Thursday, 30 January 2014
Monday, 20 January 2014
Dawn is breaking and the Sun is softly lighting the morning skies above the Stanford Synchrotron. A chill is in the air that bites harder than you might expect, given the daytime temperatures will soon rise into the 70's. I slowly drag my feet up the gentle hill from Building 120 (that houses the accelerator). The various cocktails of caffeinated drinks, chatter and cookies have kept my brain whirring all night, but now it is time to sleep. Entering into the Stanford Guesthouse (our site-based accommodation), I bump into one of the Manchester day-shift. It seems I will by-pass another glorious day of Californian sunshine, but who needs the excess solar-rays when you can have x-rays brighter than a million Suns!
Friday, 17 January 2014
This beam run is missing one of our splendid colleagues....Pete Larson. He is a casualty of the cruel cold snap that chilled the whole of North America to the bone with a blast from the Arctic. He was simply walking outside his humble abode when he slipped on a patch of ice...and Sir Isaac Newton's Universal Law of Gravitation was painfully put to the test. The distal end of Pete's right leg went one way and his body mass the other....the torsion in the lower limb was too much for his fibula to bear. Thankfully, Pete's bone did not emulate the injury that is beautifully fossilised in gruesome detail from a rather poor Gorgosaurus that had a vile compound fracture in its right fibula...with the distal end of the bone so snapped it would have clearly poked through the poor dinosaurs skin (I am talking about the Gorgosaur here and not Pete!). Pete has required steel pins to hold his distal fibula and ankle together (see image below)....the Gorgosaurus had to bear its weight upon the cruel trauma until it healed (in this case...quite badly). It seems that both Gorgosaurus and Pete had/have what it takes to survive and limp to see another day....we look forward to seeing Pete back at the Synchrotron soon! It is worth saying that both the bones of Pete and those of the hapless Gogosaurus can be imaged in all their splendid glory via medical or high-powered x-ray microtomography. If a fracture is 10 minutes or 10's of millions of years old, x-rays can shed light on the original trauma and then bones response to healing...a rather painful experiment for Pete to use for a comparative example!
After a rather long and protracted journey from Manchester to San Francisco, the University of Manchester Synchrotron beam team finally arrived at the Stanford Synchrotron Lightsource yesterday evening...all a tad shattered. Our body clocks were all saying 5am GMT when we crashed to sleep...only to wake-up at 3:30am Pacific time (a relative sleep-in till 11:30GMT). After playing catch-up with work email, we all headed down to the beamline...where we will now be working for the next week. So much for the Californian Sun outside...we will not be seeing that much. It is here at beamline 6-2 that we will gently bathe fossils in the brilliant monochromatic synchrotron light to gently tease-out their elemental secrets. However, before we could start to hunt for the chemical ghosts of past life, we had to spend a whole day aligning the optics of the beam line…sometimes accelerator physics can be ironically slow and frustrating.
However, the two excellent SSRL scientists, Roberto and Dimosthenis, gently coerced the beam into its correct position...shedding light brighter than a million suns through our 50 micron diameter pinhole. As I sit writing these lines, we have just started to scan our elemental standards to provide a baseline to allow accurate measurements to be taken of the chemical concentrations locked within each fossil that we scan…so, we are ready to do some science!
Wednesday, 15 January 2014
Have you ever had that nagging feeling that you seem to be missing some of your snapshots from an event you know that you took plenty of pictures? On final day of last summers South Dakota field season...as is obligatory field etiquette...my colleague Dr. Bill Sellers found a rather beautiful theropod tooth. We carefully wrapped, stabilised, excavated and shipped the said tooth off with the other Hell Creek fossils back to New York to the AMNH. I knew I had taken a picture of the said tooth on one of my field cameras....but could I find it...no! However, my field camera had managed to generate sub folder and on closer inspection last night (several months after the event), the said memory card finally gave-up its toothy image. This is a rather LARGE T. rex tooth and so splendid to see in its pre-extraction environment.