Structural biology, a research endeavor that examines the smallest possible scale of biological life, demands some of the most imposing tools in life science. Amble down the aluminum spiral staircase to the basement of the University of Pittsburgh’s Biomedical Science Tower 3, and you’ll find a massive chamber with sunshine-yellow walls, a concrete floor, and shiny chrome ladders on casters flanking tall white canisters of various sizes. This is the Department of Structural Biology’s fleet of nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) spectrometers. Drop a small tube of your chosen protein into an opening that leads down into the heart of one of the spectrometers, and the magnetic fields it generates—thousands of times stronger than the Earth’s—allow researchers to construct three-dimensional images of your DNA or any other macromolecule, down to the last atom.
[Read more at Pitt Med Magazine // Winter, 2014]