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Chemical of the Week: Tubocurarine (the “poison arrow” toxin)

June 24, 2013

Tubocurarine

The tubocurarine molecule.

Tubocurarine is an alkaloid found in the bark of a South American vine. It is one of a number of toxic compounds known under the general name of “curare.” Tubocurarine is capable of paralyzing muscle tissue by interfering with the transmission of the nerve impulses which normally control muscle movement. For this reason, it only affects voluntary muscles (not the heart muscle, for example). However, since the diaphragm is a voluntary muscle, it can be fatal by inducing asphyxiation.
Traditionally, curare poisons have been used by South American hunters to coat arrows and darts in order to kill prey. Interestingly, curare does not pass through the digestive tract and so poisoned prey can be eaten without harm! Tubocurarine has also been used as a muscle relaxant during surgery to prevent unwanted movement of the patient, although it has now largely been replaced by synthetic drugs which provide the same effect but more safely.

Frequently Asked Questions about the Chemical and Biosciences Co-op Diploma Program …

June 21, 2013

Q. What does the Chemical and Biosciences Co-op Diploma program prepare students to do?

A. Our program trains students to work as technicians or technologists in a wide variety of corporate or government testing and research laboratory settings, as well as in other science-based environments, such as in the chemical, pharmaceutical or food processing industries. Students learn a range of skills, incorporating both chemistry and biology and, as a result, they may find work in many different fields and organizations, carrying out many different duties.

The following job descriptions are taken from the Canadian Council of Technicians and Technologists:

Things that Chemical technicians and technologists do at work are:

  • Set up and conduct chemical experiments, tests and analyses using techniques such as chromatography, spectroscopy, physical and chemical separation techniques and microscopy.
  • Operate and maintain laboratory equipment and apparatus and prepare solutions of gas or liquid, reagents, and sample formulations.
  • Compile records and interpret experimental or analytical results.
  • Develop and conduct programs of sampling and analysis to maintain quality standards of raw materials, chemical intermediates and products.
  • Assist in the development of chemical engineering processes, studies of chemical engineering procurement, construction, inspection and maintenance and the development of standards, procedures and health and safety measures
  • Operate experimental chemical or petrochemical pilot plants.
  • Conduct or assist in air and water quality testing and assessments, environmental monitoring and protection activities and in the development of and compliance with standards.
  • Assist in the design and fabrication of experimental apparatus.

Things that biological technicians and technologists do at work are:

  • Conduct or assist in biological, microbiological and biochemical tests and laboratory analyses in support of quality control in food production, sanitation, pharmaceutical production and other fields.
  • Perform or assist in experimental procedures in agriculture, plant breeding, animal husbandry, biology and biomedical research.
  • Conduct field research and surveys to collect data and samples of water, soil, plant and animal populations.
  • Conduct or assist in environmental monitoring and compliance activities for the protection of fisheries stock, wildlife and other natural resources.
  • Conduct or supervise operational programs such as fish hatchery, greenhouse and livestock production programs.
  • Analyze data and prepare reports.

Q. How does your program differ from a university BSc program?

A. Our program differs in a few important ways. For one thing, our program is compressed to two years, whereas a BSc is typically three or four years in length. This allows students to get out into the workforce as soon as possible and also reduces the overall cost of the educational process.

As well, although we teach a significant amount of theory, our main focus is on providing students with the applied skills that they need to make an immediate contribution to their employer. Our instructors typically have worked for years in industry or government before joining the college, and so we have a good understanding of the skills that are necessary for a successful career.

Q. How does the co-op portion of the program work?

A. During the first eight months of each year, students attend classes. During the last four months of each year, students typically work for an employer, which not only provides valuable  experience and contacts, as well as income, but also counts towards the credits necessary for graduation. For obvious reasons, we can’t force employers to hire students, and so we can’t guarantee that every student will receive a co-op placement, but our program does have a dedicated co-op coordinator whose job involves identifying suitable employers and communicating job opportunities to students. Our instructors also work closely with students to provide the skills and coaching necessary to write great resumes and to interview well. It is rare for a student who puts a reasonable amount of effort into their job search not to find co-op employment.

Q. Where do your students end up working?

A. All over the place! Our students have been hired by the City of Winnipeg, as well as by Health Canada. Many students find work at one of the numerous pharmaceutical organizations in Winnipeg. We also have students working in research labs, such as the St. Boniface Research Center. Others find employment in the painting and coatings, plastics or aerospace industries while still others are hired by food or agriculture businesses.

