Across disciplines, exciting stuff happens along the boundaries between things. What makes those realms so rich for research, and how do magnets shed light on them?

Studying dissolved organic matter helps us better understand our diverse and changing planet.

The high-tech tools empower scientists studying petroleum and other molecules to make decisions based on advanced data analysis.

Using an advanced technique, scientists discover that one of the most common substances in our everyday lives — glass — is more complex than we thought.

This week at the lab, Patricia Medeiros is fishing for answers using one of the lab’s ion cyclotron resonance (ICR) magnets.

Medeiros (pictured above, standing at right, with her grad students), an assistant professor of marine organic geochemistry at the University of Georgia (UGA), arrived Monday morning with one colleague, two graduate students, dozens of water samples from estuaries around Georgia’s Sapelo Island, and lots of questions. The team will spend the week analyzing the molecular composition of the dissolved organic matter (DOM) in the water, using the ICR Facility’s 9.4 tesla passively shielded magnet.

In collaboration with UGA microbiologist Mary Ann Moran, Medeiros is studying what different communities of bacteria are doing with this DOM. They are particularly interested in how bacteria chemically transform carbon from the ocean, a key step in the marine carbon cycle that is still not well understood.

That knowledge could help us understand and better prepare for future changes in the climate, said Medeiros. "We don’t know too much about how microbes interact with DOM. We do know that DOM plays an important role in the global carbon cycle, however."

By Kristen Coyne.

At research conducted at the MagLab, a young geochemist uncovers the surprisingly violent origins of a meteorite.

This week at the lab, Ella Morton is heading to New Orleans to attend the bi-annual Ocean Sciences Meeting, her first scientific conference. She is pretty excited: Her suitcase has been packed for months with her mermaid painting, favorite story book, and My Little Pony.

At age 5, she's too young to drive the six hours from Tallahassee to the Big Easy. Luckily, her dad, MagLab geochemist Peter Morton, is going, too, and, as a father of four, is an experienced chauffeur.

Morton is able to bring Ella (child #3) to the conference, where he and his undergrad students will present data on the flow of micronutrients in the ocean, thanks to a MagLab Dependent Care Travel Grant. Launched as a diversity initiative in 2006 and funded by the Florida State University Office of Research, the program helps cover the cost of caring for children or other dependents so that MagLab staff can travel to conferences and MagLab users can come here to conduct experiments.

The financial and logistical strain of raising a family and establishing a career can weigh on young scientists. Last year, Morton was away from home for more than four months, including a 75-day expedition to the North Pole. Whenever possible, Morton brings one of his children, ages 3 to 11, on the road with him. The benefits are many: it eases the burden on his wife, allows him to spend one-on-time with his children, and exposes his kids to the life of a scientist.

"People are paying more attention to the fact that scientists aren't just hard-core data managers and idea generators, but that they have a life outside of science," said Morton. "It makes me feel better about my chosen field."

Increasingly, scientific conferences offer camps or other childcare for kids of participants, and Morton has noticed more of his colleagues bringing wee ones in tow. Youngsters get to watch mom or dad on the job and learn more about what scientists do. Watching her father present his poster at a recent meeting helped his oldest daughter give a better presentation at her middle school science fair, he said.

"I really appreciate this shift in attitude," said Morton, "where there's more infrastructure and attention given to parents and families who want to stay engaged in the science and their personal lives."

Text by Kristen Coyne / Photo by Jennifer Morton

This week at the lab, a meteorite expert from the Smithsonian Institution is examining a morsel of a mineral found in far-off Siberia, hoping to find clues about its origin.

Glenn MacPherson (pictured above) brought to the lab a single grain of an alloy that, he and his collaborators believe, fell to Earth on a meteorite some 8,000 years ago. Made of aluminum, copper and iron, the mineral, dubbed icosahedrite, is believed to be the very first example of a quasicrystal found in nature.

A quasicrystal is like a crystal in that its atomic structure has both an orderly arrangement and symmetry. But the arrangement doesn't repeat itself the way it does in crystals, and the symmetry is so different that it had been considered impossible by scientists — until they began making quasicrystals synthetically (and, at first, quite accidentally) in the 1980s.

Finding a quasicrystal "in the wild" has been a long-time goal of Princeton University physicist Paul Steinhardt. The leader of this project, Steinhardt had predicted mathematically that quasicrystals were possible at about the same time the first ones were concocted in a lab. The discovery of a naturally-occurring quasicrystal has been both exciting and puzzling, said MacPherson, because the metallic aluminum requires extreme conditions rarely found in nature.

"Having an alloy of metallic aluminum with copper is like this double puzzle that we're still trying to resolve," said MacPherson, who is visiting the MagLab for the first time. "We still don't know how the metal formed. We're slowly inching our way forward. We are here making one important test."

With Munir Humayun of the lab's Geochemistry Group, MacPherson is using a technique called laser ablation with a mass spectrometer to identify trace elements in the sample. One of their goals is to rule out any possibility that the mineral is manmade; they have already detected traces of gold, silver and thallium, none of which they would expect to find in a manmade alloy. They are also looking for trace elements that could shed light on how and when the metal may have been formed, as they believe it was, on an asteroid that itself dates back 4.5 billion years.

Photo by Stephen Bilenky / Text by Kristen Coyne

Looking for clues on climate change, a scientist digs up the dirt on peat from around the world.

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