Elemental analysis

For the last couple of weeks, I’ve been grinding litter samples and wrapping them into small tins for elemental analysis.  The analyzer here incinerates a 4 mg sample of dried, ground litter and measures the amount of several gases that are formed during the incineration (which is at about 1000 degrees C, by the way!).  The gases measured included carbon dioxide and nitrogen gas (I’m not 100% sure about the nitrogen…), and, once we know the amount of those two gases released from a sample, the percent carbon and nitrogen of the sample can be determined.  Then, of course, the C:N ratio is calculated, which is what I was after – an index of commonly used in decomposition studies because of it’s relation to decomposition rate and litter quality (in terms of food for microbial decomposers and larger, usually insect, decomposers).

So this was my view for several days.

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Overview

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Ground litter samples and a 96-well plate to organize tins
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Weigh and tare the tin
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Preparing to fill a tin with ground sample

 

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Ground litter and grinding beads

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Filled tin
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Tins are folded into tiny cubes

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Weighing the filled tin

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The Elemental Analyzer. On top is a loading robot that can hold about 100 samples, minus standards and standards checks.

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Software on a connected laptop displays data real-time. The peaks on the screen are results of detection of particular gases (like carbon dioxide) as they are detected leaving the column in the analyzer. The area under the curve is the amount gas detected.

 

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