Tuesday, 21 February 2012

Mass Spec Maintainance and Visual Media

Today was spent mostly taking apart complicated bits of kit and putting them back together again. We had a training course in GC/MS maintainance, including such delightful topics as cleaning the ion source (quite pretty and shiny I think),

and troubleshooting for low sensitivity. It's really interesting getting to learn more about how this sort of equipment is put together. Reading the theory of how it all works isn't the same as seeing all the bits for yourself, and working out how it all goes together. Something that looks incredibly complex to begin with gradually becomes less scary and more familiar. I took photos of various stages of the cleaning process to remind myself what to do in future. This particular image reminded me of the USS Enterprise. Don't you think? See the door in the background, and the entrance to the Jefferies tube in the floor. No?

Following the maintainance course I went to this weeks' Heritage Research seminar over in King's Manor, by our new CHM lecturer Sara Perry. I was delighted to hear Sara got the post, as she is also involved in the Çatalhöyük project, as part of the visualisation team. I am very interested in Sara's research and the use of visual representation in archaeology; it is a very powerful tool, and as she pointed out, such information is not always subject to the same rigorous peer review as text. The way that images are used to (mis)represent (whether intentionally or not) scientific data is something that should be taken more seriously as it can have a real impact on people's understanding. 

As scientists we struggle to find ways to present our data in a way that is accessible to non-specialists. This is especially true with micromorphology - traditional descriptions using obtuse terminology are not the easiest to digest, even for those of us familiar with the subject, and it can be difficult to link back such descriptions to what we can see in the field. I've lost count of the number of times I've been told how mysterious or baffling micromorphology seems, which is very frustrating, as I honestly believe that 'microarchaeology' is an essential approach to address many research questions, and there is no reason why it should be seen as complicated. It has become increasingly common to use visual means of presenting such information, which to me at least makes it easier to see what micromorphology actually is, and how we arrive at our interpretation.

The slides on the left (a, e, i and m) relate to the rectangles that are starred on the right. Figures from:

Shillito, L-M., Matthews, W. Bull, I.D. and Almond, M.J. (2011) The microstratigraphy of middens: capturing daily routine in rubbish at Neolithic Çatalhöyük, Turkey Antiquity  85 (329): 1024 - 1038


  1. Hi Lisa, I'm beginning to make use of this technique and I'm sure I could do with something similar. Clue me in as to the specifics of the shiny bits when we next meet?