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Electronics Group 2011 Annual Report

Research School of Earth Sciences Electronics Group Annual Report 2011
Andrew Latimore, Tristan Redman, Norm Schram, Derek Corrigan, Daniel Cummins, David Cassar, Hideo Sasaki
Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra, ACT 0200, Australia

Table 1
RSES Electronics Group Resource Distribution 2011

Labour totals hours %
Administration total 630 9
Maintenance total 1426 20
R&D 4827 68
Total 7048  
Electronics Group overheads 478 76
Union, EBA 37 6
OHS Electrical Safety Testing 20 3
Study leave + other 95 15
Total 630  
Earth Chemistry 972 68
Earth Environment 168 12
Earth Materials & Processes 176 13
Earth Physics 60 4
External clients+ other 50 3
Total 1426  
Research and Development    
Earth Chemistry 2550 53
Earth Environment 374 8
Earth Materials & Processes 164 3
Earth Physics 1626 37
External clients + other 113 2
Total 4827  


The Electronics Group provides technical support to all Earth Sciences' academic research. The Group holds the responsibility for maintaining and servicing electronic systems within RSES and offers a development facility able to engineer innovative electronic solutions. The Electronics Group endeavours to ensure the Research School of Earth Sciences remains a state of the art institution.

During 2011 two members of the group, Tristan Redman and Hideo Sasaki, graduated from the Australian National University's Trainee Technical Officer program and were employed by the school as technical officers. The program involves four years part time study, provides peer support and on the job training to ensure graduates are given the best start to their careers. Our graduates both completed Advanced Diplomas of Electronics Engineering at the Canberra Institute of Technology and have been essential to the success of major projects this year.

The Electronics Group has developed numerous engineering projects during 2011 and fabricated several complex projects from previous designs. The Group has contributed to the seamless transfer of instrumentation from the Earth and Marine Sciences building 47 to Earth Sciences by performing various upgrades to apparatuses. Maintenance tasks have occupied the Group steadily during the year, the distribution of labour can be observed in table 1 below.

Electronic Engineering Highlights

SHRIMP SI Refinement (Latimore, Cummins, Corrigan, Cassar, Schram, Redman, Sasaki)

During 2011 the Electronics Group has been involved with fine tuning SHRIMP SI. After the instrument was commissioned in 2010 considerable effort by the Group was required to investigate noise interferences inhibiting the mass spectrometers background performance. The noise fluctuations require careful monitoring and thoughtful analysis. The Group discovered mechanical vibration and temperature fluctuations were inducing interference to sensitive electrometer inputs and have made corrections to eliminate the problems. Improvements to the accuracy of the SHRIMP SI's sample stage were developed during this period. The sample position repetition was failing to meet the requirement for automation of the mass spectrometer as implemented on SHRIMP 2 and RG. The Group reassembled the stage mechanics and reprogrammed the digital closed loop system parameters to eliminate position errors and enable autonomous sample manipulation. SHRIMP SI's data acquisition system has received new commands enabling faster data transfer rates improving the mass spectrometers analytical ability.

ANU Short Period Seismic Recorder Pre-Production (Redman, Corrigan, Latimore, Cummins)

The IFLEX project is an innovative fast responding electrometer developed by Norm Schram of the Electronics Group. During 2010 IFLEX was implemented onto Earth Chemistry's SHRIMP 2/SI and utilised to analyse Faraday cup electron flows. The project involves considerable research into electrometer design, bias current elimination and stabilisation. The IFLEX has enabled the SHRIMP SI users to capture data in charge capacitor mode that allows a 2 to 3 fold improvement in instrument precision. In order to implement the IFLEX, the group worked on improvements to the data acquisition systems of SHRIMP 2 and SI which involved a new electrometer controller circuit, temperature stabilisation circuit and microprocessor.

