Introduction to Theory and Practice of Stable Light Isotope Mass Spectrometry

31 Mar 2014
31 Mar 2014

A one-week intensive course offered by the Stable Light Isotope Laboratory, University of Cape Town, in collaboration with the Departments of Archaeology, Biological Sciences and Geological Sciences.

Dates:              9 – 13 June 2014


A course on the principles of stable light isotope mass spectrometry and applications in the natural sciences will be offered from 9 – 13 June 2014, based in the Stable Light Isotope Laboratory, University of Cape Town.  The convenor is Professor Judith Sealy, and the course will be taught by a team of staff members from the departments mentioned above, together with guest lecturers from further afield.  John Lanham, Principal Scientific Officer for the Stable Light Isotope Lab will assist with instrumentation and practical work.  The course is designed to cover the theory and principles of stable light isotope research in general, and then to discuss applications in the Life and Earth Sciences in particular.  It will be of interest to scientists in these disciplines who wish to use stable light isotopes as a tool in their particular fields.  The format consists of a series of daily lectures, tutorials and some (limited) practical work over the course of one week.  UCT students who wish to take this course as a credit-bearing module will also complete an individual project and/or write an essay; they should consult the convenor. The course will serve as good grounding for potential users of the Stable Light Isotope Laboratory at UCT, especially post-graduate students intending to use isotope approaches in their thesis research.  At the end of the course, certificates of attendance are issued to those whose attendance and participation has been satisfactory.

Course content

Lectures progress from general principles through more detailed attention to individual light isotopes (H, O, C, N) in various kinds of materials, and their use as research tools. More detailed technical aspects of mass spectrometry are included. Topics covered include the following:

Theory of fractionation, isotope effects, equilibria and kinetic effects

History of the field

Oxygen and hydrogen isotopes in hydrology

Oxygen isotopes in carbonates and other minerals, applied to oxygen isotope stratigraphy, palaeothermometry and mineral histories.

Carbon isotopes and the carbon cycle, emphasising (i) photosynthesis, water use efficiency studies, plants and climate change in plant sciences, and (ii) animal and human foodwebs, and applications in ecology and archaeology.

Nitrogen isotopes in marine and terrestrial foodwebs, nutrient cycling.

Multi-isotope approaches to ecological studies.

Brief discussion of isotopic tools applied in forensics, pollution studies, and quality control (commercial applications).

Course fee

There is a fee of R500 for registered UCT students, payable by the supervisor; for others the fee is R2500. The fees cover course materials, teas (morning and afternoon), and lunch on the last day. Other meals and accommodation are not included.


As numbers are limited, please advise us of your intention to participate as early as possible.  To register, complete the attached form and return as soon as possible, but no later than 8th May 2014, to the address below.  Payment must be made or arranged before the course begins.


For further details, contact Professor Judith Sealy,

Tel: 021-650-4064      Fax: 021-650-2352