STABLE ISOTOPE LABORATORY

The Stable Isotope Laboratory was established in 1989 as a regional center for stable isotope analysis. Since then, the laboratory has developed into a well-respected world-class facility, collaborating with researchers throughout the United States, as well as in Europe, South America and elsewhere. We are both a contract lab and a research lab.

The past decade has seen an explosion in the development of techniques for the use of natural abundance stable isotopes in ecological research. Stable isotopes are naturally occurring variations of elements found in nature, differing in the number of neutrons found in the nucleus. Since the different isotopes of a given element are virtually identical, they behave in very predictable ways in physical and chemical reactions. The elements of interest to biologists and ecologists include carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, hydrogen, and sulfur. This Wiki page gives a basic introduction to stable isotopes.

The use of stable isotopes covers a broad range of applications, including such things as tracing past climatic conditions, determining the origin of life, tracing food webs, understanding paleodiets, estimating yields of commercially important crops, and characterizing tropical rainforests. Environmental chemists have used stable isotopes to determine the source of pollutants and to monitor sites under remediation. Stable isotopes are also used extensively in the medical field as a tracer for important biochemical processes.

Our laboratory has been involved in many of these applications. For example, we've collaborated closely with scientists at SUNY Syracuse in a project using stable nitrogen isotopes to look at the effects of acid rain on a watershed in the Adirondack Mountains. Another project worked with doctors at Stanford University interested in developing a technique to determine if the ulcer-causing bacterium Helicobacter pylori was present in symptomatic patients; this procedure has since been patented and represents a breakthrough for chronic ulcer sufferers. We also specialize in determining the field metabolic rates of free ranging small animals. In the past, mammologists looking at the energetics of animals have been limited to specialized chambers in the laboratory. A technique called doubly-labeled water now enables scientists to study animals in their natural habitats without having to disturb them by bringing them back to the lab.

The Stable Isotope Laboratory is fully equipped to analyze a broad range of samples. The the lab has expanded and now includes one Finnigan Delta-S and two GV Instruments IsoPrime isotope ratio mass spectrometers. Several elemental analyzers and their associated peripherals allow us to rapidly process gas, liquid, organic and inorganic samples with high precision. The lab also includes several glass vacuum lines, balances, furnaces, and other equipment needed for a state-of-the-art facility. We employ undergraduate work-study students to do most of the sample preparation, giving them hands-on experience in a modern laboratory. Graduate students at Boston University are trained in the various techniques and do their own sample preparation. Graduate students from other universities are encouraged to contact the lab about visiting and learning the procedures.

Quality control and quality assurance are extremely important to the laboratory. International standards are used for calibration, and internal well-characterized lab standards are used on a day-to-day basis. For samples prepared by the lab, numerous replicates are run as a check on external precision, and users are encouraged to include replicates in preloaded samples.

Please take a look at the link for lab updates for more and future information!

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