ARCHIVED - Activation Laboratories Ltd. (ACTLABS) Ancaster, Ontario

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June 15, 2007— Ottawa, Ontario

ACTLAB's laser vaporizes samples allowing measurement of its elements as low as parts per billion.

ACTLAB's laser vaporizes samples allowing measurement of its elements as low as parts per billion.

Sleuthing around bedroom communities has landed NRC – IRAP a little detective work. A lab in the Golden Horseshoe town of Ancaster, Ontario has been providing clues to solving crimes. It is only a fraction of Activation Laboratories activities.

Activation Laboratories Ltd. (ACTLABS), a mineral exploration Laboratory, was founded in 1987 by Economic Geochemist Dr. Eric Hoffman.   Taking the science of analyzing chemistry and applying it in multiple forensic fields, ACTLABS is helping insurance companies pull clues together and solve crime. Today, the Laboratory has 125 employees in Ancaster and offices in seven countries employing 400 people across the world.

While Dr. Hoffman was completing work on his PhD degree in 1978, he reached out to IRAP. They formed a partnership. The NRC postdoctoral Industrial Fellowship first supported Dr. Hoffman's thesis on the commercial introduction of Instrumental Neutron Activation Analysis (INAA). Later when Dr. Hoffman formed Actlabs, NRC-IRAP helped with the development of prototype robotic sample changers. This technique involves bombarding samples with neutrons from a nuclear reactor and measuring the induced gamma-ray "fingerprint" from the sample in a non-destructive manner. The procedure allows for a safe, reliable method of providing high quality, low cost analysis with a rapid turnaround time.  

The partnership didn't stop there. IRAP then supported the completion of the Application of Solid Phase Micro-extraction (SPME). This technique provides a more efficient analysis and service to industrial clients and permitted ACTLABS to successfully discover and develop a niche market for the analysis of ignitable liquids in fire debris. That helps determine whether there was a possible accelerant at the source of the fire.   With this forensic expertise, Dr. Hoffman and his team developed a reputation as one of the foremost laboratories in this field in Canada. In fact, it is the only accredited commercial forensic commercial laboratory in Canada to ISO 17025.   Forensic research also leveraged into soil gas analysis creating significant interest to mineral and petroleum exploration companies.

And success breeds success. Again, with the assistance of IRAP, Dr. Hoffman and his lab developed the Technology for Industrial Batch Production of Argon Isotope Standards Hosted in a Solid Matrix. It proved to be a global achievement.

Finally, another partnership resulted into the development of the Technology for Commercial Rapid and Cost Effective Analysis of Elemental Specification. Thanks to that research ACTLABS became one of the first companies in the world which can perform metal speciation analyses. These analyses are very important for environment as well as for food and supplements study.

Dr. Hoffman is recognized not only as a great scientist, but as a great businessman. When asked about the key to ACTLABS success, Dr. Hoffman credits human skills. It is not so surprising knowing he is able to convince the world's top notch scientists to work for ACTLABS in Ancaster. His approach requires no microscope to understand what ACTLABS is made of. "By creating interesting research work for scientists, you create great interest in the workplace," said Dr. Hoffman. "The IRAP partnership was instrumental in achieving those goals."

Providing analyses to potentially help solve crime is certainly interesting work. Knowing that great scientists from around the world are working on it, is even better!  

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