The Reality of Gathering Data: It isn't Always Simple.
Gathering data for this project hasn't been the most straightforward of tasks. As my first ever serious research project many challenges arose which I had to overcome. This type of experiment has only previously been trialed once, which meant that I didn't have much ground to go off. Thus, a lot of it required trial and error to discover the best way to obtain credible data.
My supervisors and I knew that powdered samples produced successful data for the previous researchers working on stromatolites. However, obtaining powder samples completely ruin the specimens. Therefore, at the start of this research, we decided it would be best to first use magnetic susceptibility probes as the probes provide data without causing damage to the stromatolite. The reason for gathering data from the probe was to indicate which stromatolites would be worth further analysis.
However, even at this early stage, we encountered problems. The probe head itself was larger than the individual laminations, this meant the results wouldn't be as accurate as one would like, as noise from the surrounding lamination/rock would ultimately alter the readings. Although this data wouldn't necessarily be credible on its own it was still worth doing as it gave a rough indication to whether the magnetic susceptibility differentiated across the lamination.
After I gathered data from the probe, it was time to collect powder samples from the individual laminations. Many problems arose; firstly, I had to figure out what was the best way to obtain the data without any cross-contamination, no metal could come into contact with the powder, thus, a diamond drill head was used. Only paper and plastic could be used to transfer and hold the powder. Pretryshyn et al., appeared to have much success with the powder samples. I had some success, but it was challenging; one of the biggest challenges for me was that the KLY-4 Kappabridge (the machine providing the magnetic susceptibility readings) did not provide reproducible data with a similar amount of powder to what Pretryshyn et al., stated they had used in their paper.
The data I obtained had a massive standard deviation indicating that the results were not accurate. This was a big problem to overcome, after discussing this problem with my research supervisors, we decided that it would be a good idea to saw ~2cm cubes from the stromatolites and test the magnetic susceptibility, then powder the ~2cm cubes and compare the magnetic susceptibilities against one another to see if the results were similar. Arguably, the most important step in this process was to halve the powder sample up until the point where the results were no longer reproducible or had an overly large standard deviation. This informed me of how much powder I required from the individual lamination to produce credible results.
This was very successful and after this process, I was able to achieve (AT LAST!!) some interesting results, particularly for the Svalbard stromatolite. The data appears to be indicating that it is possible that the Svalbard stromatolite could have formed through abiotic processes but there is much more analysis required before we can prove this.