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Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory

Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory

Two Columns

A little over 4.5 billion years ago, our solar system was a disk of gas and dust, newly collapsed from a molecular cloud, surrounding a young and growing protostar. Today most of the gas and dust is in the spectacularly diverse planets and satellites of our solar system, and in the Sun. How did the present state of the planetary system come to be from such undistinguished beginnings? The telling of that story is an exercise in forensic science. The "crime" occurred a long time ago and the "evidence" has been tampered with, as most planets and satellites display a rich variety of geological evolution over solar system history.

Fortunately, not all material has been heavily processed. Comets and asteroids represent largely unprocessed material remnant from the early solar system and they a represented on Earth by meteorites and interplanetary dust particles (IDPs). Furthermore, telescopic studies of the birth places of other solar systems allow researchers to simulate those environments in the laboratory so that we may characterize the organic material produced.

Like forensic crime shows, the Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory employs commercial analytical instruments. However, ours are configured and optimized for small organics of astrobiological interest instead of blood, clothing, etc.

Liquid Chromatography

We use liquid chromatography (LC) for the separation of polar compounds of astrobiological interest. The chemical labeling of an amine with a fluorescent tag allows for simultaneous measurement by both emission and exact mass.

ToFMass Spectrometer: This mass spectrometer (MS) is coupled to one of the Liquid Chromatographs below. This is a time of flight (ToF) MS with a electrospray (ESI), corona ionization (APCI), or photochemical ionization (APPI) sources. It is used to generate accurate mass spectra to determine the molecular formula of an analyte. Both positive and negative spectra can be taken from a single injection.

UPLCAnalytical Liquid Chromatograph: This ultra high precision liquid chromatograph (UHPLC) is equipped a UV-Visible diode array and UV fluorescence detectors. This LC serves as the primary inlet to the above MS for LCMS (HPLC+MS).

UPLC Nanoflow Liquid Chromatograph: This LC allows nano-flow (100 nL/min) ESI LCMS at much higher sensitivity than analytical HPLC.

LIF Laser Induced Fluorescence Detector: This laser induced fluorescence detector (LIF) allows for fluorescence detection at nanoflow rates.

MS/MSMass Spectrometer: This mass spectrometer (MS) is coupled to the Liquid Chromatograph below. This is a tandem quadrupole (QqQ) MS with a electrospray (ESI) or corona ionization (APCI) sources. While less sensitive and precise than the ToF, it generates fragmentation patters (MS/MS) to elucidate the chemical structure of an analyte. Like the ToF, both positive and negative spectra can be taken from a single injection.

HPLCAnalytical Liquid Chromatograph: This high precision liquid chromatograph (HPLC) is equipped a UV-Visible diode array and UV fluorescence detectors. This HPLC serves as the primary inlet to the above MS for LCMS (HPLC+MS).

LC/FT-MSAnalytical Liquid Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer: This mass spectrometer is coupled to another UHPLC. This is a Fourier Transform (FTMS) MS with the same sources as above. It has superior mass resolution of the two mass spectrometers above.

Gas Chromatography

We use gas chromatography (GC) for the separation of more volatile compounds of astrobiological interest or where the mass fragmentation pattern is needed to deduce chemical structures.

GCMS Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer: This GCMS is equipped with a cryo-oven to allow chromatography over a wide temperature range Alternatively, samples may be introduced into the MS via a direct exposure probe (DEP) or a direct insertion probe (DIP).

Isotopic Ratio Mass Spectrometry

We analyze the stable isotopic ratios C,H,N, and O in organic compounds to deduce their origin. Extraterrestrial compounds show distinct stable isotopic ratios from terrestrial compounds. This is accomplished by combusting or reducing the compounds to compare the isotopic ratios of a given gas.

IRMS Isotopic Ratio Mass Spectrometer: IRMS precisely measures the ratio of stable isotopes of pure gases in a helium stream. Specifically we measure 13CO2/12CO2, HD/H2, 15N14N/14N2, or C16O/C18O.

GC-C-QMS Gas Chromatograph/Mass Spectrometer: This GC-MS is identical to the one above but it is fitted with a reaction furnaces to feed the IRMS. It is used to separate a mixture of organic compounds and simultaneously measure their fragmentation pattern and combust or reduce the separated species to be analyzed by the IRMS.

Elemental analyzers Elemental Analyzers: The TC/EA and EA are used to convert a small quantiaty of pure standard into H2 and CO (TC/EA) or CO2 and N2 (EA) to feed the IRMS. Bulk C/N ratios can also be measured.

More...

UV Ultraviolet Spectrometer: The UV spectrometer lacks the sensitivity of other measuerments and the separation ability of chromatography, but is necessary for certain routine measurements.

IR Infrared Spectrometer: The IR spectrometer lacks the sensitivity of other measuerments and the separation ability of chromatography, but is necessary for certain routine measurements.

various equipment The laboratory is also equipped with a variety of supporting equipment including vacuum lines, a vacuum centrifuge, high purity water, freezers, rotory evaporator, ultramicro balance, laminar flow hood, organic synthesis glassware, stereo microscope, balances, furnaces for pyrolyzing glass and substrates, etc.

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Astrobiology Analytical Laboratory

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