Friday, 29 June 2012

Chemical Ghosts...can be FREE!

My book 'Chemical Ghosts' was published today on the iTunes an iBook. If you are so inclined, the said volume can be downloaded for FREE onto your iPad and opened in your iBooks App. This book has allowed me to add photographs, video and text, that explains much about our current research using synchrotron based imaging. Enjoy!

Those of you who find the above book interesting might also want to explore another volume of mine which was originally in print a few years ago, but has also recently migrated to the iTunes Bookstore, this being 'Grave Secrets of Dinosaurs'.

Think of this as blog-post 99.5 as I still hope to have a blog worthy of being 100th in the next few days...

Sunday, 24 June 2012

Chemical Ghosts...the iTunes App

As part of the Palaeontology Research Group exhibit for the forthcoming Royal Society Summer Exhibition (Palimpsests, Palaeontology & Particle Physics), we have had our very own App designed! Yes, we have augmented some fossils into wonderful 3D reality, working in collaboration with Studio Liddell (based in Manchester).

You have to download the App from the iTunes Store (we hope it will be available by July 1st) you can see Confuciusornis (the 120 million year old first beaked bird) like you have never seen it before!

The target trigger for the App is the cartoon of Confuciusornis sat on its marble column (above right). After installing the App on your iPad, point the camera at the cartoon...and see what happens next! The front of the postcard is below:

The Exhibit that our team has bult will be on show at The Royal Society, Carlton House Terrace, London, from Tuesday July 3rd. Come and play pinball synchrotron at our exhibit and learn more about the chemical ghosts that lurk inside fossils,

As an aside, this is post number 99....I must think of a suitable 100th post!

Saturday, 9 June 2012

Lost in Translation: Mussels, Muscles and Fossils…

 Once again I find myself at the airport. Headed back to the UK after the splendid SR2A meeting in New York and last weeks beam-time at the Stanford Synchrotron. The SR2A meeting went well and many new contacts have been made that will no-doubt shed some new light (possibly of the infrared variety) upon the fossils that the group spend so much time studying.

Speaking of the fossils, these were my assemblage of beasties that had been bathed in X-rays the prior week at SSRL. Travelling with Dinosaurs can be fun…when I say fun, it can lead to some interesting conversations with the airport security officers. I have now learnt to send my shoes and belt first through the X-ray machine, as at least I have a sporting chance of getting my feet and trousers secured before I hear those special words, ‘Bag Check!’ This is partly why I now get to airports 3-4 hours before a flight, as the ritual unpacking, gasps of amazement and repacking can dent your smooth passage onward.

Today was no exception. I knew that the fossils in my bag were both large, dense (plenty of iron sulphide) and obvious…in X-ray, my bag must have looked like a petrified smorgasbord training video in the making for my attentive security officers. Thankfully my shoes and belt did make it through the scanner, just before the X-ray operator scanned my Pelicase of Cretaceous goodies. Here s what happened next…

Security Officer, ‘Sir, is this your bag?’…’Yes, it is mine. I have a pile of fossils in there’ I say this while trying to look as if this is a normal thing to be carrying. ‘Sir, I will have to take your bag over there and take a look’, happily I agree and head to the polished steel tables that will see the dissection of my prehistoric case. ‘Is there ice in here Sir?’….’Ice’ I reply cautiously…’No, why should I have ice in my bag?’.  He starts to open my bag carefully and takes a peak inside, ‘Is there water in here Sir?’…My curiosity is now raised. Had someone surreptitiously squirted water into my bag when I had not been looking? Had one of my antediluvian beasties relieved themselves…somehow take a prehistoric pee? Now beginning to look and feel a little confused I engaged again trying to make sense of the line of questioning, ‘I often transport fossils, and always try to avoid water and even ice’. The security officer looks blankly at me…I decide to push-on... ‘While these are affectively stone, water might still damage them’. The security guard sighed, ‘Sir, I thought you said ‘Mussels’…in an instant the hydration line of questioning made sense, ‘So…these are fossils…what kind’. This is when a small part inside of me quietly groans, as I know that I have to give a micro-lecture on each carefully wrapped package…and my flights departure is getting closer by the minute. The now growing assembly of Security Guards wants to be entertained. Maybe I can count this as part of my public engagement/outreach target for the year? 

Saturday, 2 June 2012

Dinosaurs, Physics and the MET Museum of Art?

This week I head to a meeting in New York City. The meeting is being held at the Metropolitan Museum of Art (The 'MET' to many). The Synchrotron Radiation in Art and Archaeology (SR2A) meeting will explore the latest inroads for synchrotron-based research to these two disciplines...with a few stray palaeontological presentations to boot! My talk will try, in 30 minutes, to highlight some of the advances that the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsouce (SSRL) and University of Manchester team have been working on these past five years or more. 30 minutes is not a long time, so I will have to either speak very quickly or just focus on some of our key findings...I think the latter wins!

The talk is entitled, 'Mapping Prehistoric Ghosts in the Synchrotron' and like many such presentations is credited to key members of the team, myself, Roy Wogelius, Bill Sellers and Uwe Bergmann.

For those of you who want a sneak preview of the is my abstract:

Detailed chemical analyses have never been completed on any fossil bird, such as the remains of Archaeopteryx and Confuciuornis santus, despite their iconic status. Ideally such analyses would measure and map the chemistry of bone, soft tissue structures, and characterize embedding matrix. Mapping the fossil in situ would place constraints on mass transfer between the enclosing matrix and preserved specimen(s), and therefore aid in distinguishing taphonomic processes from original chemical zonation remnant within the fossils themselves. Conventional nondestructive analytical methods face serious problems in this case and most recent technological advances have been targeted at developing nanometer-scale rather than decimeter-scale capabilities. However, the recent development of Synchrotron Rapid Scanning X-ray Fluorescence (SRS-XRF) at the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) now allows large paleontological and archaeological specimens to be non-destructively analyzed and imaged using major, minor, and trace element concentrations. Here we present high-resolution elemental maps covering entire specimens of Archaeopteryx (Thermopolis) and Confuciuornis, along with large sections of the enclosing matrix for Silica, Phosphorus, Sulfur, Chlorine, Calcium, Barium, Manganese, Iron, Zinc, Copper, Bromine, and Lead. As a complement to the elemental maps, spatially resolved point analyses provide quantitative results and have been used to convert mapped intensities to concentrations. Our results unequivocally show that the feathers in the Archaeopteryx are not simply impressions. Several rachises are clearly visible in maps of both phosphorous and sulfur; thus, indicating that feather chemistry has been partially preserved. Furthermore, zinc and copper levels in the bone are similar to concentrations in extant avian species. We therefore conclude that part of the original bone composition is preserved in these critical elements. The SRS-XRF scans of Confuciuornis show that trace metals, such as copper, are present in fossils as organometallic compounds most likely derived from original eumelanin. The distribution of these compounds provides a long-lived biomarker of melanin presence and density within a range of fossilized organisms. Metal zoning patterns may be preserved long after structural evidence (melanosomes) for color has been destroyed. Curation artefacts have also been resolved. Our results show SRS-XRF is a powerful new tool for the study of paleontological and archaeological samples.

It is fun to note that the meeting next week is full! There seems an awful lot of interest in this wonderful field of synchrotron-based well there should be.