The laboratory began in 1994, labelled the NERC Life Sciences Community Stable Isotope Facility, and much of the work involved doubly-labelled water studies of energy expenditure in animals, with increasing use of stable isotopes in food web studies. At the time the laboratory utilised the shared equipment of the stable isotope laboratory. In 2002 two new researchers arrived – the current manager, Jason Newton, with Rona McGill to support the already-expanding range of projects. In 2003 with NERC funding we bought our first IRMS dedicated for use by the laboratory – a Delta XP from Thermo, with a Costech ECS4010 elemental analyser attached to it. This became the workhorse mass spectrometer measuring mainly carbon and nitrogen isotope ratios in animal tissues for food-web work: it is still here today, making just as many high-quality isotope ratio measurements as it did in 2003. Another major change that year is that we joined with the NERC-funded laboratories at the Organic Geochemistry Unit, Bristol and CEH Lancaster, to provide a one-stop-shop for mass spectrometric analyses for ecologists and environmental scientists: we called ourselves the NERC Life Sciences Mass Spectrometry Facility (LSMSF).
In the mid-noughties we were still employing much of our stable isotope techniques to elucidating food webs but also to how animals move through habitats. The latter stimulated method development to encompass sulfur isotopes, since aquatic animals moving from marine to freshwaters shift between two very different sulfur isotope systems. In addition with NERC capital we bought a TC/EA to allow the production of hydrogen gas from mainly avian tissues. This allowed us to look at bird migration, culminating in the highly cited work published in Science Magazine on the possible speciation of European blackcaps into two populations with different migratory behaviour.
By 2008 we had three Thermo IRMS instruments which unfortunately due to space restrictions were in three different rooms: thus in 2010 SUERC invested in a new building to house ourselves and the then NERC Isotope Community Support Facility which provided similar stable isotope support to the UK earth sciences community. Then as today, we share a lot of knowledge and equipment with the earth scientists. In 2013 we bought a Vision IRMS and Pyrocube elemental analyser from Elementar. This allowed us for the first time, to analyse the stable isotope ratios of carbon, nitrogen and sulfur in a single sample – a major advance in terms of sample throughput.
In 2020 we took a new delivery from Thermo – our third Delta V Plus and an IsoLink EA. This will allow us to continue running simultaneous NCS isotope analyses on samples which are very low in sulfur. Around the same time, we joined up with all the other NERC isotope facilities under a single umbrella – NEIF: the Natural Environmental Isotope Facility. All of the NEIF labs have a common application portal and applicants benefit from the combined isotope experience of a lot of people. As part of NEIF we have a common goal: to lead integrated analytical capability to support the UK NERC science communities.