Q. What can I expect to earn as a graduate?

Over the last few years, students have earned an average annual starting salary of about $37,000 immediately after graduation. Some students have reported starting salaries as high as $50,000, but those students may already have had other degrees or experience.

A 2013 survey by the Manitoba chapter of CCTT found that the average salary of someone working in Manitoba as a technologist with a college diploma was about $75,000. This higher salary reflects the compensation that technologists typically receive later in their careers.

Q. What are my chances of finding employment coming out of the program?

Pretty good! On average, about 80% of students find employment in their field of study immediately following the program. Approximately another 10% go on to further educational studies.

Q. What do your students say about the program?

Each year, the college surveys graduating students and asks for their opinion of the program. For the last four years, 100% of students who responded to the survey said that they were satisfied or very satisfied! Over the last 15 years, the average satisfaction rate has been 95%!

 

 

Chemical of the Week: Oxytocin (or “Cupid’s Secret”)

June 19, 2013

Oxytocin is a naturally occurring hormone common to many mammalian species, including humans. It is a peptide composed of nine amino acids which is synthesized in the hypothalamus and released from the pituitary. One of the main roles of oxytocin is to stimulate contractions during child birth, hence its name, which derives from the Greek phrase “quick birth.”

The oxytocin molecule.

The oxytocin molecule.

The interesting thing about oxytocin is that it is one of those amazing chemicals which affect mood and social behaviour. It is sometimes referred to as the “cuddle hormone” because elevated levels in the nervous system induce feelings of trust and affection between individuals. Release of oxytocin from the brain appears to be connected with the development of social groups, mother-child bonding and bonding between couples.

Kildonan East Students do Lab Activity at CBST

June 14, 2013

a11120+ students from Kildonan East Collegiate toured the life sciences facilities (Pharma, QA, and CBST) at Red River College.  They then participated in an Eppendorf standardization exercise with CBST faculty and discovered that analytical precision can be a challenge indeed. In addition, they also determined that a number of samples were spiked to ensure analyst integrity.  Prizes were awarded and report having a good time.

Rocket Science in Manitoba

June 7, 2013

The Chemistry/Bioscience students are away this month, working hard at their respective co-op placements. We hope to soon bring you some news about the work our students are doing, but, in the interim and just for fun, here’s some interesting information that many people

Canada's Black Brant rocket

Canada’s Black Brant rocket

don’t know about science in Manitoba.

Nestled among the canola fields of the Rockwood municipality a half hour north of Winnipeg is the Bristol Aerospace Propellant Plant. This plant is the only large scale commercial manufacturer of rockets in Canada. Opened in 1962, the plant makes a wide variety of solid propellant rockets, including the CRV7, the CL289 and the Black Brant. The Black Brant (pictured) is a so-called “sounding” rocket, used to explore atmospheric phenomena. It has been in production at the plant for decades and is still used by NASA. When combined with other stages, the Black Brant can reach altitudes of over 1000 km, allowing payloads to experience periods of microgravity or follow chemical reactions in the upper atmosphere.

As with the other Bristol rockets, the Black Brant is powered by the industry standard AP/HTPB propellant based on ammonium perchlorate mixed with polybutadiene. The Brant is particularly popular with researchers due to its very high reliability: over 800 have been launched over the years, with a 98% success rate!

AOAC Day Upcoming

May 31, 2013

On June 6th, the local chapter of the AOAC (the Association of Official Analytical aoac logo 2Communities) will hold its annual “AOAC Day” in Winnipeg, at the Victoria Inn on Wellington. The day will feature technical presentations, free training sessions, equipment displays, a buffet lunch and much more, including a fascinating talk by Dr. Ed Cloutis of the University of Winnipeg, entitled “Exploring Mars with the Curiosity rover: analytical capabilities and latest results.” Registration is only $25 at the door. For more information about the local AOAC and AOAC day, follow this link.

As well, you can find the latest (May 2013) AOAC newsletter here.

Chemical and Bioscience Technology students will present research findings at the 2013 Mid Canada AOAC day

May 24, 2013

Students working on preparing samples for their HPLC analysis

Students working on preparing samples for their HPLC analysis

One group of second year students from the Chemical and Biosciences Technology program continued the research started by faculty members Michael Judge and Curtis Aab using Ethyl Lactate (EL) as an HPLC solvent. This work was conducted as part of the new Research Project course recently added to the program. The students explored the use of EL with a new analyte which was methocarbamol , an over the counter (OTC) drug used to treat back pain.

