Congratulations!

Congratulations to Rhys for winning the Sheppard Frere Prize, a prestigious award for research in Roman archaeology!

Prize giving with Gillian Taylor (left), Rhys Williams (middle) and Andrew Birley (right) and sunny Vindolanda (background)

As you may remember, we recently had several posters presented at the RAC/TRAC conference in Edinburgh. Thanks to the hard work and hours put in by everyone on the TUBA team, we got some great feedback for each poster. Rhys was even awarded the prize for the best and most innovative student poster for his work titled: “Bullseye: Analysis of ox skulls used for target practice at Roman Vindolanda”.

Please, read more about this in an interview over here!

TUBA

Warm Welcome to Aboli!

We’d like to give a very warm welcome to our newest team member Aboli Sanjay Vavle!

Aboli is an international student from India. She completed her undergraduate degree in Biotechnology in India. During her course, she was a part of a seminar on DNA Fingerprinting and studied modules like Toxicology and Biotechnology Techniques in Forensic Science which influenced her a lot to choose Forensic Science as her subject for Masters degree. For her Master’s final semester project she worked on Secondary transfer and persistence of fibres, which is now submitted to Science and Justice and will be published soon – watch this space. She completed her Masters in Forensic Science from Northumbria University, Newcastle. Following completion of her degree her passion for research in fibres remained and thus, enrolled onto a PhD program to continue this area of research. She is currently a full time PhD student at Teesside University. With good background knowledge in fibres on surfaces, she will now be investigating fibres in buried environment, mainly focusing on degradation of the dyes and how this study can be useful in forensic and archaeological context. Besides science, she is very passionate about singing, reading, travelling, new gadgets and photography. She is a foodie and loves trying out new and different cuisines.

Spectroscopy and Pastry. Is there anything better?

On top of the  need for speed, two members of this research group found themselves in need of a course in spectroscopy this month. Luckily, ThermoFisher Scientific came to our aid, and so new PhD student Aboli and I (hi, this is Helga!) were able to take a trip up to Paisley, Scotland, to be showered with spectroscopic knowledge this week.

Aboli and I took a seat at the back of the room closest to the morning pastries, with direct access to the tea station. Luckily, we both remembered to bring our glasses!

We made our way up to Glasgow and Paisley on Tuesday, staying overnight due to the lack of 5 AM trains from Newcastle (perhaps thankfully). For me, this meant a simple 2 PM train from Newcastle, pit stop in Glasgow for the mandatory Paesano’s pizza (nectar of the gods), and continuing on to Paisley around 7. A nice day of travel, if you ask me. When in Paisley, my trip became substantially more difficult as I was betrayed by the evil map function on my phone, indicating an 11 minute walk, but nothing about it being a steep uphill battle on uneven terrain! Fortunately, the pizza fuelled the hike, and I was glad to be at the guesthouse shortly before 8, just in time to read up on the topics of the course and catch the mandatory true-crime evening podcast.

It wasn’t until much later that Aboli finally arrived, having had a a longer journey and caught out in a monsoon on her way to the guesthouse. Aboli had, unlike me, spent the day in Middlesbrough for a research induction, catching the 1 and a half hour bus back up to Newcastle where she lives at 5AM to grab her bags, and then finally arriving in Glasgow 10.30 PM. That’s only about 7 hours of travel for you, on two buses and four trains, so I decided not to complain (too much) about my annoying 11 minute rain-free hike.

Our comfy rooms where we could relax and have some sleep.

Surely, we (or at least Aboli) deserved a good night’s sleep at that point, but although the rooms were surprisingly nice and comfy at the guesthouse, the shared bathroom door was broken, resulting in loud bangs every half-hour or so throughout the night, and the occasional panicked noise of a person thinking they were locked in. I have had less-scary nights of sleep, but unfazed by this we woke up early the next morning and got ourselves up to ThermoFisher’s headquarters at the Inchinnan industrial estate.

Praise be, is there anything better than pastries in the morning?

Much to our joy, we were of welcomed by the smell of hot tea, coffee and pastries, meaning we soon forgot all about the door of doom at the guesthouse. It was time to sit down and listen, as we learned about FTIR and Raman Spectroscopy sampling techniques, analysis and various microanalytical methods. The seminar was very helpful to us both, and covered a range of methodological bases, analytical considerations and instrumental differences, leaving us with a much clearer idea of how to proceed with our respective projects. I am excited to see what information the two methods can give me with regard to the structural state of the Vindolanda leathers. Although I have used the FTIR several times before, I feel a lot more confident in my methodology having attended this seminar and look forward to trying out Raman spectroscopy in the next few months.

