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The Cornell University Stable Isotope Laboratory (COIL) was established in 1997 through a National Science Foundation equipment grant, along with matching funds provided by the Andrew Mellon Foundation. COIL is located within the Department of Ecology and Evolutionary Biology at Cornell University. The facility supports a broad community of scientists at Cornell as well as other academic institutions and organizations spanning the globe in the areas of biogeochemistry, agronomy, ecology, geology, atmospheric science, microbiology and nutrition. COIL personnel have spent the last several years working diligently towards optimizing analysis methods for precision as well as sample linearity with capabilities comparable to most advanced isotope laboratories worldwide. COIL’s main goal is to generate superior results within a reasonable time frame, while at the same time meeting the individual needs of the client.

Many extremely important questions in modern biology and chemistry revolve around where particular materials came from for the construction of biological organisms. What were the resources used in their construction and how were they acquired? Such questions are important whether we are studying the synthesis of different compounds within a single organism or the flow of materials through entire ecosystems. Measuring stable isotope composition is one of the modern tools that scientists use to answer such questions. Measurement of the isotopic composition of a material is made by actually weighing all of the individual atoms, one by one. Isotope ratio mass spectrometers (IRMS) at the Cornell University Stable Isotope Laboratory can do this very efficiently and give the ratio of heavy to light isotopes in a wide variety of materials.


COIL provides high-quality isotope ratio measurements for students, researchers, and commercial industry. Isotope ratio measurements for 13C, 15N, 18O, and HD for a variety of sample types (both natural abundance and enriched) are currently offered. Two isotope ratio mass spectrometers are currently interfaced to several front end peripheral devices for analysis of several sample matrices. A ThermoFinnigan Delta Plus mass spectrometer is plumbed into a NC2500 elemental analyzer for continuous flow analysis of carbon and nitrogen. This IRMS also has dual inlet capabilities as it is interfaced to both a water equilibration device and a multiport. A Thermo Delta V mass spectrometer is equipped with a Gasbench II for rapid analysis of N2 and CO2 gas samples, a Temperature Conversion Elemental Analyzer (TC/EA) for solid sample hydrogen and oxygen measurements, and a PreCon device for concentrating trace gases such as CH4 and N2O. In addition the facility houses equipment for sample preparation needs including microbalances, cryogenic grinders, drying ovens, freeze dryers, muffle furnaces, extraction lines, and vacuum prep lines.