Thousands of years ago, six-foot lemurs roamed the island of Madagascar, rummaging through forests and grasslands for food and, I imagine, scaring the daylights out of anything that would even think about eating it. But not long after the first humans arrived, these giants disappeared to extinction, leaving behind only questions on how they lived, what they ate, and how they fit into the ecosystem. It takes a chemistry detective like Brooke Crowley to solve these mysteries.
If you know how to look, chemicals can tell us a lot about the world around us both past and present. Brooke invited me into her lab at the University of Cincinnati to show me how she can analyze the chemicals in ancient bones to not only learn about the once pristine ecosystem on Madagascar but to also help in conservation and habitat restoration efforts on the island. If you ever thought to yourself while sitting in a chemistry class “what is the use of learning about isotopes”, this might be the coolest example ever!