SciAps LIBS for Petrography with Gerard Moulzolf

September 1, 2020

Copyright History Channel

You may have seen Gerard Moulzolf during his appearances on the History Channel’s "Lost Gold of World War II." But did you know that his work with American Engineering Testing, Inc. has helped them become one of the top international companies in forensic geology?

Lost Gold of WWII

Forensic geology or petrography helps companies troubleshoot their construction material issues. Moulzolf, who grew up with geology as the son of a taconite miner, was lucky enough to get involved with American Engineering Testing just as they were putting together a world-class laboratory for petrography. One of the tools Moulzolf added to the laboratory was the SciAps Z-300 LIBS handheld elemental analyzer.

“The SciAps rep brought the LIBS analyzer in, and we started playing with it in the laboratory. I turned to Bill Rebel, the company's senior chemist, and said, ‘Get me a P.O. to sign.’ A few minutes with the analyzer, and it was pretty much a done deal,” says Moulzolf.

Moulzolf says the Z-300 is instrumental on a weekly basis. Regardless of whether he brings the samples to the lab or brings the handheld into the field, “the LIBS gun is a beautiful tool for all kinds of forensic studies and certainly geology-type problems,” he says.

James Hill House St. Paul Minnesota

One memorable project was the gilded-age James J Hill House owned by the Minnesota Historical Society in St. Paul. Its sandstone masonry had started to display some staining.

“With the use of the handheld LIBS, we were able to go identify what the stain was without having to chop a sample out of the historic windowsills and stone elements. It made that job quite easy without destroying the historic structure,” says Moulzolf.

They were able to identify that manganese and iron were redepositing and producing dark, blotchy stains on the outside of the stone. Moulzolf and the forensic work he does with American Engineering Testing caught the attention of the History Channel. Producers contacted Moulzolf about their new series "Lost Gold of World War II" and asked him to serve as petrography consultant for the show, which follows a team of American investigators searching for legendary war loot reportedly stashed in the Philippines by General Yamashita and the Japanese Army.

“The Lost Gold team wanted to highlight new types of analysis and lab equipment in the show to give it as technical a tilt as possible to show that they are using the latest methods and means to find the treasure,” says Moulzolf.

Certainly, the Philippines would be an ideal location to hide treasure. The main island, Luzon Island, features a number of natural tunnels or lava tubes and mining tunnels. The Japanese had used tunnel systems in the Pacific to protect themselves during the war.During the first season of "Lost Gold," Moulzolf was contacted by Bingo Minerva, a U.S. researcher, when the team hit some hard material they hoped might be concrete. The Z-300 LIBS analyzer gave “a nice quick, succinct chemical breakdown of the material,” says Moulzolf, and determined it was natural rock, which crushed the concrete theory.

Lost Gold of WWII
Lost Gold of WWII

During the second season, the Lost Gold team was excavating down toward a likely buried tunnel entrance and found something that looked like rare red marble. Marble is essentially limestone (calcium carbonate) transformed by a volcano or extremely hot hydrothermal activity from a tan or gray color into something relatively white with either swirls of grey or black, and in very rare cases, red, which means it contains iron.

“It was easy to use the LIBS analyzer to determine how much iron was in the rock. We saw a high percent of iron and high peaks for calcium. The LIBS gave us the exact chemical composition by volume metrics of the rock and proved it was calcium carbonate. It was great to highlight that handheld technology in the episode,” says Moulzolf.

But the forensic geology didn’t end there. Marble is almost as unique as a fingerprint, and Moulzolf was able to trace that marble to the exact quarry in the Pyrenees Campan valley of France, which had contributed marble to the Palace of Versailles. Even though there are other red marble quarries, the texture and chemistry could be traced back to this exact quarry.

“It’s a historically significant quarry, also known as the King’s Quarry. It would have made that marble quite expensive and desirable and possibly part of the treasure,” says Moulzolf.

For Moulzolf, the work itself was rewarding, but it also had an added benefit: “My family and coworkers were excited to see me on TV, and for a few minutes, I was able to show the world the type of work I do. We have a great team, and SciAps has a great piece of equipment that not only helps us do our job on a daily basis but also helps us do some fun things for the History Channel."

Gerard Moulzolf American Engineering Testing
“Problem solving and managing risk with our experience and resources, along with timely and accurate solutions, get to the heart of materials issues. That’s the key to our difference.” Gerard Moulzolf, PG, Vice President Petrographics Manager American Engineering Testing

How do SciAps analyzers facilitate the hunt for gold?

SciAps handheld LIBS and XRF are excellent tools for detecting gold and other elements, including determining gold provenance.

SciAps X-550
  • Handheld portable XRF has become a common tool in the arsenal of field geoscientists in a range of applications from cradle to grave in mining operations today.
  • The technique of measuring and mapping the concentrations and combination of elements associated with gold mineralization can not only potentially identify targets for gold mineralization but inform geologists on the style of mineralization or the pathfinder elements.
  • The LIBS can map elemental distribution in geological samples in the field, producing a comprehensive spectral data set allowing all elements to be represented between 200-900 nm.
  • Using the Z-300 with GeoChem Pro App, element maps can be generated with ease in less than 1 minute. This powerful and spatially precise analytical technique is ideally suited to the analysis of specific minerals and areas of interest on drill core, rock chips or hand specimens.
  • SciAps handheld LIBS analyzers can be used to understand the distribution of elements with a high degree of spatial precision using a 50um laser and in-built X-Y stage for rastering.
  • Using SciAps Profile Builder PC software, individual spectra can now be selected from within the element maps to process using matrix-specific calibrations for quantification or exported for analysis using multivariate statistical methods for mineral identification and classification.
  • In the case of gold exploration and mining, not only is the positive identification of the presence or absence of gold now achievable, but information about where the gold is located, its associated geochemical signal, and the minerals with which its distribution is associated can be understood by a geologist in the field.

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