     

It was warm and cosy inside during the seminar, but we could hear the Scottish rain and wind outside beating the windows. Unfortunately I felt right at home in these conditions…

Aboli also enjoyed it. Both FTIR and Raman spectroscopy will be of good use for her research into fibres, as they will help her determine composition of the fibres and help discriminate colours. She has used and studied FTIR during her Masters course, but like me felt like she gained a lot more advanced and in-depth information, making it easier to plan her research methodology effectively.

ThermoFisher ID cards made us feel sufficiently professional for the occasion!

The seminar lasted until 4PM, when we were lucky enough to catch a ride back to the Paisley station, thanks to a fellow spectroscopy enthusiast. When in Glasgow, we had intended to grab dinner before our train back, but unfortunately ThermoFisher fed us too well during the spectroscopy course (thanks!), so instead we spent a few hours catching up on work at Starbucks. No complaints there, and as soon as we hit the train back at 7 it was again time for my true-crime podcast of the evening, before hitting the platform home in Newcastle.

Mandatory tourist shot of Glasgow City Centre, taken about 5 minutes after I walked onto a mime mid-act. My bad!

  Thanks to i Scientific for hosting this event and to Teesside University for letting us have this experience!

Helga and Aboli

 

I feel the need, the need for speed

It has been a great couple of months for Bioarchaeology research group, we have seen a wide range activities, we presented posters at RAC/TRAC, including winning the student prize – a great showcase for our work with Vindolanda – many congratulations to Rhys Williams, we have welcomed a new started Aboli Valve – whom will be starting work on archaeological fibres, we presented at the annual School research day, successfully completed 10 undergraduate projects, again including one which was awarded the school poster prize, so it is time for a rest!! Not at all, the planning of the instrumentation for the National Horizons Centre is continuing and there will be some exciting news on this in the coming months ahead, if you do want to work with us in the field of proteomics, metabolomics, bio-imaging, chemical characterisation using Raman, FTIR and many more, please do get in touch.

One of my conference highlights this year as group leader, is my attendance at ASMS in San Diego. What a fantastic conference, great location and I just love the American hospitality.

Firstly the conference, this is the premier mass spectrometry conference in the world, with over 7K attendees, this is the only conference where the app has kept me on track, literally.. I can easily clear 15K steps in one day! I am confused by the concept of cheese popcorn which seems to be a mid afternoon snack favourite.

Secondly the oral sessions, amazing range of topics, and the speakers are excellent. Some of my highlights have included MasSpec Pen for detecting cancer, MALDI imaging advances, workshops for indepth discussion of recent techniques – art and cultural history application, SPME applications. I have especially enjoyed the breakfast seminars, who doesn’t want to wake up listening to a mass spectrometry talk at 7am!! And finish the day at 7pm with workshops, that’s before you even dare the hospitality suites which are open until 11pm! Packed days.. fantastic..

Thirdly the poster session, this is excellent, over 800 posters (hence the need of an app!), great to speak to so many presenters, including grad students who are enthusiastic, dedicated and eager to discuss their scientific work.
Already planning ASMS 2019…

A final note San Diego is amazing, who wouldn’t want palm trees and sunny weather.. but what is more amazing is spending 7 days completely immersed in mass spectrometry and meeting fellow scientists who are more than happy to discuss techniques, instrumentation.. This is so valuable in our digital age when we forget how important it is to meet, discuss and debate.

My daily commute to the convention centre passes a café which should be immortalised, I posted the image on twitter with a quote from the song ‘great balls of fire’, but embarrassingly then I thought that most of the attendees weren’t even born when this was released!

Research Trip – What Have The Romans Ever Done For Us?

Good afternoon!

This week, TUBA attended the Roman Archaeology and Theoretical Roman Archaeology Conference (RAC/TRAC), dubbed the “premier international event devoted to Roman archaeology”. Some may wonder, what have the Romans ever done for us? Well, the conference featured no conspirators in a darkened room, no masked activists, although there was a Matthias (and probably a Reg, Stan and Francis too), and certainly an ominous mist coating the city. Despite the absence of Monty Python sketches, the RAC/TRAC did enlighten the audience on many aspects of Roman life, many of which still influence life today. And here, we’re going to share with you just a snapshot of our time there!

