Friday, September 15, 2006

The morning after

This is an addendum to last night’s post.

I should let everyone know that I was using an unusual definition of “my”. Usually, my is the first person possessive pronoun. But occasionally, it has other meanings. In the case on yesterday’s title, for example, I used the little known definitions of “my”, such as: my=a; my=an uncontrollable; or my = a scheming foxy, willing-to-let-me-think-I-actually-figured-her-out.

For the better part of a week, everything was perfect, blissful, the Cs barely twice the instrumental background and Rb only a few times larger. I’m still not sure exactly what happened. Perhaps I got complacent, and started taking my cps for granted. Or maybe the alkali wild spirit can never really be tamed by a lab coated man, and resumed its contaminated machine on its own schedule, without regard to the wants and desires of the laboratory staff.

Whatever the reason, in the cold light of dawn, it became evident that the Friday morning backgrounds were an order of magnitude higher than the rest of the week. I was back to square one, with no consolation or explanation to ease my loss.

Fortunately, by that time the moon people had finished their analyses. In fact, I eventually tracked down the source of the contamination. A couple of Germans from Edinburgh* had been using the machine to looks at refactory glass and carbonates. That was fine, but what ended it for me and my alkali backgrounds was their decision, late in the day, to run just a couple of volcanic sanidines (is there any other kind?). The ablation of trace element-enriched K-spar must be what brought on the contamination.

I’m not really sure what to do now. Staring at the wiggly signal lines, it feels like I’ve lost something special, something irreplaceable. The calculating pert of my mind tells me that I’ll solve the problem of getting the low backgrounds soon enough, and I think I know how to keep them, but that doesn’t stop me from worrying.

A more interesting question, however, is why the Germans are in Edinburgh. I suspect it is a result of natural selection. Researchers from Mexico, China, or Italy would not be able to survive in Edinburgh. They would starve to death. So only it is reasonable to suspect that any scientists who can thrive there must come from countries with a cuisine sufficiently bland that Scottish food is not too painful an adaptation.


Geek with Wings said...

HAAAAAA (about the Germans, not your tainted results..)

I'm wearing feldspar today, of the Labrodorite variety.

C W Magee said...

I should add that it was actually good to have the Edinburgh folks here. For one thing, we only actually measure Rb and Cs a couple of times a month, so the effectiveness of the lab has not been inhibited. More importantly, they are really bloody smart, and picking quality brains is always valuable. Edinburgh is one of the best labs in the world in terms of ion probe light isotopic analyses, and they are years ahead of us right now, so just seeing how they size up a lab they've never been to before was fascinating.