Largely unchanged since the 1960s and virtually ignored by researchers over the past decade, the analytical ultracentrifuge has been the focus of energetic new interest in the past few years. Recently, a redesigned--nearly reinvented--version of the instrument has been released, according to a small, tightly knit group of molecular biologists.

The new instrument, intended mainly for characterizing proteins and nucleic acids, has already helped to shatter the working models of some important biological problems and to point research efforts in promising new directions, especially in areas of drug discovery.

Reasons given for the resurgence of the analytical ultracentrifuge vary. Some say the field withered because the commercially available technology stagnated almost 30 years ago. Those who wanted to continue working with the tool had to take on many of the upkeep tasks and the needed modifications themselves. But others say the kinds of questions asked in biology changed in the...

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