RACI WA Event: Laboratory Tour of Microanalysis

Thank you Paula McLay for writing this fabulous account of April’s RACI WA Event at Microanalysis. We thoroughly enjoyed hosting this event.

The evening of Tuesday April 18 was clear and cool: a perfect day for a RACI Members Monthly Meeting. This was a special event – a laboratory tour of Microanalysis. And as our President says, who doesn’t like to see how another lab does it? So, the RACI members (and non-members) gathered in the carpark in front of the building as the light slowly faded from the sky. The laboratory is situated in East Perth, and across the prettily landscaped road was a row of swanky apartments/town houses – not the scruffy industrial look many chemists are used to. Over the bowls of chips, the drinks and the sizzling sausages the 25 or so attendees mingled with the Microanalysis staff and chatted. What a diverse bunch: highly respected chemists enjoying retirement, chemists from a number of industries and laboratories, recent retirees, chemistry students in their undergraduate years – even a 3 year old mini chemist! After 30 minutes or so of eating/drinking/gossiping networking, Alistair Day, the host for the day (and Chair of the RACI WA Analytical Group), divided the mingling mob in two, sending the first half into the lab while the other gobbled sausages networked.

The laboratory retained strong traces of the property group that had previously inhabited the premises. A big kitchenette with heaps of comfy leather chairs. Big open plan office. Huge spherical white woven light fittings in the lab spaces (which staff wanted to decorate as Deathstars) and more carpet than you expect in laboratory work areas. A green and white wall of healthy green plants in fresh white pots separated the reception and office areas from the laboratory areas. The lab was clearly divided into wet sample handling areas, preparation areas with a huge bench to provide plenty of space, neat little side rooms containing the twin scanning electron microscopes and a big room with lots of other analytical equipment (various types of microscopes, X-ray diffraction equipment, laser surface scanners and other cool bits of kit we didn’t have time to play with).

The twenty or so staff at Microanalysis are involved in materials analysis – a nice catch-all phrase for all sorts of testing of materials. They measure asbestos and respirable crystalline silica for occupation exposure monitoring. They do particle characterisation, including size, shape, morphology and density. There is forensic analysis (including of gunshot residue). Mineralogy and petrography are undertaken and there was some interesting discussion of the examination of concrete to look at cracking and possible failure. Microanalysis undertake dangerous goods testing – these days if you ship it or fly it you need to know how corrosive/nasty “it” is and Microanalysis can find out. Think little metal plates soaking in “it” and lasers reading how deep each corroded pit is (or isn’t). Microanalysis is one of those classic labs where you can send some of that goop that came out of a pipe, ended up in a filter, or otherwise appeared unexpectedly – and they can hopefully tell you what it is. That takes some skill and is a very useful service.

After half the attendees had their look around the lab, the groups switched over so everyone could have their share of laboratory examination and drinking with a sausage-in-a-bun in the other hand. In due course, all were re-united in the carpark for further vigorous discussion. Eventually the sausages were eaten, the drinks packed away and talkative groups dispersed into the night.

The RACI wishes to thanks the staff of Microanalysis for their hospitality and the opportunity to familiarise chemists with the laboratory, techniques, equipment and services. Thanks also to Alistair and the Analytical Group for organising the visit.

Paula McLay
Editor of RACI WA Newsletter


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