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Course Information

Instructor Info:Dulasiri Amarasiriwardena
Office Extension x5561
Alan Goodman
Office Extension x5372
Term: 2014S
Meeting Info: Tuesday Thursday
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Cole Science Center 101
12:30 PM - 01:50 PM Cole Science Center 101
02:00 PM - 05:00 PM Cole Science Center 2-CHEM
02:00 PM - 05:00 PM Cole Science Center 110

The focus of this research course is on understanding nutrition, pollution and related problems via the chemical analysis of calcified tissues: dentine and especially enamel. Tooth enamel calcifies during the prenatal period and the first decade of life and is them essentially inert. Thus, enamel's chemical composition may reflect conditions during early development. Because enamel and dentine grow somewhat like trees (they also have growth rings!), one may use them as a mirror facing back in time. We are at the right moment to pursue this research because of recent developments in chemical instrumentation. We will look at other biological tissues that can provide evidence about pollution and nutritional information. In this research course we will intensively use our inductively coupled plasma-mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) and laser ablation (LA)-ICP-MS. The first part of this course will consist of an introduction to analytical techniques, elemental imaging techniques, the development and chemistry of hard tissues, and problems of metal pollution and elemental nutrition in the past and present. Some of the specific research questions we expect to address include how well enamel chemistry reflects diets and pollution exposure at the time of development. Prerequisite: Chemistry I & II, Nutritional Anthropology, Skeletal Biology or instructor permission required.

Course Objectives:

The main purpose of this course is to involve students in research.  Thus, students will also almost immediately begin to work in small groups on projects such as those mentioned above.  Some students may continue their projects next academic years as Division III projects or independent research projects. Students might present results of their research at scientific meetings.

Evaluation Criteria:

Course Requirements: 


  • Active participation in laboratories and all other aspects of this class. 
  • Oral presentations on topics related to pollution, nutrition or on analytical techniques.
  • Lead class discussion in one or two classes (typically on a research paper),
  • Three Problem Sets
  • Write a short (2-3 page) essay of an element or isotope ratio technique that is important in nutrition or pollution studies (Due: February 11)
  • Write a review (~5 pages) on an analytical technique used in elemental analysis of hard tissue, or a technique used in paleonutrition or pollution studies (Due: March 6)
  • Final project: Write a 1-2 page research proposal (Due March 13), a completed literature review and method overview (Due April 4), and a complete with results and conclusions (Due May 2), along with a PowerPoint presentation in class (April 24 and April 29) and Course portfolio, self-evaluation, and the Final Paper – all Due on May 2.


Additional Info:

As this is such a new field, there is no text that fits the course.  However, there are many excellent primary and review articles.  The best of these will be available on the course website. Read them!  Although there is no required text, students who are interested in a more integrated view of archaeochemistry might want to read Trace of the Past: Unraveling the Secrets of Archaeology Through Chemistry (Joseph Lambert, 1997), Practical Guide to ICP-MS (Robert Thomas, CRC Press, 2004), and students with no background in dental anatomy and histochemistry might consult Simon Hillson's Dental Anthropology  (Cambridge, 1996).  It is most important that you keep a notebook that organizes the handouts, readings and your own class notes.

Also keep a well-documented laboratory note book (hard cover please) throughout the semester.