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Problem solving at the isotope level

Monday, June 27, 2022 - 11:37am
Allyson Mann

For more than 40 years, scientists from the American Museum of Natural History have conducted research on St. Catherines Island, a barrier island off the Georgia coast. That work resulted in the 1981 rediscovery of the long-lost site of the Franciscan mission Santa Catalina de Guale (1566-1680) and the explorations of two large, constructed shell rings created on opposite sides of the island 5,000 years ago.

Four decades worth of artifacts and data are still being examined, and a collection of metal fragments was relatively untouched—until Alex Edwards came along. For the last five years, Edwards has investigated those metal fragments while also earning a master’s degree in geology at UGA.

Edwards enrolled at UGA in 2017 after earning a Bachelor of Science at Boise State University in Idaho. As an undergraduate, she worked in a geochronology lab using ICP-MS—inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry—to identify an object’s elemental or isotopic signature.

“I was fascinated by instrumentation and very interested in method development,” she said. “At the end of the day, I love chemistry. And in geology, I was more interested in geochemistry than anything else. I was just very interested in materials on a molecular scale.”

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Image: Alex Edwards, who earned a master’s degree in geology at UGA in May. Photo by Ian Bennett

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