Smashing plant bits

I am going to Switzerland next week for my PhD work. I will be learning some new techniques and collaborating with with Günter Hoch at the Botanical Institute, University of Basel. The work involves analyzing non-structural carbohydrates (NSCs) in my mangroves (see section 3. CO2 and plant-animal interactions in a previous post for a very brief explanation of the significance of NSCs). I will discuss NSCs in more detail once I have some data. For now I just want to do a little ‘show and tell’ what I did yesterday preparing my samples for the NSC analyses. I smashed ‘plant bits’ into fine powder using a ball mill. Ball mills operate on a simple but highly effective mechanism. You fill a jar with heavy balls, put your samples in with the balls. This jar then goes in a machine that rotates around an axis at high speed (400 rpm in my case) while the jar itself spins simultaneously. The animation below shows the outcome of this action. This high speed spinning pulverizes the sample you put in.

Action of a ball mill. Source:

So what did I pulverize? Mangrove branchlets, leaves and pneumatophores. It only took a minute and a half to turn a leaf into dust smaller than 100 µm. It was really impressive. The branchlets and pneumatophores took longer (5-10 min) because they are quite fibrous, but super cool nonetheless. Definitely better than using a mortar and pestle that’s for sure. I took some before and after pictures of the leaves to see how effective this tool was. Excuse the picture quality, I am still learning how to drive my new phone.

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