helicopter!"

NRC Scientists Take Imaging to Heart
Break through research, published as a cover story for Nature Chemical Biology, gave NRC scientists a front row seat to watch heart cells in action! For the first time ever, scientists can now visualize and quantify the nanoscale receptor clusters in heart cells. Using a specialized optical microscopy technique, scientists reveal how receptors on the heart muscle cells respond to hormonal signals from their environment. Essentially, the new imaging technique improves our understanding of how these receptors, the primary transducers of the 'fight or flight' response, accelerate the heart rate. This understanding could ultimately lead to the development of novel therapeutics for regulating heart arrhythmias.

NRC Team Makes Hydrogen a More Attractive Alternative to Fossil Fuels
An international team led by Dr. John Ripmeester of the Steacie Institute for Molecular Sciences (NRC-SIMS) published a milestone paper in Nature that outlines how hydrogen can be stored more safely for fuel cells. They showed how adding just a touch of stabilizer allowed them to store twice as much hydrogen into the gas hydrate framework compared to any previously published studies. Hydrates are ice-like substances found both offshore on the continental margins in permafrost all over the globe and form when gas is in contact with water under the right temperature and pressure conditions. Gas hydrates are an excellent hydrogen source and a practical alternative to our fossil fuels dependency. They represent one of the world's largest untapped reservoirs of energy and, according to some estimates, have the potential to meet global energy needs for the next thousand years.

NRC Researchers Capture First Image of an Electron Orbital
Researchers from the NRC Steacie Institute of Molecular Sciences (NRC-SIMS) have produced the firstfilm ever of an electron orbital or cloud, the area in which an electron moves inside a molecule. The film as described in the December 16th, 2004 issue of Nature, represents a real landmark and is a true "action" film. Electrons move at speeds far faster than any car chase or even a speeding bullet and react with one another with unthinkable energy and violence.  "We now have a method for filming the small, fast-moving and violent world of atoms and molecules, almost as we might film our own world with a conventional video camera," notes Dr. Paul Corkum, group leader for the NRC-SIMS Atomic, Molecular and Optical Science research group.

Single-Walled Carbon Nanotubes (SWNT) - To Impact Industry
Despite their tiny size, or perhaps because of it, unique structures called nanotubes are already being explored by NRC researchers for commercial applications. Carbon nanotubes represent one of the first commercial applications of the nanotechnology revolution, a movement based on engineering at the level of individual atoms. For example, one nanometre, a standard unit of measurement in the realm of nanotechnology, is about 1-80,000th the width of a human hair. Single-walled carbon nanotubes are single, elegant sheets of carbon, or graphene, rolled on themselves. Their crystalline structure makes them far stronger and less brittle than carbon fibre, which is currently used for making strong and ultra-light bicycle seat posts, ski poles and aircraft parts. The same materials made with carbon nanotubes would represent a major leap in technology and performance.

Researchers Make Molecules Measure Themselves
Breakthroughs by NRC-SIMS researchers have demonstrated the possibility of having a molecule measure its own structure. In this ultra-fast phenomenon research, using attosecond electrons for molecular probing, an electron is pulled from the molecule by a strong field, only to be driven back when the field reverses its direction where it diffracts from the parent ion. Since diffraction occurs within about one femtosecond (one-quadrillionth of a second), the structure of the neutral molecule can be imaged. This has great potential for structure determination of non-crystalline molecules, particularly large biomolecules.

Enquiries: Media relations
National Research Council of Canada

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