X-ray diffractometers and environmental archaeology

Aug 15th, 2017

By Susan Flanagan

X-ray diffractometers and environmental archaeology

Federal funding for research infrastructure and equipment was recently announced.

Two groups of Memorial researchers together received more than $375,000 from the Canada Foundation for Innovation (CFI) John R. Evans Leaders Fund (JELF) awards presented at Laurentian University.

Drs. Chris Kozak and Francesca Kerton

Drs. Chris Kozak and Francesca Kerton, in the Department of Chemistry, Faculty of Science, received $300,000 for a dual source single-crystal X-ray diffractometer which will help characterize useful materials from waste in the fishing and aquaculture industries and the catalysts used to make new materials.

Both the aquaculture and fishing industries produce large amounts of food waste. Finding suitable ways to process this waste reduces the amount sent to landfills and could lead to increased employment and the production of new materials for further transformation into degradable plastics and composites.

The new diffractometer, to be supported within Memorial’s CREAIT (Core Research Equipment and Instrument Training) Network, is critical as it provides a 3-D image of the atomic arrangement of crystalline materials, allowing them to discover new catalysts that can transform carbon dioxide into value-added products such as polycarbonates.

“This can lead to start-up companies that focus on delivering products for a greener, more sustainable future, while maximizing benefit from natural resource development and creating non-petroleum derived polymers and plastics,” said Dr. Kerton.

“We are grateful for the support from Canada Foundation for Innovation for the funding to purchase a new X-ray Diffractometer, which is a central tool for chemistry and other groups in the Faculty of Science and possibly the Faculty of Engineering and Applied Science,” said Dr. Kozak. “It will replace the old instrument that has served our needs for over 12 years… Without access to this instrumentation, the research programs of several faculty members could not continue without serious delays in productivity.”

Drs. Meghan Burchell and Kris Poduska

The second JELF award for Memorial went to Dr. Meghan Burchell, Department of Archaeology, Faculty of Humanities and Social Sciences and Dr. Kris Poduska, Department of Physics and Physical Oceanography, Faculty of Science, who received $75,000 to establish a laboratory for environmental archaeological science, which will be housed in the Memorial Applied Archaeological Sciences Lab.

Drs. Burchell’s and Poduska’s research intersects archaeology, biology and geochemistry to understand long-term human-environmental interactions – more specifically, the micro-structure and geochemistry of hard tissues such as shell, bone, teeth and coral to derive information on past climate, human settlement patterns and diet.

The new lab infrastructure will help the team better understand how people adapted to coastal landscapes, especially where there are changes to the local ecosystem; either by human or natural influence.

“To study ancient animal population, specifically mollusks for paleoclimate reconstruction we need robust sample sizes – 1000s of specimens,” said Dr. Burchell. “This lab will allow me to automate specimen preparation and not only expand the size of my study, but also the time periods – I can go back more than 10,000 years as well as into new geographic regions.”

‘Critical investments’

Dr. Ray Gosine, vice-president (research) pro tempore, says funding for research equipment is critical.

“Researchers like Drs. Kozak and Kerton and Drs. Burchell and Podusoka make valuable scientific contributions that advance the state of knowledge in their disciplines and improve the world in which we live,” he said. “The Canada Foundation for Innovation helps fund the equipment and infrastructure to make this leading-edge research happen. These JELF awards are critical investments in research infrastructure at Memorial that will pay large dividends from research resulting from use of the equipment.”