August 30, 2008

I'll gladly pay you Wednesday for some strontium today.

On Friday, I headed over to the geosciences department to learn how to load my samples into the mass spectrometer from a graduate student. She more or less flew through the procedure and then left me alone to figure it out and do the rest of the samples myself. As I understand it (and I don't really understand a lot of it - I need to figure out real terms for these things), what I was doing was loading the sample onto a filament. I rehydrated the dried strontium with small drops of H3PO3 and TaCL5 (tantalum - I had to look it up), sucked it up into a tiny itty bitty pipette, and dropped it onto the filament, letting it burn off, which I guess stuck the sample to the filament. Then, using pliers, I put the filament upside-down into what's called a turret - a wheel that lets you load up to 20 filaments that are screwed into it. So we ended up loading 19 of my Romans, with the remaining slot taken up by the strontium standard.

At this point, an undergrad showed up and learned how to change out the turret. This involved first depressurizing the chamber in the mass spec and then changing out the liquid nitrogen. But since he'd never done this before, he wasn't all that careful and liquid nitrogen started fuming and then spilling out of the funnel, separating into little beads and skittering across the floor. So that was pretty cool, actually. It was almost like mercury rolling around. I watched the turret change for a while, but since it would take hours to vacuum down the chamber, I headed off.

Although my 19 samples ran on the machine this morning, not every sample works the first time. Theoretically, there is some sample left in the little beaker that can be added to a new filament if the first round bombs. The remaining 16 samples that I did will be run on Monday, and I was told to expect results by Wednesday. I'm pretty excited. Even if I only get 20 good results, it's still 20 more than I had. And they'll be available in time for me to write this all up in an abstract for the AAPAs. Now if only I could think of a topic for my SAA abstract, I'd be set.


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