Monday, May 2, 2016

URSP Student Spencer Clark Researches Platinum Group Elements in Hydrothermal Vent Systems

My name is Spencer Clark and I am working under the mentorship of Dr. Dionysis Foustoukos.  We are looking at platinum group elements in hydrothermal vent systems, specifically Iridium and Osmium, to observe the various geochemical alterations that they undergo at different temperatures and pressures.  One major aspect that the research is focused toward is if these elements are able to oxidize at lower temperatures and pressures than previously observed. 

Hydrothermal vent systems are home to some of the most unlikely livable conditions for biological life, however, a number of organisms thrive in these extreme environments.  The geochemical processes that these locations undergo is what gives life to these communities and I wanted to dig deeper into what they are. 

My aspect of the research involves preparation of samples and observation using a scanning electron microscope. Samples begin as powdered grains that are set in place with epoxy resin and left to harden.  Next the epoxy is polished to reveal the grains set within using progressively finer grain sizes.  Once the samples are polished they are carbon coated and then observed using the scanning electron microscope.  Scans and images are taken of the samples which reveal exactly what elemental compounds are present and from this data we are able to determine the alterations. 

Each passing week I have learned how to manage and operate a new scientific instrument, this week being the scanning electron microscope.  This research opportunity has given me a great deal of insight into what it is like to be in a professional scientific environment and realistic expectations for what the workplace.  This research has truly opened my eyes to what my career as a geologist will hold in the future.