The first international short course on the “application of laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (LA-ICP-MS) to earth sciences” was held at the department of Physics and Geology, Perugia University from 25-27 May 2016. I was interested in this course because LA-ICP-MS can be used as a tool to geochemically discriminate between different volcanic ash layers found in archives – something which I am doing as part of my PhD project at the University of Oxford. Thanks to the EAG student grant, I could attend it.
The course was attended by a good mix of researchers, including Masters, PhD and post-docs, all with an interest in geochemistry and LA-ICP-MS, and intrigued in how they could apply this method to their own research. These researchers have diverse projects and had come from a variety of locations, including England, Italy, Hungary, Sweden, Germany and Canada, for example. Perugia University was the perfect host for this course, as it has recently been fitted with new laboratory equipment, and has several interesting and active research projects in the Petro-Volcanology Research Group (PVRG), not to mention a wealth of expert staff in this group. We discussed projects that the PVRG are currently undertaking – one is called CHRONOS, a project which aims to improve understanding of the timescales of eruptions through the utilisation of geochemical signatures from mixing structures. This particular project is very multi-disciplinary in terms of its methods; it draws on field work, experimental petrology, modelling, physics/fluid dynamics, mathematics, geochemistry, and some seriously cool engineering in the form of the chaotic magma mixing device.
The course was varied, with a mix of taught lessons and practical’s, including laboratory tours and laboratory or computer work – this provided a good, focussed mentality throughout. During the course, applicants were also invited to give presentations on their research and how they intend to use, or are currently using, LA-ICP-MS in their work. The presentations were insightful and it was useful to understand the different ways in which this technique can be applied, from minerals to volcanic glass, to teeth. We soon discovered that Perugia University’s LA-ICP-MS laboratory is extremely impressive, and is filled with mostly new equipment. During the course, we learnt how the equipment works and we also managed to ablate some samples. After obtaining real data, we used Iolite to reduce the data, and Python to produce some nice figures! After having worked with R for a little while during my PhD, I can actually say, I understood what was happening!
Away from the laboratory and lecture theatre, there was even time to socialise and, of course, eat ice creams, pizzas and pastas, in accompany with the wonderful wines and beers that Italy has to offer. Perugia is a green and hilly town with wonderful architecture and well worth a visit, even if you are not interested in earth sciences!
About the author:
Rebecca is a first year NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) PhD student in the Research Laboratory for Archaeology and the History of Art (RLAHA), University of Oxford. She is using volcanic ash (tephra) layers in lake sediments to investigate the past magnitude and frequency of volcanic eruptions in southern South America. Her supervisors are Victoria Smith Johnson (University of Oxford), Karen Fontijn (University of Oxford) and Stefan Wastegärd (Stockholm University). You can follow Rebecca on Twitter: @ahoybecks and view her website here and here.