Natural processes, such as volcanic eruptions, as well as human-induced changes, such as the Industrial Revolution, leave behind chemical signatures in the environment. By studying these left-over chemical 'fingerprints', scientists can learn about processes from the past. An EU-funded project, CHEMICAL FINGERPRINT (Ultra-trace element fingerprinting of geological and environmental archives), set up a state-of-the-art research facility in Dublin, Ireland, to research such chemical signatures. The new facility is special as it offers the ability to prepare and analyse samples that contain only trace amounts of the chemicals of interest. The scientists achieved this by optimising the transfer and preparation of samples through smaller volumes of reagents and more efficient equipment. During the course of the project, the scientists tested the method they had developed on different sample types at the new facility. When they analysed a sample of Irish peat, the scientists were able to detect deposits of ash from Icelandic volcanoes. To identify the ash in the sample, they needed to do a careful study of the background sediment in the peat for comparison. They were also able to use trace metals in a sample of ancient rock to distinguish between non-living and single-celled life. In addition, they could tell the difference between microbial life and bone samples. The project included training of students and early-career scientists in state-of-the-art geochemistry. These researchers, and the new facility, will continue to serve the scientific community and contribute to applying and spreading the knowledge of these new techniques.
Research facility, chemical fingerprints, chemical signatures, trace element, peat