The Building Blocks of Life

Research Policy Office
Monday 1 December 2014

Searching for the essence of life on Earth, understanding climate change and investigating the spread of diseases – these are a few examples of the fundamental research that academics at St Andrews will be tackling with new equipment won under a competitive £0.5M NERC grant! This cutting edge analytical set-up combines a multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (MC-ICP-MS) with a gas chromatograph (GC), and will be the first of its kind in the EU (and only the third in the world!). The NERC capital equipment fund bid was led by Drs Andrea Burke, James Rae, and Heidi Burdett from the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences, supported by an interdisciplinary team including Profs David PatersonIan Johnston, and Derek Woollins from the Schools of Biology and Chemistry.

The state-of-the-art clean mass spectrometry lab where the new equipment will be housed

One of the exciting major applications for this new equipment is the measurement of sulfur isotopes. The study of sulfur has both pure and applied uses, as it is a key element on scales ranging from nano to global, and in processes ranging from climate forcing by volcanic eruptions, to the processing of sulfur-rich crude oils. This new analytical set-up permits the measurement of sulfur isotopes on samples a thousand times smaller than previously possible, and will provide valuable new information on climate sensitivity, metabolic pathways, and Earth resources and their recovery.

For further information on this, contact Dr Andrea Burke.

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