#RealTimeChem and Preparing Geological Samples for Analysis

It’s #RealTimeChem week (@RealTimeChem on Twitter). To celebrate, I’m going to illustrate both some of the procedures we do in the laboratory and how #RealTimeChem works. I’ll also show how geochemistry, while somewhat different from ‘traditional’ chemistry (geochemists tend to have degrees in geology and not in chemistry, for example), it is still chemistry.

I’m a geochemist. More specifically, I’m a stable isotope geochemist. I’ve written a few blog posts on the geochemistry that I do and my own research. I won’t go too much into details, other than to say that, no, I don’t work with radioactive things like uranium or plutonium. Nothing radioactive. I just look at different stable (not radioactive) isotopes of things like carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen.

The materials I analyze are mostly ‘geological,’ meaning that I’m trying to analyzed carbon, nitrogen, and oxygen from rocks and minerals. This includes skeletal materials from fossils and modern animals, because bones and shells are actually made of minerals.

A certain amount of preparation has to take place before I can just analyze samples. I have to purify them, and then do something to get the elements of interest out and into the mass spectrometer.

What I’m going to talk about here is the step-by-step of a chemical pre-treatment of bioapatite, the mineral that makes up bones and teeth. We are interested in analyzing carbon and oxygen from bioapatites. We need to be sure that there are no other sources of carbon or oxygen on the samples (like dirt, hair, dust) that can affect our analysis.

I’m going to do this in the spirit #RealTimeChem week should work as well. #RealTimeChem is about tweeting your chemistry research in real time, as in what you are doing right at the moment. I pretreated some samples the other day and live-tweeted my progress. I’ve collected those tweets here.

//platform.twitter.com/widgets.jsThe hydrogen peroxide is for getting rid of organic material like hair or oils off my fingers.



That tweet sounded a little like a song. I got some help coming up with a tune and a few lyrics:

Back to work://platform.twitter.com/widgets.js

The acetic acid is for getting rid of extra carbonates, like calcite, which have tons of carbon and oxygen!

And, where possible, offer little tips for budding scientists everywhere.

When the samples are dry, they’re ready for analyses. I’ll discuss the set-up for that in another post.

I didn’t include every detail of every step in the process, but I think that a reader (or follower of the #RealTimeChem hashtag on Twitter) would get a good sense of the process that we go through to go analyses.

And I hope that all of this de-mystifies chemistry (and geochemistry) just a little bit for everyone!

Leave a Comment

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s