Stuff Works Out

So, when I left you last, I believe I was at a bit of a low point in my research.  Well, good news – things have gotten so much better!  Fortunately, because they were getting kind of gloomy, there.  Now, however, I’ve figured out how I’m going to get all of my data, and the results will be even cleaner than they would have been had the previous tests worked out in the first place.

What’s going to happen is that I will be visiting Richard Bland College to use the XRF setup they have there.  This development is super awesome for several reasons.  For one thing, the people in the lab there know what they’re doing and can really answer all of my questions.  For another, the XRF spectrometer they have is not portable, but the stationary, laboratory kind.  It looks like a box and not like a ray-gun, so that’s less cool, but let me tell you, it is better in every other way.  It has lower detection limits, and I can also put up to twenty different samples in and just let it run, without having to hold my finger down on the trigger button the whole time.  Further, the Richard Bland lab has standards with known elemental concentrations, and the machine has already been calibrated, so my results come out in parts per million.  Parts per million!!!!  (I actually jumped up and down when I saw this.)  At CW, I’d been operating without any standards at all, and I couldn’t look at the real concentrations of elements in my sherds – I could only look at elemental ratios.  Now, I’ll have real, quantitative results that I can use for real, quantitative analysis.

I’ve only been out to Richard Bland once so far, but it was a very useful visit.  Not only did I find out all this good news regarding instrumentation, I also learned the proper way to prepare a ceramic sample for testing.  Previously, I had just been looking at the (cleaned) surface of the sherd.  It turns out, however, that the regular sherd surface (which I’d been using) and the same sherd cut and smoothed instead (so that the portion being irradiated is actually an inner surface that hasn’t collected contaminants) come out with wildly different results.  There are just too many impurities and unevennesses on an uncut sherd to make the results reliable.  So I’ll need to cut all my sherds into little smooth squares with a diamond saw before I start testing again, and I’m actually working with the geology department right now for that reason.  (They have a saw they’ll let me use.  I have to go through training first, though.)  The final problem is transportation, since Richard Bland is about an hour and a half away and I don’t have a car.  The plan right now is to rent a Zipcar, so hopefully that’s as easy as they advertise.

Oh, last thing, I know I’ve been saying that I’m just about to collect clay samples since forever ago, but it looks like I will actually be doing that next week.  Scheduling and permits and general logistics have been kind of a nightmare, but hopefully this will actually happen, and I’ll get to fill you in on all the awesomeness of the drill rig next time!