This year, RAC/TRAC was held at Edinburgh, a truly fascinating city with a wealth of knowledge and hidden treasures. There are also some questionable “treasures”, that is, if you consider a pocketbook made out of the tanned skin from the buttocks of the late William Burke as a treasure. If that, and the other pathological displays housed in the Surgeon’s Hall Museum sound a bit too morbid for you, then just round the corner is the marvellous and deceptively massive National Museums Scotland.

The world’s largest balloon sculpture. We struggled to find words to describe this, um, art too. But don’t worry, there are legitimately amazing displays across the museums, like this lil’ guy diving for cover from wolves!

The conference itself (I mean, that IS why we visited Edinburgh!) covered such a diverse range of topics, including architecture, crafting, gardens, identity, recycling, shopping, stable isotopes, wars, water, writing, and even dogs, across five simultaneous sessions. It may not come as a surprise to you, but the TUBA team were definitely in keen attendance to the talks covering Vindolanda, Hadrian’s Wall, leather and graves! In fact, one talk suggested the discovery of a new Roman god called Bregneus, though they emphasised that it’s early days and their upcoming excavations shall hopefully shed some light on these curse tablets dedicated to Bregneus.

Now, what conference wouldn’t hold some form of reception or party, eh? Well, in keeping with the location, there was a Scottish Ceilidh (it’s taken an embarrassingly long time to learn how to pronounce it). Imagine line dancing, but with kilts and out-of-breath dancers. Just one song was more tiring than an ABBA boogie marathon! Fortunately, these two left feet decided to co-operate for the first time, even whilst being filmed!

Ceilidhs are officially the most difficult thing to photograph, especially whilst still panting for air. Sorry Helga!

Not to play favouritism here, but the best session was perhaps the workshop on multiple 10-minute discussions covering experimental archaeology, writing up research, and how to present our findings. Some truly pertinent debates that, frankly, need addressing across the whole of academia. However, the most exciting bit was the true reason why TUBA attended the conference. Poster day!! The third and final day saw the TUBA team have their posters on display.

Bullseye- they hit the target nearly 60 times!
Walking a mile in Roman shoes (but not literally!)

I may over-exaggerate here, but the posters went down such a storm! People loved coming up and playing with the 3D scans and printed objects, proving these to be such an effective way of engaging the public with museum exhibits without endangering them. People were so engaged, we even missed both the coffee breaks AND lunch, without getting hangry (hungry and angry)!

After some final talks and celebrations of a successful conference, we headed off back to Teesside University, but not before heading to the top of the National Museum and Castle Rock, getting some spectacular views of Edinburgh Castle looking out at the city.

Who ever said it always rained in Scotland? There was a good 2 hours of sunshine and spectacular views on the way home!

Edinburgh, it’s truly been a pleasure. Many thanks to the RAC/TRAC organisers, and the bursaries awarded to us by the Barbican Research Associates and the Roman Research trust for making this visit possible.

Until next time!

TUBA

Sunday Surprise! Sneak Peak at our Upcoming Research

This week, the TUBA team visited Vindolanda to carry out some analysis ready for the RAC/TRAC conference next month. After a drive through the roads waving over the hills, past the remnants of snow refusing to melt away, we arrived with instruments in hand ready to power through bundles of fabulous artefacts. We had attempted the voyage two weeks ago but Vindolanda was snowed in for EIGHT DAYS!

Now, we can’t give away too many details, or we’ll spoil the surprises for our conference post. But how about this for a sneak peek? First, Rhys was using the 3D scanner to model skulls and arrows. Thanks to him, the room had to be plunged into darkness all day. Fortunately the sun wasn’t shining, or that would have been a shame to miss!

Spending the day scanning away!

Next, we have Helga using the X-ray Fluorescence analyser on a wealth of artefacts rich in vivianite. Her ability to concentrate and precisely balance the scanner all day was more than impressive!

What do the results say? Find out soon!

And finally, TUBA members Caroline and Gillian enjoyed a great discussion with visitor Dr Elizabeth Greene over posters for the conference, Vindolanda discoveries, and leather preservation.

We hope you’re satisfied with that sneak peek. Look out for our conference-special post coming next month!

TUBA Team

P.S. what Sunday blog post wouldn’t be complete without mentioning food? If you’re visiting Vindolanda, definitely visit the café, it’s delightful!

