Fossil plant news! Researchers from Manchester have used the particle accelerators at Diamond (near Oxford) and Stanford, to have a look at the composition of fossilised leaves that are 50 million years old.
The press release has a very dramatic title but basically the particle accelerators were used to generate X-rays a millions times brighter than the sun to get a good look at the mineral composition of the fossils.
I think the best part of this story is that they found the fossilised remains of caterpillar mouth parts that had been munching on these leaves all those millions of years ago...
We hear a lot about particle accelerators in the news (particularly the large hadron collider at CERN), but they aren't just a great tool for physicists searching for the God particle, they have hundreds of other applications. They've proven particularly useful for palaeontologists in recent years, as well as the methos shown here they can be used to scan fossils trapped in rocks and make 3D models of them without damaging the fossil.
While we're on the subject of fossil plants, check out this story from last week where they found chromosomes from a 180 million year old fossil fern https://www.sciencenews.org/article/fossil-fern-showcases-ancient-chromosomes
We know that plant chemistry can be preserved over hundreds of millions of years – this preserved chemistry powers our society today in the form of fossil fuels. However, this is just the ‘combustible’ part; until now no one has completed this type of study of the other biochemical components of fossil plants