Expert Exchange: Raman spectroscopy training and sample analysis

Expert Exchange: Raman spectroscopy training

Europlanet 2024 RI’s Expert Exchange Programme aims to support the planetary community to share expertise and best practice, and to prepare new facilities and services. The programme provides funding for short visits (up to one week). 

Keyron Hickman-Lewis of the Natural History Museum, London (UK), visited the team of Barbara Cavalazzi at the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Università di Bologna (Italy), from 8-13 November 2021 to participate in a Raman spectroscopy training course and as part of a major ongoing collaborative project for understanding the geobiological and astrobiological potentials of fossil-bearing stromatolites from the East African Rift system.

The Raman spectroscopy course allowed Keyron to familiarise himself with the WiTEC Raman system at Bologna and techniques for data treatment. Following the course, he performed several initial analyses of microbialite samples. During the Expert Exchange visit, Keyron advised on the preparation and process for conducting micro-CT analyses of stromatolites and conducted preliminary optical microscopy analyses of stromatolitic materials with Barbara and a doctoral candidate in her research group, Victor Amir Cardoso Dorneles Fo. This portion of the visit contributed to a major ongoing collaborative project for understanding the geobiology and astrobiology potentials of fossil-bearing stromatolites from a well-studied planetary analogue, the East African Rift system. These microbial structures are known to have developed in extreme environments that may resemble aqueous settings on the Noachian Mars and are, as such, prime targets for biosignature detection and astrobiology.

Keyron is co-supervisor for Victor’s PhD, so during his Expert Exchange visit they discussed Victor’s project direction, the availability and use of samples in both his own collections and those at the University of Bologna, and possibilities for fieldwork and sample acquisition throughout 2022. Victor has also now visited the NHM in London through another Europlanet Expert Exchange to be trained on various techniques using the samples that they prepared together. 

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Find out more about the Europlanet Expert Exchange Programme.

Expert Exchange: Raman spectroscopy training

Expert Exchange: Raman spectroscopy training

Europlanet 2024 RI’s Expert Exchange Programme aims to support the planetary community to share expertise and best practice, and to prepare new facilities and services. The programme provides funding for short visits (up to one week). 

Frédéric Foucher of CBM, CNRS, Orléans (France), visited the team of Barbara Cavalazzi at the Department of Biological, Geological and Environmental Sciences, Università di Bologna (Italy), from 8-12 November 2021.

Frédéric Foucher delivering training to the team at the University of Bologna. Credit: B Cavalazzi.

The main objective of this Expert Exchange visit was to provide training on theoretical and practical aspects of Raman micro-spectroscopy and imaging, in order to support development of the Bologna lab facility and to reinforce collaboration between the groups.

Raman spectroscopy is a versatile technique used to detect and identify organic molecules and minerals in many fields of research, from biology to Earth sciences. Advances in miniaturisation of components and the development of Raman microscopy imaging has led to its use in multiple space exploration missions. NASA’s Perseverance rover, which has been exploring the surface of Mars since February 2021, is equipped with two Raman spectrometers (SuperCam and SHERLOC) and the future ESA-ROSCOSMOS ExoMars 2022 mission will carry the Raman Laser Spectrometer instrument. Raman spectroscopy is a key instrument for astrobiology to study ancient and active traces of life on Earth, and to detect possible traces of life on Mars.

Recently, a team led by Barbara Cavalazzi at the University of Bologna acquired a WITec Alpha 300 Raman microscope, which will be used to study materials of astrobiological interest as well as for more general geological and biological applications. Frédéric Foucher has been in charge of a WITec Alpha 500RA since January 2009, and was one of the first researchers to use a WITec system in Europe. Now recognized as a specialist, he published several articles and book chapters on this technique during the last decade. 

Frédéric Foucher delivering training to the team at the University of Bologna. Credit: B Cavalazzi.

During the expert exchange, Frédéric gave theoretical and hands on training for 20 researchers, students and technicians.

Read the full report

Find out more about the Europlanet Expert Exchange Programme.