Geography Course 920

Related information:

Characterizing Organic Matter on Land and Water (Spring 2011)

Instructor: Erika Marin-Spiotta


This graduate-level discussion seminar will address how advances in methods to characterize the chemical composition of organic matter have changed our understanding of what types of compounds accumulate in soils, sediments, and water. We will focus on techniques that help us determine sources of organic matter and transformation mechanisms to gain insight into ecological, biogeochemical and geographical processes in past and modern environments. Methods discussed will include: analyses of lignin derivatives, proteins, amino sugars, stable and radioisotopes, NMR spectroscopy, pyrolysis GC/MS, fluorescence, and chromatography. We will explore the basic theory behind each method, traditional and novel applications, analytical protocols, and identify resources on and off campus to access the more specialized instruments. We welcome students from different disciplines who want to learn how to apply these methods to their own research. A basic knowledge of chemistry will be assumed.

Seminar Goals

At the end of the semester, seminar participants (you) will:

  1. be familiar with appropriate methods for determining sources of organic matter, including: above- and belowground litter inputs, terrestrial and aquatic plants, bacteria and fungi, Gymnosperms and Angiosperms, C3 vs C4 plants, animal products, and recent from ancient material;
  2. be able to identify resources (instruments, protocols, user facilities, labs, collaborators) at UW Madison and elsewhere for analyses of interest to your research having to do with OM characterization;
  3. be able to identify literature and journals relevant to organic geo/chemistry;
  4. have a working annotated bibliography with classic and recent articles on methods for characterizing organic matter accumulating in soils, sediments, and bodies of water;
  5. practice peer-review: learn how to critique the work of others and how to accept the critiques of others.
  6. gain an increased curiosity for chemistry(!).

This public website provides a copy of the course syllabus and external links... students taking this course can access additional resources through Learn@UW.