Graham Lau
Measuring sulfide in fluids from a uranium-contaminated aquifer while the TA for a field geochemistry class.

Measuring sulfide in fluids from a uranium-contaminated aquifer while the TA for a field geochemistry class.

Scientia

 

"A wise man can learn more from a foolish question than a fool can learn from a wise answer."

-Bruce Lee

The endeavors of our lives should be varied, intriguing, and such that they help us develop our ability to think openly and critically about the world. My scientific research ventures have been just that. They've taken me to wondrous places, have helped me to develop the tools needed to ask larger scientific questions, and have also given me the opportunity to make my own contributions to the human enterprise of coming to know ourselves and our place in the cosmos. Below are some of the cool things I've done over the years, from my own research to projects I've been involved with.

 

 

Looking for Sulfur
in All the Cold Places

Tucked into a valley in the Canadian High Arctic, lies a glacial site with an intriguing story to tell. This valley, called Borup Fiord Pass, is located a little over 600 miles from the North Pole, on Ellesmere Island (yes, the same island where the Kryptonian spaceship was buried in Man of Steel and where NSA Camp Northern Light is located in Z Nation). If you were to fly over the glacier sitting in the central region of this valley, you would likely see yellow deposits of elemental sulfur at the southern toe of the glacier. This sulfur forms from sulfide-rich springs, which bring fluid and sulfur up from the depths below the glacier. In some years, these springs forms aufeis (a German word for "ice on top", implying spring derived layerings of ices) that are themselves rich in sulfide. The sulfide springs and sulfur deposits may have a lot to teach us about the geological and biological cycling of sulfur in cold and sulfur-dominated systems, on Earth and other worlds. I had the privilege to travel to this remote field site as part of my doctoral research in the summer of 2014. The trip was an incredible experience and gave me the samples I needed to conduct my research.

In 2014, small melt pools formed on top of the sulfide-rich aufeis at Borup Fiord Pass. Burping out the smell of hydrogen sulfide (smells like rotten eggs), bubbles formed on the surface of the melt pool. Some of these bubbles became covered in a smear of yellow elemental sulfur. Part of my work included assaying that sulfur goop. Using x-ray diffraction (XRD), I discovered three different forms of elemental sulfur in the material, and that led to the publication of my first first-author research article "Low-temperature formation and stabilization of rare allotropes of cyclooctasulfur (β-S8 and γ-S8) in the presence of organic carbon at a sulfur-rich glacial site in the Canadian High Arctic" which was published in the journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta.

I'm currently wrapping up some of my work on another unique feature of Borup Fiord Pass. Near to the glacier where the sulfur deposits are found, there is a hill where the rocks are stained red from the presence of iron oxides and pyrite veins can be found within the local carbonate rocks. Also, on this hill, are six elliptical mineralized features full of gypsum as well as iron sulfates and iron oxides. I'm now preparing a research paper showing that these features appear to have formed from the alteration of pyrite, and they are important analogs for our future research endeavors on Mars. The surface of the Red Planet contains a lot of iron and sulfur, making the chemistry of these elements likely to be important for any life that may have once existed (or may still exist) there. Our future robotic and human missions to Mars may discover pyrite alteration features, just like those I'm studying from here on Earth.

 
Extraction of a block of ice from the glacier in 2014 took a lot of work using rock hammers, but we got it. And we safely brought it the whole way back to Colorado; it had to spend two days in a hotel freezer in Ottawa, but it's still ice.

Extraction of a block of ice from the glacier in 2014 took a lot of work using rock hammers, but we got it. And we safely brought it the whole way back to Colorado; it had to spend two days in a hotel freezer in Ottawa, but it's still ice.

Steve Grasby sampling sulfur from a glacial crevasse in 2000 (Credit: Steve Grasby)

Steve Grasby sampling sulfur from a glacial crevasse in 2000 (Credit: Steve Grasby)

Sulfur deposits at the toe of the glacier in 2006 (Credit: Damhnait Gleeson)

Sulfur deposits at the toe of the glacier in 2006 (Credit: Damhnait Gleeson)

These ice crystals had formed on iron- and sulfur-rich minerals within cavities inside of pyrite alteration features at Borup Fiord Pass. Christopher Trivedi of the Colorado School of Mines looks on as I ponder the ice.

These ice crystals had formed on iron- and sulfur-rich minerals within cavities inside of pyrite alteration features at Borup Fiord Pass. Christopher Trivedi of the Colorado School of Mines looks on as I ponder the ice.

 

 
The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). A cool place to work! (Credit: SSRL)

The Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL). A cool place to work! (Credit: SSRL)

The Swiss Light Source (SLS) pretty much looks like a flying sauce. (Credit: SLS)

The Swiss Light Source (SLS) pretty much looks like a flying sauce. (Credit: SLS)

Checking out the PHOENIX beamline at SLS

Checking out the PHOENIX beamline at SLS

 

Synchrotron Science: 
Particle accelerators are cool! 

I've been quite lucky over the years to have had many opportunities to travel to synchrotrons (a form of particle accelerator) to do research. From the Stanford Synchrotron Radiation Lightsource (SSRL) in California and the Canadian Light Source (CLS) in Saskatchewan to the Swiss Light Source (SLS) in Switzerland, I've seen and done some awesome accelerator science.

Learn more about my work on synchrotrons through these posts on A Cosmobiologists Dream

 
 

 

More research projects and info coming soon!