DCO Project Summary

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Project Title
Development of Quantum Cascade Laser-Infrared Absorption Spectrometer for Clumped Methane Isotope Thermometry
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A major DCO instrumentation objective is to measure ratios of methane molecules with doubly isotope-substituted rare isotopes (13CH3D vs. 12CH2D2) that might provide information on methane formation temperature and may help resolve questions related to abiotic versus microbial origins—a DCO Decadal Goal. In addition to providing support for the Panorama High-Resolution Mass Spectrometer discussed above, the DCO encouraged a second science team, who proposed a radically different concept for clumped isotope measurements based on quantum adsorption spectroscopy. With highly leveraged start-up funds from the DCO, a high-risk, high-reward alternative instrument was developed by Shuhei Ono, MIT, at a low cost and with potential for mobilization and miniaturization for field applications. Principal investigator Ono purchased key equipment in late 2012 and, as reported at the DCO International Science Meeting in March 2013, made rapid progress in building a prototype system for quantum cascade laser absorption spectroscopy. Preliminary test results are excellent and the initial DCO/Sloan investment will be leveraged by support from the U.S. National Science Foundation, which has recommended funding for the PI’s proposal for further research. Currently the science team is working on: 1) constructing adjustable volumes for pressure balancing sample and reference gases, 2) calibrating the instrument, and 3) making preliminary measurements of natural methane samples.
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