Grinding Teeth

My day’s focus was to have a long talk with the mass spectrometer and get it to behave properly. As I noted last week, I had taken it apart and had some problems getting it back together. Now it’s running again, but not performing very well. Today was the day to tune it.

So I did.

Tuning the mass spectrometer means having to turn a knob every 40 seconds. For some systems, this process is automated, but for ours, I am the automation.

But you’d be really surprized what you can do in 40 second intervals.

One of the other problems in the lab right now is that we have about 80 very, very tiny samples of tooth enamel that need to be ground down to a much finer powder than they are currently ground.

Before grinding. There's not much in there, and it's all so coarse that it would never react properly for analysis.
Before grinding. There’s not much in there, and it’s all so coarse that it would never react properly for analysis.

Here’s the workspace I set up for myself, about 5 strides from the knob that I have to turn every 40 seconds.

Everything I need. Samples, weighing paper (to make tools), water and wipes, and a tiny, tiny mortar and pestle.
Everything I need. Samples, weighing paper (to make tools), water and wipes, and a tiny, tiny mortar and pestle.

To grind the powder, I first put the coarsely powdered enamel into the mortar.

Dang, there's not much there.
Dang, there’s not much there.

Then I grind it up.

At this point, I always wonder how I'm going to get the powder out again.
At this point, I always wonder how I’m going to get the powder out again.

Then I make a scraper by folding up a piece of weighing paper and pile up the fine powder.

A pile of powder.
A pile of powder.

Then I pour this powder onto a creased piece of weighing paper.

Folded weighing paper makes a good funnel.
Folded weighing paper makes a good funnel.

From there, I pour it back into the original vial.

The finished, much more finely ground powder, ready for analysis.
The finished, much more finely ground powder, ready for analysis.

It kind of looks like there’s more material now, but it’s just less dense. Once they’re all ground up, we can then weigh and analyze them. That’s good, because these customers have been waiting a while.

Published by paleololigo

Scientist (Paleontology, Geochemistry, Geology); Writer (Speculative and Science Fiction, plus technical and non-technical Science); Mom to great boy on the Autism spectrum; possessor of too many hobbies.

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