Monday, 14 August 2017

Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry User Group (SIMSUG) Meeting…by Jack Lacey


In July, the 14th Stable Isotope Mass Spectrometry User Group (SIMSUG) meeting was hosted by the Stable Isotope Facility at the British Geological Survey. SIMSUG brings together scientific users, engineers, manufacturers, and suppliers of mass spectrometry equipment to discuss new applications and developments in stable isotope research and analytical instrumentation. Although the meeting has been held annually in the past, the last SIMSUG was hosted six years ago in 2011 by Lancaster University Centre for Ecology and Hydrology – so about time for a catch up!

Over 80 delegates attended this year’s meeting representing many disciplines and affiliations, including UK- and EU-based universities, research institutes, academic journals, and mass spectrometry companies. The meeting kicked-off with a tour of the BGS, including the geological walkway and core stores, and the stable isotope, geochronology, inorganic and organic geochemistry facilities, highlighting the broad range of geoscience, health, and environmental research undertaken at the BGS.

Delegates of SIMSUG 2017
The meeting programme was diverse, with scientific talks and posters organised into overarching themes covering methodological advances and systems innovation, tracing terrestrial and marine palaeoenvironmental change, and palaeodietary studies. Dr Peter Wynn (Lancaster University) gave a keynote presentation discussing the relevance of subglacial methane generation in a warming world, and Dr Tamsin O’Connell (University of Cambridge) described the contribution isotope analyses have made to palaeodietary studies and the potential for future developments.

A conference dinner was held at the National Justice Museum where delegates were able to enjoy an informative and interactive tour of Nottingham’s historic courthouse and jail. Dinner was followed by a guided walk through the city.
Discussions continued over dinner at the
National Justice Museum

Congratulations to all PhD students who won prizes. The quality of the presentations and posters was very high indeed and all student presenters received commendation from the judges, Peter and Tamsin. The award for best overall presenter went to Benjamin Bell (University of Manchester), best talk to Hal Bradbury (University of Cambridge), and best poster to Kim Wood (SUERC). Well done everyone!

Thanks to our sponsors (Thermo Fisher, Elementar, Sercon, Elemtex, Isoanalytical, Goss Scientific, Elemental Microanalysis, QRA) and to the rest of the Stable Isotope Facility organising team. Catch up with #SIMSUG2017 on Twitter!

We hope to see everyone again at SIMSUG 2019, which will be hosted by the Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility at the University of Bristol.

For more information on SIMSUG, please visit the group’s Facebook page.

Friday, 11 August 2017

Walk this way: the BGS through the eyes of a newbie... by Grace Davis

Grace Davis started work at the British Geological Survey in July 2017, in this weekly series she shares what she gets up to as part of the Comms team at the BGS...

Anyone need a tour guide? I’m getting to be quite well-versed in what happens where at the BGS, as (just like last week) we had tour group visiting us on Tuesday. This time our guests were a lovely group from the U3A – that’s the University of the Third Age. They held a science seminar in the local area and hosted part of it at our site in Keyworth. I joined the group in the afternoon to help show them around and, despite the torrential downpour we had to paddle through, they had a whale of a time! The rain didn’t even put them off doing the geological walk: armed with macs and maps they braved the outdoors to find out more about this interesting and beautiful part of the site.

The walkway can be found running through the Keyworth campus and is open to everyone. I first saw it on the day of my job interview; it stood out despite my mind being full of nerves and the fear that I’d worn the wrong shoes. My now-colleague Jo Thomas walked me along it, explaining that the paving stones were laid out to represent the different geological time periods – starting way back in the Precambrian period, some 2500 million years ago, and stretching forward to the Quaternary period. The stones are gorgeous mix of colours and textures, brought here from all over the UK. Alongside the paving stand various large rocks and boulders, set into the ground. There is also the large feature wall on the front of the James Hutton Building, commemorating the work of the eponymous 18th century geologist. The wall is a stylised representation of Siccar Point on the Berwickshire Coast, location of the notable Hutton's Unconformity.


If you’d like to come and see this remarkable walkway for yourself then please do! It’s generally open Monday to Friday from 9:00 am to 4:30 pm and you can pick up a free leaflet from Reception. To find out more about the walk visit our website here. And if you see me (with or without a tour group in tow), do stop and say hi!

