I just got back to Ithaca last night, after an awesome two weeks out in Richland, Washington at the Pacific Northwest National Lab‘s Environmental Molecular Sciences Laboratory (EMSL). I was there to work on a user proposal we submitted and had accepted last year, where we proposed to investigate BC interactions with soil carbon at a micro-nanoscale. Leveraging the samples from my incubation trial, we use the fact that the BC was 13C and 15N-labelled to distinguish it from pre-existing soil C. It’s been proposed that BC may stabilize soil C directly on its surfaces or in its pores, and we are using nanoscale secondary ion mass spectrometry (nanoSIMS) to see if we can detect these interactions. The nanoSIMS instrument at the EMSL allows us to create maps of up to 7 different chemical species, including distinguishing between 13C and 12C, or 15N and 14N.
I’ve been working mostly with Zihua Zhu, focusing right now on methods development – it’s a major challenge for soil samples, which are physically and chemically complex, heterogeneous, and definitely NOT flat at the microscale, which is a requirement for nanoSIMS analyses. We made some good progress, and started generating some exciting images (which I need to check to see if I should share).
It was a really cool experience being at the national lab – it’s a unique work environment – and I am looking forward to returning in the spring or summer for more analyses.