Thursday, 1 February 2018

A major advancement in isotope geochemistry capability at the BGS...by Andi Smith

From L-R: Chris Brodie (Thermo Scientific), Angela Lamb
and Andi Smith at the new IsoLink.
Last week the Stable Isotope Facility (part of the NERC Isotope Geosciences Laboratory and the Centre for Environmental Geochemistry at the BGS) took delivery of a new “Elemental Analyser IsoLink and Delta V Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer” from Thermo Scientific. This new instrumentation will drastically improve stable isotope analysis of carbon, nitrogen, sulphur, hydrogen and oxygen from a wide range of different materials. Here Andi Smith explains some of the advantages of this new equipment and plans for future collaboration with Thermo Scientific to develop the instrumentation...

The last few months have seen a large amount of activity in the stable isotope labs, preparing for a new elemental analyser (EA) and mass spectrometer to be delivered and installed. This included a major lab reorganisation including new gas lines, electricity and air handling to accommodate the new instrument. This new instrument is the stable isotope facilities 9th mass spectrometer, and will offer great new capability and flexibility for the facility.

The new IsoLink system offers both traditional combustion and high temperature pyrolysis within one EA, meaning that we can analyse the stable isotope ratios of a whole range of elements (C, N, S, O and H), all within one system, and often simultaneously. One of the great steps forward with this new EA is the capability to analyse carbon, nitrogen and sulphur isotopes from the same sample. This is technically difficult due to the high ratio of carbon to sulphur in most environmental samples. This new system uses a novel temperature ramping technique to amplify the sulphur signal making triple element analysis a reality. This offers a great step forward for researchers who are interested in the relationship between these elements and for those who have precious or size limited samples. The new technology also significantly decreases the amount of helium used which significantly lowers the cost and reduces our demand for helium, a finite global resource. We envision this new capability to be of great interest to environmental change, archaeological, palaeoclimate and geological researchers. Examples of the improvements in analyses include sulphur isotope analysis of organic materials such as kerogen, which are difficult to combust; very low sulphur concentration analysis in materials such as wood and collagen and simultaneous multi element analysis (C, N, S and O, H).  In addition, the IsoLink is also far more sensitive than our current instruments, meaning we will be able to analyse significantly smaller samples. One of the areas we will be concentrating on is to work towards drastically reducing the sample size required for oxygen isotope analysis of nitrate, sulphate and phosphate materials, with an aim to  improve our ability to apply isotopes as environmental tracers. We hope that the new IsoLink will allow us to achieve these method developments whilst retaining world leading levels of precision and sample throughput.

Thanks to this new investment there are many new and exciting collaborations and instrument developments in the pipeline, watch this space for updates….

Please contact either Angela Lamb or Andi Smith if you want to learn more.

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