As part of their work the students developed a research proposal, provided ongoing updates of their results, and prepared a final report and presentation. The research was successful as they were able to analyze a finished product, Robaxacet that contained both methocarbamol and acetaminophen. As a starting point the students modified an existing method from the USP (United States Pharmacopeia) for analyzing methocarbamol. They increased the efficiency of this method because the EL mobile phase yielded a shorter run time while still producing well resolved analyte peaks. This project also created the opportunity for future Chemical and Bioscience Technology students to continue this research next year.

The students have accepted the opportunity to present their research at the 2013 Mid-Canada AOAC day on Thursday, June 6th, 2013.

Chem/Bio Gains ICP Technology

May 17, 2013

The Optima 8000

The Optima 8000

The Chemical/Biosciences instrumental laboratory recently gained a valuable new tool: a Perkin Elmer Optima 8000 ICP-OES spectrometer. ICP is an acronym for “inductively coupled plasma,” while OES stands for “optical emission spectroscopy.” OES is a method of analyzing chemical mixtures or solutions to determine concentrations of trace elements. In this technique, a sample of the material being analyzed is energized to excite its atoms. Since the excited atoms of each element emit light at specific characteristic wavelengths, the presence and the amounts of various elements can be determined by monitoring the emitted light. Some instruments use the heat of a flame to excite the sample, but ICP uses a “plasma” made of ionized argon gas energized by an electromagnetic field.

One of the most important features of an ICP instrument is its very low detection limit. An ICP can typically detect the presence of analytes, such as arsenic or lead in drinking water, at concentrations below one part per billion. When you consider that one part per billion is the equivalent of one second out of a time span of 32 years, the amazing ability of this instrument becomes obvious.

The department is excited about having this new instrument on board and to be able to allow students to gain some valuable hands-on experience in this state-of-the-art analytical technology.

Canadian Journal of Chemistry Publication

May 9, 2013

Solvatochromism was used to determine the polarity of ethyl lactate.

Solvatochromism was used to determine the polarity of ethyl lactate.

Red River College encourages instructional staff to undertake original research and, last year, faculty in the chemical and biosciences program spent some time looking at ways to improve a common analytical method. High performance liquid chromatography, or HPLC, is very widely used in chemical labs and processing facilities to separate and analyze chemical mixtures. However, most HPLC systems employ liquid solvents, such as methanol, which are often toxic.

Curtis Aab and Michael Judge were curious as to whether these toxic solvents could be replaced with a different, more environmentally-friendly liquid. They used ethyl lactate, a solvent which is so safe that it can be applied as an ingredient in cosmetics and foods. Research at the College demonstrated that ethyl lactate could indeed replace methanol when analyzing different pharmaceutical compounds using an officially approved HPLC method. Subsequent work by chemical/biosciences students extended the range of pharmaceuticals which can be analyzed using ethyl lactate. These findings could potentially allow at least some of the thousands of HPLC systems worldwide to transition to a “greener” process.

The research results were accepted for publication in the Canadian Journal of Chemistry and appeared in the May 2013 issue under the title “Ethyl lactate as an environmentally friendly HPLC mobile-phase modifier in the analysis of acetaminophen, caffeine, and ASA.” A link to the journal website is provided below.

http://www.nrcresearchpress.com/journal/cjc

Chemical and Biosciences Students Present Research Projects

May 2, 2013

A student discusses dye oxidation results.

A student discusses dye oxidation results.

This April, the second year students of the Chemical and Biosciences Co-op diploma program presented the results of their independent research projects, representing many hours of hard work over the preceding four months. Each group of students worked independently under the supervision of a faculty member to perform a unique project designed to investigate various aspects of chemical or biological sciences. The projects were extremely varied and represented the wide array of skills taught in the program. The topics investigated were:

  • Testing rice for arsenic using inductively coupled plasma – optical emission spectroscopy
  • Environmentally-friendly oxidation of dyes in wastewater via tungstate-catalyzed peroxide
  • Antimicrobial properties of plant extracts
  • Genetically modified foods in common grocery products
  • Rates of methicillin-resistant bacteria in the general population
  • A “green” solvent for use in liquid chromatography

Students presented a number of surprising and interesting findings, including evidence that at least one brand of “organic” snack foods contained genetically modified corn. Some of the student groups may go on to present their work at the upcoming Association of Analytical Communities (AOAC) event, June 6th at the Victoria Inn, right here in Winnipeg.