Monday, September 28, 2020

25th Anniversary of Isogeochem--a worldwide communication network

 

Hoeringfest 1995: Many isotope geochemists honoring Tom Hoering

Gremlins have been mentioned 37 times in 25 years. “Isogeochem,” the name of the 25-year-old listserve focusing on stable isotope geochemistry, biology, and ecology, has served as a hotbed of activity, controversy, and regular old nuts and bolts scientific advice for a community that started in 1995 with 100 scientists and has grown to be more than 3600!


Scientists, in particular those with high-end technical expertise, rely on sharing tips and tricks to keep their instruments running and producing good data. Stable isotope ratio mass spectrometers, the machines I’ve used in my career, have transitioned from being homemade to one of a kind that take up half a lab to Xerox machine size to multi-million dollar instruments. Because the technology has advanced and diversified so much in 25 years, those who use these instruments are anxious to get all the help they can to keep their lab in good shape. Isogeochem’s listserve is active almost every weekday, often with 4 or 5 email exchanges within that day. [See Andrea Lini’s opening Isogeochem 1995 email below.]

 

The first few months of Isogeochem had maybe one posting per day. My first post was in November 1995. I joined a group of isotope chemists who wrote about the precision and accuracy of their measurements, standards, and new methods., a popular topic that still pops up regularly throughout the listserve’s time span. Why is this important? The measurements that we isotope geochemists make on a routine, daily basis are all linked to measurements made by chemists years ago, who were sequestered in government labs like NIST (National Institute of Standards and Technology). In same cases, those scientists spent years measuring the exact amount of each stable isotope  (e.g. carbon-13 and carbon-12) in a carbonate sample that would provide a worldwide basis for all scientists to compare to. These materials are exceedingly precious and not every one has access to them. In fact, one of the main standards for carbon isotope measurements, is not longer available at all.

 

One of Isogeochem’s regulars, Wolfram Meier-Augenstein, has written voluminously about the importance of proper use of standards. When members of my lab group see a posting from him, they know they’ll be reading Wolfram’s “hardline” on isotope practices. I always read what he writes, but have a slightly different approach to running my lab. Over the years, I’ve accumulated about 100 isotope standards ranging from original, rare materials over 50 years old to interlab standards to home-grown standards we’ve developed.

 

Paul Koch, Page Chamberlain, Kevin Mandernack, Dave Bell, 1995

The listserve community often exchanges views on how good their instruments actually are and how finicky their instruments turn out to be. [See below for Simon Prosser’s email on this topic.] Some companies (e.g. Thermo-Fisher-Finnigan-MAT) are known for fine German engineering and original designs that often turn out to be more complicated than we customers were led to expect. Engineers from all the various companies don’t often post on Isogeochem but I’ve learned they “lurk” on the listserve seeing the general drift in the community. In fact, most of the Isogeochem list members never post an original query or submit a comment, but through the writing and posting of this blog I’ve learned how many will read a post.

 

Inevitably, on any listserve, people hit the Reply All button when they meant to just reply personally to the sender. This was one of my favorites involving some senior isotope people.

 

Subject:


Re: Lunch

From:


Marilyn Fogel <[log in to unmask]>

Reply-To:


Stable Isotope Geochemistry <[log in to unmask]>

Date:


Thu, 28 Aug 2014 19:18:29 +0000

 

Hi Gene, 

Before booking the flights to and from Chicago for the luncheon, could you let us know what sorts of decent restaurants you have in area? Could they seat 50 isotope geochemists and serve them a decent meal? As a Californian, I need to know if they serve gluten-free, vegan, nut-free food other than sawdust.

 

Marilyn Fogel

 

From: Eugene Perry

Reply-To: Stable Isotope Geochemistry
Date: Thu, 28 Aug 2014
Subject: Re: Lunch

 

Hi Bob,

(And ALL OF ISOGEOCHEM), Justin Dodd is the resident very stable isotope geochemist at NIU.  Instead of making an abject apology to all list members, I propose that Bob Clayton set a date and time. He and any other isotope geochemists are invited to join Justin and I in DeKalb, IL for lunch on that day.

