Just yesterday I returned to MIT and began working in a new laboratory: The Laboratory for Noble Gas Geochronology. I’ll be working in this lab at least through June. I’m dating some rocks that were collected from old research cruises to Ninetyeast Ridge (NER), a 5000 km long chain of volcanic seamounts in the Indian Ocean. My advisor and I have a new research cruise to the NER this summer, so I’ll continue my geochronology work next year on the new samples.
Basically, my advisor and I are trying to determine if the NER is a hotspot track. A hotspot track is formed when a tectonic plate moves over a stationary hotspot, a source of magma, and forms a linear trend of volcanoes whose ages increase systematically with increasing distance from the hotspot. The NER marks the northward migration of India and its subsequent collision with Asia to form the Himalayas; it is analogous to the volcanic chain associated with the Hawaiian hotspot.
Very likely the NER is a hotspot track, but a progressive age sequence will greatly support this hypothesis. As of now, there are very few, if any, reliable age dates along the ridge.
I like working in this new lab, but I am in the process of adjusting to all of the new protocols and potential dangers. Until now, I had been doing most of my labwork in the trace metal clean lab down at Woods Hole. I’m comfortable working in clean labs. Sure, there are dangerous acids everywhere, but as long as you don’t touch or eat anything liquid, you’re fairly safe. Hydrofluoric acid is the biggest danger, but I just needed to suit up properly and know where the calcium gluconate gel was located.
The new lab in which I am working in also requires use of hydrofluoric acid for dissolution and cleaning. However, in addition to needing to worry about hydrofluoric acid, I need to worry about working with radioactive samples and residues and also need to worry about the powerful, eye-burning lasers in the lab. Laser safety goggles, regular safety goggles; gloves for acid, gloves for radioactivity; radioactive waste disposal here, acid wasten disposal there, mixed radioactive and acid waste in yet another bin. I’m not worried (too much) about my personal safety in the lab. I work slowly, carefully, and ask questions whenever I’m uncertain. However, I am somewhat overwhelmed by all the new protocols. I need to learn to do everything properly. So much to learn!
On the downside, I have two more safety classes to take. Safety training is important, but it is boring (unless they tell really good disaster stories) and time-consuming. On the upside, my coolness factor of I-work-in-a-lab-with-acid-lasers-radioactivity just went up a couple of notches.
Ironically, I have a date tonight with a guy works for the safety office of another big scientific research institution here in Boston. Is it bad form to ask him questions about lasers and mixed radioactive waste over dinner?