The walk isn’t the only thing open to the public at BGS Keyworth; you can also visit our lovely shop which is full of jewellery, home-ware, books and more – all with a geological theme of course (an alarming portion of my pay check may well find its way there; even now I can hear the gemstone jewellery whispering my name…). You can also visit our free art exhibition, Impossible Views, hosted in partnership with QuarryLab, a North Notts organisation which supports local artists. Bringing this post full circle (it's almost like I plan this), one of the artists' work features some great sketches of Siccar Point, so be sure to check it out! The exhibition's run has been extended and will run at our Keyworth base until January 2018, open every Friday from 9:30 am until 4:30 pm.



Monday, 7 August 2017

Fishy Findings...by Laura Hubbard

Weighing samples at BGS Keyworth
I’m Laura, a 3rd year Animal Science with Computer Science student at the University of Nottingham. During summer 2016 I undertook a project looking at heavy metal and bacterial contamination of fish sold in the UK, in collaboration with the Inorganic Geochemistry Team at BGS, Keyworth. Although this may not seem like the most exciting topic (you might think there are bigger fish to fry) we currently import 70% of our seafood. It is important to monitor these products for harmful substances to find out what we are really eating. The main focus of the project was to compare imported farmed fish from Asia with wild caught and EU farmed fish. We often see horror stories in the news about food from abroad containing all sorts of scary things. But is there any truth to this or is it a load of codswallop?

What contaminants should we be worried about?

Although it is widely known that higher trophic predatory fish, such as tuna, contain high levels of mercury, there has not been a lot of research into species lower down the food chain. As it is a potent neurotoxin it is important we do not consume too much. Mercury bioaccumulates in our tissues causing damage to the central nervous system, especially in infants and unborn babies. Other heavy metals such as lead and arsenic are similarly poisonous, and the presence of these would be an indication of the quality of the environments the fish were farmed in.

If any of the samples contain harmful bacteria there is a danger that they could cause illness when consumed. The poorly regulated use of antibiotics in fish farming and present in the environment through waste from human activities is also a concern. This could drive antibiotic resistance in bacteria and result in antibiotic residues being present in food due for consumption; growing levels of antibiotic resistance pose a threat to global health.

The method

First of all I set off to the supermarkets, re-usable bags in hand, to purchase an array of fish ranging from haddock to the river cobbler. Back in the lab after a lot of chopping, mashing, drying and grinding I had reduced the fillets to fishy powders. This was offish-ially very smelly work and I was definitely not the most popular around campus that week. I then headed to the Direct Mercury Analyser at BGS to quantify the amount of mercury present in each fish. The brilliant team at BGS Keyworth also carried out ICP-MS analysis to determine other elemental contaminants. Using molecular techniques I identified which fish contained pathogenic bacterial DNA. A simple validated test revealed if any of the fish contained antibiotic residues.

From L-R: Fish powders ready for analysis; Antibiotic residue detection in tilapia fish (fish 26-30)

The results

I did find fish on sale in the supermarkets that contained mercury levels above the UK legal limit, although the majority of the samples were below. Over half of the fish contained DNA from Salmonella species and two fish species contained Campylobacter DNA; both associated with food-borne illnesses in consumers. The worst offenders were the farmed fish while the wild caught fish contained less bacterial contamination. All of the fish farmed in China tested positive for antibiotic residues but so did all of the haddock, wild caught in the Atlantic Ocean (what a red herring!).

MSD Animal Health Connect Bursary Award

Accepting MSD Connect Bursary Award
I was lucky enough to be given the opportuna-ity to present my findings at the MSD Animal Health Headquarters in Milton Keynes (who part funded my work), along with student representatives from other UK Veterinary Schools. They fund projects at each of the UK Veterinary Schools every year and offer awards for the top three projects. We each gave a presentation, headed off for lunch and then a tour of their facilities at Milton Keynes while the MSD panel discussed and deliberated. Amazingly I received 1st plaice, which just goes to show any-fin is possible.

Acknowledgements

Thank you to everyone at BGS Keyworth for their help with this project, particularly Dr Andy Marriott, and for making me feel so welcome in the labs. I would also like to thank my University of Nottingham supervisor, Dr Tracey Coffey, for giving me this opportuna-ity. This work was funded by a BBSRC Research Experience Placement Award and MSD Animal Health.




