8 February 2016

High-sensitivity instrument open to scientists

Biophysicist Brian Hales of Louisiana State University is one of the first users of the HiPER. Biophysicist Brian Hales of Louisiana State University is one of the first users of the HiPER. Stephen Bilenky

The HiPER spectrometer may not feature the strongest magnet at the MagLab, but it wins hands down in the "coolest looking" category. This powerful tool, from which protrude 29 black, kooky cones, is now open to scientists.

This week at the lab, one of the instrument's first users, biophysicist Brian Hales of Louisiana State University, is here sizing up proteins with the HiPER (pronounced "hyper") spectrometer, which is shorthand for high-power pulsed W-band electron paramagnetic resonance (EPR) .

The "high-power" part refers to the instrument's recently upgraded 1-kilowatt amplifier. Along with other revolutionary design innovations, it makes possible the machine's game-changing sensitivity.

Depending on the technique used with the instrument, this sensitivity is orders of magnitude greater than what was previously available to scientists. This means scientists can run experiments on a material even if they have a just a teeny, tiny bit of it. This capability is extremely significant in structural biology (among other research areas), when scientists might have just a smidgeon of the protein they want to characterize. 

"Sensitivity is a major concern," said Likai Song, a research scientist with the lab's Electron Magnetic Resonance Facility who works closely with the 9-tesla HiPER spectrometer. "Improved sensitivity opens the door to a lot of applications."

The instrument is not only expected to be a great boon for scientists like Hales who study proteins, but it will also impact all other research areas in the lab, including material science, physics and chemistry, said Song.


Text by Kristen Coyne. Photo by Stephen Bilenky.

Last modified on 8 February 2016