 

Gene


>>> Robert Clayton <[log in to unmask]> 08/28/14 9:40 AM >>>

On Aug 28, 2014, at 8:18 AM, Eugene Perry wrote:

Justin, Do we still have a lunch date? If so, When? Where?

 

Gene:    It's good to get your message. Who is Justin?

I am now retired and living in Michigan City, Indiana. I get in to my office at the University of Chicago about once a month.

 

Bob [Clayton—famous Isotope geochemist]”

 

Isogeochem also serves as a mechanism for hiring people to work in your lab. I advertised many times for lab managers and postdocs. I found and hired four lab managers and numerous postdocs using Isogeochem—Roxane Bowden, Ying Lin, Christina Bradley, Liz Williams, Dave Baker, Matt Wooller, and Seth Newsome. In fact, when I advertised for a Lab Manager in 2009, Roxane Bowden replied within minutes—and I found a most outstanding lab manager immediately. I’ve also recommended folks to others based on an Isogeochem posting.

 

Setting my lab at UC Merced

My favorite Isogeochem postings, however, are the funny ones. I tend to write these around the December holidays as the yearly pace of science slows for a couple of weeks while people celebrate. I’ve written words to Christmas carols and told stores—one featuring Gremlins. Over the years, while I’ve published many serious scientific papers on esoteric topics of stable isotopes, it is probably my Isogeochem Christmas stories than have propelled me to Isotope Queen status. [See below for an example.]

 

On reflection, Isogeochem has proven to be instrumental in building and maintaining an international network of interdisciplinary scientists—all for free and with the goodwill and participation from its members. I foresee another 20 years of activity for the list even though some of its earliest members have joined the Cosmic Group of Isotope Geochemists in the Universe.

 

Join me in congratulating Andrea Lini on a wildly successful venture 25 years ago! His direct email is alini@UVM.edu

 

Message 1

 

Subject:


WELCOME to ISOGEOCHEM!

From:


[log in to unmask] (Andrea Lini)

Date:


Thu, 6 Apr 1995 16:32:35 -0500

Content-Type:


text/plain

 

“Well...Let me welcome you to the Stable Isotope Geochemistry discussion list!!  The list is now almost 3 days 'old' and I've been quite surprised by the response to the list announcement. Over 70 people subscribed within the first 24 hours and the list is still growing (we are more then 100 now).

 

I am a geologist who just moved to the US from Switzerland 2 months ago. I've spent the last 5 years in the Stable Isotope Laboratory of the Geological Institute at the ETH-Zurich (Judy McKenzie and Stefano Bernasconi) where I've been working predominantly with C & O isotopes in Mesozoic pelagic carbonates. More recently, I started working with C and H isotopes in organic materials and O & H in surface waters. Here at UVM I'm in charge of the Environmental Stable Isotope Laboratory at the Department of Geology. The lab is currently equipped with a VG SIRA II mass-spec.

 

---- A few words about mail-list dynamics (or.. how I would like this list to work)

 

----Imagine the mail-list as a big lazy animal which needs to be continuously fed to keep it active. The food are your postings: questions, comments, calls for help and so on. It is the responsibility of the list-owner to keep the list alive but not to keep it lively (wouldn't have enough time...).

 

There's nothing more frustrating for a list-owner than have to entertain a couple of hundred (well,that's not us yet) passive subscribers. The only way you, as a user, can profit from the mail list is by USING it, which doesn't mean waiting for ideas and revelations to come automatically from it. So, lets keep this list busy! Submit ideas, comments, concerns, whatever you want. You will not always get a response of course.......but the chances for feedback will increase with increasing size of the list. 

 

Best regards to all of you,  Andrea Lini”

 

Message 2

 

Subject:


Accuracy, precision and poppycock

From:


Simon Prosser <[log in to unmask]>

Date:


25 Jul 95 06:58:12 EDT

 

“As a representative of a mass spectrometer company I'd hate to think I was responsible for misleading people into believing that their data was more precise/accurate than it really is. External precision can mean a great many things.        

