This grant provide matching support of the costs of purchasing and testing a rock sample disaggregation system relying on electric pulse technology. Electric pulse disaggregation (EPD) systems are currently in use by mining companies and at three academic institutions worldwide (including the University of Minnesota). The EPD systems at academic institutions were all custom built by a small company in St. Petersburg Russia. EPD systems explode lithified samples along grain boundaries; the rapid discharge of voltage causes sublimation of weaker cements surrounding mineral grains or microfossils leading to rapid expansion of the gases along these capillary thin channels. Relative to traditional crushing methods, EPD systems have the potential for rapid extraction of delicate microfossils and preservation of soft mineral phases with minimal damage and could therefore prove invaluable for micropaleontological, geochemical, and geochronological studies.
The instrument to be acquired is manufactured by Maxwell Physics International (MPI; formerly PRIMEX Physics International). The MPI design offers multiple advantages over the less costly Russian design, including: 1) completely enclosed high voltage elements, 2) removable and completely sealed sample chamber, 3) low noise operations and, 4) rapidly adjustable input voltage. Perhaps foremost, the MPI design is considered a major safety improvement, Russian EPD systems currently in use require operation in separate and remote laboratory facilities to ensure complete containment of exploding samples and for hearing safety. This EPD system will be made available to non-WHOI geoscientists for mineral separation for subsequent geochronological and trace element geochemical studies and for separating delicate microfossils.