Europlanet 2020 RI Case Study – Isotope analysis for rare samples
November 22, 2019

Europlanet 2020 RI Case Study – Isotope analysis for rare samples 

Innovation has been a major part of the Europlanet 2020 Research Infrastructure (RI), particularly in its programme of Joint Research Activities. In the first two years of the project, Europlanet 2020 RI carried out a rigorous evaluation of the performance of 1013 Ohm amplifiers developed together with ThermoFisher for use in isotopic analysis of rare planetary samples, such as meteorites or materials retured by missions.

This work has resulted in a tenfold improvement in precision over conventional resistors, enabling significantly smaller sample sizes to be analysed.

ThermoFisher has released the 1013 Ohm resistors as a commercial product applied to a wide variety of instrumentation. The 1013 Ohm amplifiers have been installed at both the Vrie University Amsterdam (VUA) and the Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques (CRPG), and were used in Transnational Access (TA) visits supported through Europlanet 2020 RI between 2017 and 2019. 

This ground breaking technology has opened up new frontiers across the spectrum of analytical chemistry, with potential applications for a very broad range of non-planetary users for whom sample size is a key issue, e.g. in “non-destructive” analysis of archaeological and art objects.

As an example, an interdisciplinary study of tiny mineral inclusions in diamonds published in Nature Communications by VUA in 2017 discovered that the diamonds were geologically “young”. The results showed that certain volcanic events on Earth may still be able to create super-heated conditions previously thought to have only existed early in the planet’s history before it cooled. These findings have implications for diamond prospecting. 

The team at VUA is currently working with Pima County Office of the Medical Examiner to use isotopic analysis to assist in the identification of human remains for undocumented border crossers who do not survive the journey between Mexico and the United States. In 2017, researchers from the University of Oxford were awarded funding to apply micro-analytical techniques to museum quality artefacts to determine their place of origin (provenance). 

Collaborations with ThermoFisher will be ongoing beyond the Europlanet 2020 RI project to develop further improvements in the technology. Practical applications of the analysis of small samples and the work is expected to open up new areas of research in planetary science and other disciplines. 

Find out more about the outcomes of Europlanet 2020 RI in the Final Report.

Europlanet 2020 RI has received funding from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme under grant agreement No 654208.