Posted by: unlikelygrad | February 17, 2010

what geochemists do

People have sometimes asked me why I went into geochemistry when I could have had a very lucrative career in chemistry. I suppose the intellectual answer is that I want to do something for the environment. But I suspect the real answer is that chemists generally don’t get to do fieldwork like this. Caution: image-heavy post following the cut.

Our goal: an abandoned mine in the Rocky Mountains. Contrary to what some of my friends think, we do not don Indiana Jones hats and go into the tunnels. (Since the entrance collapsed long ago, it wouldn’t have been easy anyway.)
Mine site

Instead, we sample the waste rock piles outside the adit:
Sampling up top

I had it easy, sampling the top. Poor K had to take samples while climbing up the almost cliff-like face of the rock pile. Try doing this without spilling your sample bucket:
Sampling Pile Face

See our high tech sample prep lab?
Field Lab

We let our samples soak in water. Observe our high-precision measuring technique:
Sample Prep

Next we characterized the leachate. Most of our samples were tested just the way they were–mucky and gucky–but the samples for the ICP-MS (back home) had to be filtered. Have you ever tried using a filter syringe on water that’s saturated with fine clay particles?

Here’s the high-tech instrument lab. I think I’m writing down conductivity measurements.
Instrument Lab

Note that all of this was done in the Rocky Mountains, at about 8000′ altitude, in early February. The temperature was about 20 degrees and we had a hard time getting our fingers to work. Brrrr. Most real field work (unlike this, which was for a class) is done during the summer for obvious reasons.

I think I want an Indiana Jones hat for my birthday.



  1. […] I went on a really cool field trip but “failed” my first attempt at giving a departmental […]

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