 

When we quote it for a dual-inlet Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer (IRMS), we mean the precision (1 standard deviation) that can be obtained from flooding the manifold with gas and measuring each port. I quite agree with James O'Neil that it has no bearing on the precision to which a real sample can be extracted and prepared and even less on the accuracy to which this can be done. It is quoted as a statement that once you get your sample gas into the instrument, the instrument itself should not add to the errors by more than this amount.       

 

When we quote external precision, for example, for a continuous-flow combustion IRMS, then it means something quite different. It is the precision to which an ideal, well homogonised, easily combustible sample can be combusted and measured - maybe one step closer to reality but still no guarantee of precision for other types of sample. We quote these figures to show how well the instruments work under ideal conditions and because they are figures of merit that the isotope community demand and use to compare instruments when  making a purchasing decision.

 

I had hoped that we been clear about what we meant in each instant - perhaps we should be a bit more explicit in the future, it. 

 

Precision is one problem, accuracy is another. In addition to the question of standardisation procedure there is a muddle one stage further back - the process of converting delta 45s and 46s to delta 13Cs and 18Os. There are a number of different methods currently being used - I know of at least three; the original method proposed by Craig, an updated Craig method with the correction constants changed to reflect newer absolute PDB ratios, and a quadratic equation method (I am unsure of the origin of this method - I first came across it in 1983 through Ian Wright at the Open University though I have also heard John Hayes' name used in conjunction with it).  These different methods all give a different final answer even if the same standards are used. I prefer the quadratic method because it makes less approximations than the Craig method and is fundamentally more accurate.        

 

Simon Prosser Europa Scientific”

 

 

Luis Cifuentes, me, David Hollander, Hoeringfest 1995


Message 3
 

Subject:


Some Holiday Cheer

From:


Marilyn Fogel

Reply-To:


Stable Isotope Geochemistry

Date:


Thu, 18 Dec 2008 14:47:47 -0500

 

Dear Isogeochemists, 

 

Maybe its the weighing or the snapping off two Gas Bench needles in   one day or over tightening a fitting or running DIC samples. Or maybe   its that I stayed home rather than go to AGU and party. Or maybe I'm   just ready for the holidays!  Even though the traffic is sometimes too   much to handle, this is a great group of helpful people. Hope you all   have a good holiday. 

 

**Apologies to GV, Eurovector, Nu, etc. for the inclusion of a   Finnigan product in the song. It came to me, then I couldn't get it   out of my head.**  Marilyn Fogel 

 

The 12 Days of Isotope Christmas 

On the first day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the second day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

Two Nitrile Gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the third day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the fourth day of Chrismas my true love gave to me 

Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the fifth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the sixth day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

Six techs a’weighing  FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three  

 

 On the 7th day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

Seven source lights dimming  Six techs a’weighing  FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the 8th day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

8 sales reps bilking  Seven source lights dimming  Six techs a’weighing  FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the 9th day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

Nine peaks advancing  8 sales reps bilking  Seven source lights dimming  Six techs a’weighing  FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three  

 

 On the 10th day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

Ten pumps a’seeping  Nine peaks advancing  8 sales reps bilking  Seven source lights dimming  Six techs a’weighing  FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the 11th day of Christmas my true love gave to me 

Eleven “Isogeochems” a’griping  Ten pumps a’seeping  Nine peaks advancing  8 sales reps bilking  Seven source lights dimming  Six techs a’weighing  FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three   

 

On the 12th day of Christmas my true love gave to me

  Twelve Turbos a’humming  Eleven “Isogeochems” a’griping  Ten pumps a’seeping  Nine peaks advancing  8 sales reps bilking  Seven source lights dimming  Six techs a’weighing  FIVE CENTERING RINGS!  Four IT nerds  Three focusing lens  Two Nitrile gloves  And A ThermoFisher Two-Five-Three  

 

 

 

Winter in the "Olden Days"

  Greenvale Raiders: Marilyn, Albert Stein, Freddy, David Fuhrman, 1960 My mother claimed, and rightly so, that she walk...