Conference Spotlight: Quantitative Microanalysis 2019

Author: Ben Bruck (MS expected 2020, PhD expected 2023)

This spring, as a final project in John Fournelle’s Electron Microprobe Analysis course, our class performed experiments to compare the accuracy of energy dispersive spectroscopy (EDS) vs. wavelength dispersive spectroscopy (WDS), and to assess the suitability of two new materials for use as microanalysis standards. As we neared the end of the semester, John suggested that we present our findings at the Quantitative Microanalysis conference in Minneapolis. Minneapolis is only a four-hour drive away, and there was funding for students, so it seemed like a great opportunity.

Even so, I must admit, I was a little hesitant. I had never been to a “real” academic conference before, (only an undergraduate research symposium back in Boise), and the work we’d be presenting felt a little out of my wheelhouse, as it didn’t directly relate to my master’s thesis. Fortunately, John talked me into it, and I’m so glad he did. The conference was a blast!

Our class made a poster for the conference, and Emily Mixon and I tag-teamed a presentation of our results. Speaking to an audience of scholars and industry professionals was a little scary, but everyone was very encouraging, and we got lots of great questions. Ultimately, it was a fantastic opportunity to practice my poster-design and presentation skills.

My favorite part of the conference was probably the Oxford Instruments demo, where they showed off the real-time mapping capabilities of their new EDS detectors. Imagine being able to instantly see how chemical composition varies across your sample, and to navigate to different areas of your sample based on the presence or absence of certain elements. Pretty amazing stuff! It would certainly make identifying sanidine crystals for in-situ analysis much easier.

I was also excited to visit the University of Minnesota, which hosted the conference. Not to knock our own fine campus, but UMN is beautiful. One of the other students from John’s class who joined us wanted to cross the Mississippi river, so we took a walk across the Washington Avenue Bridge one evening for dinner. The University of Minnesota was also where Alfred O. C. Nier did much of his pioneering work on mass spectrometry and geochronology, so I got to nerd out a bit over visiting his old stomping grounds.

I’m so glad I attended QMA. Not only do I feel it was a rich and rewarding experience for me as a grad student, but it was also tremendous fun. As a smaller conference (especially compared to something like GSA or AGU), it felt very low-key, and all the speakers and industry associates were very approachable. I highly recommend going, if you get the chance.