June 28, 2004
UCSC dedicates new W. M. Keck Isotope Laboratory
with a symposium on isotope analysis
By Tim Stephens
UCSC dedicated the W. M. Keck Isotope Laboratory in June with a symposium
on isotope analysis. The naming of the facility recognizes a $1 million
grant from the W. M. Keck Foundation that enabled the campus to buy
a state-of-the-art mass spectrometer for isotope analysis of trace elements.
Margaret Delaney, campus provost
and executive vice chancellor, and Acting Chancellor Martin M.
Chemers unveiled a plaque at the dedication of the W. M. Keck
Photo: Tim Stephens
Lynne Stoops, director of development for physical and biological
sciences, and David Kliger, dean of physical and biological sciences,
with Robert Finnigan, a pioneer in the development of mass spectrometers
and designer of the Thermo Finnigan Neptune.
Photo: Tim Stephens
Graduate student Mara Ranville and Jugdeep Aggarwal, director
of UCSC's W. M. Keck Isotope Laboratory, show off the lab's new
Thermo Finnigan Neptune mass spectrometer.
Credit: Jim MacKenzie
With the addition of this powerful new ThermoFinnigan Neptune mass
spectrometer to the existing array of sophisticated spectrometry instruments
at UCSC, the campus's analytical facilities are unrivaled on the West
"Thanks to the generosity of the W. M. Keck Foundation, UC Santa
Cruz's research capabilities have achieved a new level, making the campus
a center of excellence in the region for trace metal analysis,"
said Acting Chancellor Martin M. Chemers at the dedication ceremony
and symposium held on June 18.
Trace metals include toxic elements such as lead and mercury, as well
as biologically essential elements, such as copper and manganese, that
can be toxic at high concentrations. UCSC scientists in many different
fields, from environmental toxicology to oceanography, are interested
in precise measurements of trace elements. In particular, the ability
to measure accurately the relative abundances of different stable isotopes
of the same element in a sample is important to many researchers.
The Neptune, a multi-collector inductively-coupled plasma mass spectrometer
(ICP-MS) from Thermo Electron Corporation, is a new type of mass spectrometer
that adds significantly to the scope of science that can be carried
out at UCSC. This instrument augments the existing single-collector
high-resolution ICP-MS that has played a key role in trace metals research
at UCSC since 1995. At that time, the campus was the first institution
in the United States to acquire a high-resolution ICP-MS.
In addition to the ICP-MS instruments, the Keck Isotope Lab also houses
a thermal ionization mass spectrometer, which has been used to measure
calcium, lead, neodymium, and strontium isotopes. The Neptune effectively
makes all the elements in the periodic table accessible for the same
type of analysis, said Jugdeep Aggarwal, director of the Keck Isotope
"The Neptune has opened up the periodic table for exploration
by scientists in a wide range of fields. They can now use isotope analysis
to study virtually any aspect of the natural world. It's not a small
improvement--it is a major, major advance in capability," Aggarwal
Thomas Bullen, a research hydrologist with the U.S. Geological Survey
in Menlo Park, gave the first talk of the symposium, offering an overview
of topics that are ripe for investigation using the unprecedented capabilities
of the Neptune. He was followed by Kenneth Sims of Woods Hole Oceanographic
Institution, who described his use of isotope analysis to investigate
volcanic processes; Holger Hintelmann of Trent University in Canada,
who discussed his work on mercury isotopes in the environment; and Norman
Pearson of Macquarie University in Australia, who described special
laser techniques for analyzing solid samples.
Aggarwal is currently testing a laser device for use with the Neptune
in analyzing solid samples. Researchers can use the laser to vaporize
a tiny portion of a solid sample for isotope analysis, giving them the
capacity to perform separate analyses on specific parts of the sample.
Otoliths, for example, are tiny ear bones in fish that are built up
in annual layers like the growth rings of a tree. Isotopic analysis
of the layers in fish otoliths using this laser technique can yield
clues about the different environments a fish lived in throughout its
"The laser system will give us spatial resolution, allowing in
situ isotopic analysis of solids, instead of dissolving and purifying
the sample first," Aggarwal said.
The Keck Isotope Laboratory is one of the core analytical facilities
at UCSC, open to researchers in a variety of disciplines on campus and
throughout the UC system. The instruments available in the Keck Isotope
Lab and the Marine Analytical Laboratory include, in addition to the
Neptune, a thermal ionization mass spectrometer, a high-resolution ICP-MS,
and an ICP optical-emission spectrometer.
"It is incredible how much the field of stable isotopes has expanded
and how fast it is growing. These really are exciting times in isotope
chemistry," said Margaret Delaney, interim campus provost and executive
vice chancellor. Delaney, a professor of ocean sciences, hosted the
symposium, which was followed by a reception, poster presentations of
ongoing research at UCSC, and tours of the new laboratory.
Russell Flegal, professor and chair of environmental toxicology, spearheaded
the campus's effort to acquire the Neptune mass spectrometer. He was
unable to attend the symposium, but Delaney made a point of acknowledging
"He helped bring us to this point by leading us all to recognize
the need for this instrument and convincing us to pursue it through
the Keck Foundation," she said.
The symposium was sponsored by the W. M. Keck Foundation, the Thermo
Electron Corporation, and UCSC.
Return to Front Page