Saturday, 20 August 2011

Synchrotron, dinosaurs and Hell

Waiting for a grant is painful. It's hard to second guess the slings and arrows of peer-review. However yesterday, I got some great news...a grant was awarded for two more years work on the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Light source (SSRL). This will mean that the University of Manchester Palaeontology Research group can continue our work on elementally mapping beasties from the past.
SLAC, so big!
The next fun step in this work, is raising funds to ship-in the team of 8-10 folks for each beam run. The 24 hour experimental runs can be brutal in terms of sleep depravation, so a large rotating team is a must. The experimental station is manned 24 hours a day and their is always prep-work of some variety in play prior to and after every experiment. Funding the transport, food, accommodation and vast quantities of coffee for such are large team is not cheap. Raising the funds to support such a beam team is often the hardest part of undertaking synchrotron research. Out of the last ten or so beam runs, only two of the 'expenses' bills have been picked-up by external funders (thank you to those external funders!). The remaining beam runs, each team member has had to pay expenses from their own pockets. To date we have papers in PNAS, Science and the Royal Society...with several in review or preparation. So, it really is worth it. We all love the science we are working upon. Even with this regular financial headache, we each and everyone look forward to beam time at SSRL. The correlation coefficient between financial support and high-ranking papers is not as high as we would hope, but maybe this will change in the future. We just need to keep pushing out the science and showing folks the relevance of palaeontology to  everyday 21st Century issues (see my prior post on 'A pigment of our imagination').
A 'holy' leaf...shows evidence of leaf-mining predator, Hell Creek Formation, South Dakota.
You may recall some of the beautiful Hell Creek fossils we plucked from the ground this field season. They too, I hope, will come under the quantitative x-ray gaze of the synchrotron. The opportunity to unlock the elemental inventory of plant and animal fossils from the last gasp of the Cretaceous has interested me for some time. I wonder what environmental or biological secrets are locked in the samples from Hell........Creek?

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