I spend about 12 hours in the lab most of the days I’m at sea [1]. So do most of the other scientists on board. Sometimes we get a little silly talking about our lab equipment after (or during) our shifts. Right now the lab is kind of quiet, waiting for cores to come up from our next site, so I have a chance to take pictures of the equipment without getting in anyone’s way.

Photo of lab instrument on track
The Section Half Multi-Sensor Logger

This is an instrument that records the color and magnetic susceptibility of split cores (“section halves”) [2]. It’s actually a robot that slides along a track taking measurements. We call it the Section Half Multi Sensor Logger, or SHMSL (pronounced “schmizzel”). The Germans on board have started calling it the Schnitzel.

The SHMSL isn’t really in our lab, but we use data from it all the time. In fact, there’s a back-and-forth between all of the labs on the ship. Paleontologists use the ages when plankton species appear and disappear from the fossil record to help us narrow down which magnetic reversals we’re measuring. We talk to the sedimentologists about sedimentation rate and what kinds of (magnetic) minerals might be in the sediments. The physical properties scientists help us decipher seismic reflection diagrams – more on those later – and collect most of the magnetic susceptibility data (three of the phys props scientists are paleomagnetists as well!). We collect samples for each other, too – I’ve even collected samples for organic geochemistry!

Silver bullet magnetometer
The 2-G superconducting rock magnetometer rocks on

This is the superconducting rock magnetometer, or SRM. We use it to measure the record of Earth’s past magnetic field in split cores (“section halves”) [3]. Everybody likes to say “superconducting rock magnetometer” because it makes you sound cool. But it is a mouthful. We sometimes call it the silver bullet. But usually we just call it the SRM (“ess-are-emm”). We used to have one like it in grad school. We named her Flo.

Boxes with flashing lights, connected to SQUIDs
A selection of SQUIDs

At the heart of the SRM are three rings made of superconducting wire. These are part of very precise magnetic field sensors called superconducting quantum interference devices, or SQUIDs. We have the other kind of squid out here, too. They are good on the barbecue.

DTECH D-2000
Alternating field demagnetizer. Don’t put your credit cards in here.

While this looks like the SRM’s little brother, it’s actually a different kind of device. This is the Dtech D-2000 alternating field demagnetizer. Samples that have had their magnetic records partially obscured by big magnetic fields from the drilling process (or by years of growing iron minerals at the bottom of the ocean) need to have those layers of extra magnetic grime scrubbed off by this machine. It works kind of like those old VHS tape erasers, but it’s a lot more precise. It also beeps VERY LOUD.

Box of plastic wrap watching you
Plastic wrap is a hot commodity in the core lab

We love plastic wrap in the core lab. We use it to make a nice flat surface for the SHMSL measurements, and to keep the sand and mud from cores out of our magnetometer. We wrap cores in plastic after we’re done analyzing or describing them. Hendrik, a sedimentologist, loves the boxes, too. He was very disappointed that other people kept throwing them away. Some people here think that you can wrap a core faster without the box. Hendrik disagrees. So there was a wrap-off between Hendrik and another sedimentologist. I don’t know who won. I’m agnostic about the boxes. But I do like to keep my magnetometer clean.


[1] In case you are just starting to read this blog, this post is part of my series of posts from the JOIDES Resolution, where I am participating in IODP Expedition 354 to study turbidites on the Bengal Fan.

[2] The optical sensor on the SHMSL is very similar to one that we have in the physics teaching lab at UW Tacoma. You will use it if you take Physics 3. It measures the visible and near-infrared spectrum of light. Magnetic susceptibility – “mag sus” around here – is a measurement of how much magnetic material is in a sediment core. The susceptibility meter applies a very weak magnetic field to the core, and measures the change in the sediment’s magnetization. We have one like it (and a track system for cores) in the Environmental Geology lab at UW Tacoma. Sorry, no SHMSL, though.

[3] Previous posts about the basics of Earth’s magnetic field are here, here, and here. Watch this blog for more about how we use the geomagnetic polarity time scale, or GPTS, to figure out the age of rocks – coming soon!