Collecting Samples – Powdered Enamel

Here’s something that not too many ‘traditional’ chemists have to do, but geochemists have to do all the time. You can’t very easily just stick a rock into a mass spectrometer and take a geochemical measurement. Usually, the rock or mineral (enamel, in this case) has to be powdered first.

For my own research, I’m usually interested in isotopes of carbon and of oxygen, which provide information about plant life (diets of animals, habitats) and climate (temperature, humidity, precipitation), respectively.

In this post, I’ll mostly be using tweets to illustrate the collection of powdered tooth mineral. These powders will have to go through a chemical pretreatment which I will describing in a future note. These particular samples later went through a second chemical procedure that (thankfully) we don’t need for this study.

Fish scales and teeth both have ‘enamel.’ The enamel isn’t exactly the same, but it is still a calcium phosphate and the procedures are the same whether it’s a tooth or a scale. For these particular samples, grinding with a mortar and pestle was all we needed to get a sample. Sometimes, we need a dental drill! I’ll save that for a later post too!

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