Friday, 4 August 2017

Microscopes, Groundhogs and Tours: the BGS through the eyes of a newbie...by Grace Davis

Did you know that SEM stands for ‘scanning electron microscopy’ which allows scientists to take an incredibly close look at the composition of materials in a various formats (such as rock chips, polished thin sections and liquids)? The information SEM gives us can contribute towards mineral identification, textural analysis, fault rock studies, and much more.

I did not know this, unsurprisingly, but now I do! And so do 12 young people from the London International Youth Science Forum who joined us this Tuesday for a tour of the BGS. As one of the newer members of staff, I had the chance to accompany the students on the tour, serving as part route-guide and part extra member! The students, a mixture of young adults from around the world, were a pleasure to have with us and really engaged with the talks given by BGS scientists such as Dr Jeremy Rushton in the SEM lab and Dr Mike Howe who showed us around the National Geological Repository (aka the Core Store). (And I didn’t lose a single student so I’m marking it down as a big success.) We look forward to seeing you again next year, LIYSF!

SEM in action!
This week I continued to help with monitoring our social media accounts; the BGS is pretty active on Facebook, Twitter and Instagram so there’s always something going on! Our social media posts come from a combination of communications staff ferreting out interesting pieces of info, and submissions from the many scientists working on projects across the BGS. One of my favourite submissions this week was from the team who have developed a new version of the BGS Groundhog Desktop software. To the uninitiated (which I was until three days ago) this might sound a bit odd – what’s a groundhog doing at a desktop anyway? What this actually is, is a rather interesting piece of software that allows users to easily (and in the comfort of their own home) explore digital versions of geological features such as cross-sections, borehole logs and geological map linework. It’s free to use and we have a great YouTube tutorial on how to get started with it.  


I’ll back on the blog again next Friday but, until then, if you haven’t read my previous posts on being a BGS new starter you can check them out here, here and here!

Wednesday, 2 August 2017

Touring America on the cheap – as told by a skint student! By Rob Smith

Rob Smith, a student at the University of Nottingham, recently completed a month of work experience at the BGS in Keyworth. Here he talks about experiencing a part of the world well beyond his usual reach...

Here is one for all you money savers… I have just completed a four-week tour of the North Fork Toutle River (NFTR) catchment system, in Washington State, USA. The aim of the tour was to aid my understanding in the influences of the eruption of Mount Saint Helens as well as the deposition of enormous levels of sediment onto the river plain, and the implications that followed.

I am sure many of you will know that Mount Saint Helens erupted in 1980, with the stratovolcano erupting laterally. This lateral eruption blew around 25km2 of ash northward, settling at least one metre thick and resulting in lahars through the NFTR valleys, destroying vegetation and clogging up the river system.

During the tour I was able to travel through time seeing the recovery of vegetation in the surrounding areas.  I investigated the types of vegetation and the stability of sediment, and the impact of the large retention structures put in place by the USGS, US army engineer corps and University of Portland in order to protect the sediment and reduce flooding in large settlements downstream.

As well as being very interesting to me (as this work will provide the basis of my dissertation thesis) the whole tour did not cost me a penny!


This is the magic of the digital and virtual reality technology used by the BGS today. Using GeoVisionary, ArcMap, Groundhog Desktop, HoloLens and other BGS virtual reality tools, I got to experience, analyse, and conclude various questions about the area. I saw these changes in a way that traditional 2D imagery cannot even begin to show, and can even be difficult to comprehend in reality. These systems allowed me to investigate the surrounding area remotely prior to the eruption as well as the result and recovery of the event.

My area of work involved monitoring various changes over time, observing vegetation and the changes following through from succession of new pioneer species, in addition to monitoring whether management strategies were having any of the effects they aimed to achieve. Further to this I was aiming to predict landslides in areas which may increase the river sediment load; identifying areas of high risk.

The work I did barely scratched the surface of what can be achieved by the various visualisation systems used by the BGS. With the help of the specialist teams at the BGS (3D Visualisation Systems and Remote Sensing) it is possible to produce detailed maps worldwide, some of which are inaccessible in the field, and have the tools and know-how to explore both the above and below ground, providing the basis for arange of exciting new research to be undertaken.

Fortunately, I do get to do the tour in reality in August where I can ground truth my results from the above virtual investigation! I would just like to thank Ricky, Bruce and Alessandro who made the virtual tour possible.