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Research School of Earth Sciences
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Research Activities 2011

Earth Chemistry





Research in Earth Chemistry spans the geologic timescale from the beginning of the solar system through to the present day, and in scope from planetary systems to individual molecules. Active areas of research centre on planetary and early Earth studies, metamorphic and igneous geochemistry, geochemistry of life processes, and development and improvement of methods to determine the chronology of processes at all time scales. Our analytical work involves detailed in situ analysis on the microscale, and chemically concentrating trace elements and molecules from larger samples for high precision analysis by a range of innovative mass spectrometric techniques. As highlighted in this year's research contributions, a variety of analytical approaches have been applied to answering key research questions in tectonics, petrology, solar system studies, paleoclimatology, and paleoecology.

2011 has been a year of strong research productivity as summarized in the following research highlights sections, and with a continuing flow of publications in highest quality international journals.

PhD students Sean McKibben and Lloyd White submitted their theses and are awaiting final examiner’s reports. Congratulations to Dr Tanya Ewing, Dr Richard Schintele, Dr Claudia Jones, Dr Janaina Avila and Dr Sargent Bray on successful completion of their PhD programs. New PhD students are Marian Sapah (Supervisor Trevor Ireland) and Nur Gueneli (Ringwood Medal recipient, supervised by Jochen Brocks) Celine Crepisson began an undergraduate internship with Daniela Rubatto; Connie Payne from Victoria University, Wellington N.Z. was a Summer Scholar with Vickie Bennett. Oleg Koudashev (Marnie Foster) and Marita Smith (Jochen Brocks) completed first class Honour’s degrees, with Marita receiving a University Medal for her thesis. Laure Martin started a postdoctoral position working with Daniela Rubatto.

We acknowledge the capable handling of administrative matters by Josephine Magro, who became the permanent EC Area Administrator after filling in on a temporary basis in 2010. PhD candidate Madga Huyskens organized our well-attended, weekly seminar series.

As usual Earth Chemistry was host to numerous national and international visitors with a highlight being the 2011 Jaeger-Hales lecturer, Prof. Hugh P. Taylor Jr. (California Institute of Technology). In addition to his public lecture Hugh generated much enthusiasm during the Earth Chemistry organized stable isotope workshop and field trip. We appreciated the fact that he stayed in the School for a significant period after his lecture interacting widely with students and staff.

As is typical within the highly instrument dependent Earth Chemistry group, the past year saw the acquisition of new instruments and the further development of existing mass spectrometers. The next generation SHRIMP SI (Trevor Ireland, Peter Holder and John Foster) designed and built at ANU, with construction completed in 2010, moved from the testing to the data production stage with a highlight being the first ion-probe with the demonstrated capability of being able to precisely measure the isotopic composition of all four sulphur isotopes; this looks set to revolutionize the field of S isotope research by allowing for the precise in situ work at the 20 micron sampling scale. The new Scanning Electron Microscope (funded by an ANU Major Equipment grant led by Daniela Rubatto) was accepted in Dec 2010 and started routine operation in Jan 2011. It was in use for >500 hours in the past year, making a positive impact on sample preparation time for SHRIMP and others users. Jochen Brocks led a successful MEC grant proposal for the acquisition of a new gas chromatograph with flame ionization detector (GC-FID) which is now installed and operational.

Marnie Foster was a co-CI on a successful LIEF proposal to obtain an ARGUS VI mass spectrometer for the ANU Argon Facility. with installation planned for March 2012. This facility will have a focus on 'dating deformation and diffusion experiments'.
After several years of working with the factory on instrument design and development Masahiko Honda was able to take delivery of the long-awaited prototype of a next generation multi-collector noble gas mass spectrometer, the Helix MC. Honda along with and Xiaodong Zhang are currently testing its performance. Also in the noble gas facility a new diode laser heating system was installed enabling the extraction of noble gases from small samples, such as lunar ilmenite single grains and micro-diamonds.
Following on from a successful 2010 ARC LIEF grant, a new Thermo Triton Plus thermal ionization mass spectrometer, overseen by Yuri Amelin and Vickie Bennett was signed off on in April and is now in regular use in the TIMS lab.

Earth Chemistry postgraduate students and academic staff were prominent at national and international conferences, including organization, convening sessions and conference presentations at the Goldschmidt Conference, held in Prague Czech Republic, the Lunar and Planetary Science Conference at Houston in March and the American Geophysical Union meeting in December in San Francisco.

A very sad note to 2011 was the retirement of the original large ion-probe, SHRIMP I. This instrument, brought into existence by the efforts and foresight of emeritus Earth Chemistry Professor Bill Compston, was the first instrument designed for in situ U-Pb dating of zircon, a capability that has revolutionized geochronology. After more than 30 years of continuing service and production of data for hundreds of publications, SHRIMP I was decommissioned, with key components preserved for an eventual display dedicated to this landmark instrument. The former SHRIMP lab is now undergoing much needed refurbishment and will become the new C-14 sample preparation laboratory under the direction of Stewart Fallon.

In staffing matters, in 2012 we look forward to the influx (at least 7) of new PhD student after a highly successful recruiting year; the arrival of the newly appointed thermal ionization facility (TIMS) technical officer Dr. Sonja Zink and the appointment of the new SHRIMP postdoctoral fellow to assist with development of stable isotope applications on the SHRIMP SI.

Dr. Vickie Bennett
Associate Director, Earth Chemistry

Research Projects