And the theme for this post is…

Progress!

Our project students are getting started with their intensive semester of lab work, progressing toward their final piece of work. Ollie is using SEM to look at the condition of leather after being buried in the trial microcosms laid last year, and comparing it against various different animal leathers. Kirsty is using FTIR to look at changes in the wood samples after burial.

Kirsty drilling the wood for powder. Strictly lab work here!

Talia and Kealey are looking at the differences between pre-sectioned and intact bone after being buried, with Talia using FTIR and Kealey using XRF. Talia expects to see a change in the crystallinity of bone (alterations in the structure of molecules). Kealey is looking into ion exchange, or rather, uptake and leaching between the bone and the soil.

Kealey getting ready to clean the gack from her bone samples. Don’t put your hands in the sonicator or you might shatter your wrist!

Helga is being a busy bee! her project is taking a bit of a proteomics turn as she’s looking into the proteins and collagen degradation of archaeological leather.  Whilst doing this, she’s also been writing up her progression report, ready to submit before shooting off to Amsterdam to see ol’ Kendrick Lamar!

Helga practicing her supreme reading wizardry

Finally, Rhys has passed his progression presentation, where he discussed his research into bone diagenesis and the dynamic, complex conditions at Vindolanda. He can now continue his exciting work with Vindolanda in the second year of his PhD- excellent news!

Rhys showing his levitating bone trick during progression

Until next time!

TUBA Team

 

Starting to See What the Soil Says

Hello all!

Recently, the TUBA team has been investigating how best to analyse soil at Vindolanda. This is very important- I mean, it IS what makes up the site. And so, Helga and myself have been trialling ICP-MS and XRF. But before any of that, we donned our chef hats and got to cooking, though by cooking, we were heating up soil to remove the moisture and determine how much organic matter is lost after heating.
Doesn’t sound so tasty, I know. But look at the lovely array of brown, like looking at a student’s first attempt at a dinner party!   Continue reading “Starting to See What the Soil Says”

Research Trip- 8th Bone Diagenesis Meeting

This week, I had the utmost pleasure of going to the ‘8th Bone Diagenesis Meeting’ conference. Founded by Robert Hedges in Oxford in 1988, the Bone Diagenesis Meeting has been held every four years across Europe and Africa, with the eighth meeting back in (temporarily) sunny Oxford. Pop the kettle on and put your feet up, because today I’m going to share my experience there with you!

Magdalen College, Quidditch pitch and corridor of many a movie. If TUBA ever has to relocate, I know where my vote goes!

Continue reading “Research Trip- 8th Bone Diagenesis Meeting”

I do more than lab work..

As the summer rolls on and it seems to go quicker every year, it gives me time to spend some time outside the lab. I need proof that I do indeed spend sometime outside, as currently, the PhD students do not think I venture out into the field so here are some pictures to prove that I can do more than laboratory work!

In a boat last month – disguised by a silly hat!

ok so this one is a little older.. but I am getting my feet wet!

The research team have a broad remit of understanding bone diagenesis and decomposition, mostly this relates to archaeology, but also to forensic and biomedical applications. check out our sister site of https://blogs.tees.ac.uk/tuhumbugs/, This summer so far has meant learning new techniques, setting up microcosms in the laboratory, developing methods in the laboratory, catching up current research and more importantly writing.. watch this space.

For myself the laboratory is really where I am at home, since working in the Biomedical Mass Spectrometry Unit, Newcastle University, my passion has always been the development of new methods, especially towards the measurement of amino acids and organic compounds. I spent three fantastic years in Leipzig, Germany at http://www.eva.mpg.de/evolution/index.html where I worked with one of the first LC-IRMS instruments. Since coming to Teesside University, I have built up a research team that investigates bone diagenesis, decomposition and amino acid metabolism for a range of applications. Our department has a strong forensic and biomedical focus and thus the instruments I work with are also applied to drug analysis. The unique opportunity to work on material at Vindolanda, Northumberland has allowed the research team to grow and use our expertise to aid the understanding of preservation mechanisms in waterlogged environments and importantly provide knowledge as to how to preserve and manage these important World Heritage Sites.

As the summer ends and the new term starts we will be bringing you a snapshot of what research we are doing, where we are presenting, what we are publishing and all the great stuff that our research team does.. we may also post some pictures of our holidays!