Short Period Seismic Recorder (Andrew Latimore, Tristan Redman, Derek Corrigan, Daniel Cummins)

This year the Electronics Group continued development of the ANU Short Period Seismic Recorder project. During 2010 the Group began development of a new digital short period seismic recording system. The project specifications involved designing a rugged, high dynamic range, ultra low power, 24-bit digital acquisition system that recorded onto secure digital storage media. The unit records 3 axes of seismic data synchronised to a global positioning system corrected time-base. The device can acquire seismic data at periods up to 1000 samples per second. By mid 2011 the Electronics group successfully finished design and construction of 5 fully operational pre-production prototypes. These recorders are currently enduring field testing at Mount Stromlo and other locations to gather vital information on data accuracy and robustness before the final production will begin in 2012. A further order of two recorders have been constructed and tested intended for field work in 2012, these models will be the first of the new design deployed into an area of seismic interest. The Electronics Group in conjunction with the Mechanical Workshop successfully produced the pre-production units within the time frame, however the production of 250 units will stretch our resources beyond capability. As a consequence we have researched equipping our operation with state of the art fabrication technology to ensure we can meet the demanding schedule and improve our assembly ability for all Earth Sciences customers.

Finnigan MAT 261 Mass Spectrometer Upgrade (Schram)

This year there has seen steady progress with the development of new electronics for the Finigan MAT 261 mass spectrometer. This project once complete will reform the aging machine into an automated computer controlled modern mass spectrometer. The Electronics Group has developed systems to integrate with existing electronics to ensure future serviceability and minimize rebuilding working systems. The developments include 8 digital 32-bit counters for beam current measurements, stepper motor controllers to computer automate the high voltage source electrostatic deflection plates and sample carousel selection. The new electronics will communicate to a new personal computer running Labview firmware allowing the operator access to all system parameters and incorporate mass analysis software for acquiring data and tuning the mass spectrometer.

IPCMS Laser Aperture Control Automation (Corrigan)

The Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer's Laser ablation device required engineering an automated aperture changing system. The Electronics Group during 2011 designed and constructed a novel mechanism and encoder electronics to allow the operator to select one of ten apertures. This technique enables the laser flight tube to remain oxygen free which reduces setup duration and assist to maintain a clean environment for the sensitive UV laser. The aperture control hardware incorporates digital position feedback and innovative mechanical arrangement to secure the mechanism during laser operation and allowing precision movement to the next aperture location.

AMS Graphitization Furnace Automation (Sasaki, Cassar)

The Accelerator Mass Spectrometer facility's sample preparation laboratory manually operates two multiple channel graphitization furnace lines. During 2011 the Electronics group continued development of a new automated line controlling 20 graphitization channels and operating 20 liquid nitrogen molecular traps simultaneously. The interface is touch screen controlled running Labview firmware and once setup will autonomously release each sample into the system and measure the required volume. The system will modify the volume by compressing or extending bellows until the required volume is established before passing the sample to one of 20 furnace channels. The Group has designed the liquid nitrogen control mechanics which includes vacuum insulated vessels for the molecular traps and level sensing. The project aims to minimise liquid nitrogen loss and improve sample preparation productivity.

Fabrication projects (Cummins, Sasaki, Redman)

The Electronics Group has work productively this period on several fabrication projects.
  • OHS electrical testing and tagging (Electronics Group)
  • MAT 261 upgrade (Norm Scram)
  • Laser ablation cell drafting, design and assembly (Derek Corrigan)
  • Piston cylinder electrical upgrade (David Cassar)
  • Tesla Tamer assembly and testing (Daniel Cummins)
  • J1PC tuning and implementation (David Cassar)

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Engineering Group 2011 Annual Report

Research School of Earth Sciences Engineering Workshop Annual Report 2011
Andrew Wilson, David Thomson, Geoff Woodward, Carl Were, Brent Butler, Hayden Miller (1/2 time share with Rock Physics), Ben Tranter (1/6 time share with GFD)
Research School of Earth Sciences, Australian National University, Canberra ACT 0200, Australia


The Engineering Workshop supports the school by manufacturing non standard hardware. RSES workshop staff pride themselves on working closely with technical and academic staff to complete high quality, well designed and functional instrumentation and equipment. Starting with either a brief design concepts or full Engineering drawings, the workshop team makes use of advanced workshop machinery to produce vacuum components and instrumentation, high pressure components, field work equipment, lab equipment, consumables and specialised sample preparation.

Several other mechanical workshop facilities of this type exist at ANU and all maintain close ties with each other. Resources, such as tooling, machinery and administrative duties are shared to avoid excess duplication. Workloads are also distributed when time gets tight. This close collaboration extends machining possibilities across the Colleges and increases the manufacturing potential of ANU.

TIG welded vacuum feed throughs

RSES Engineering Workshop Highlights

Some of the main projects of 2011 are listed below

  • SHRIMP SI Electron Gun and fitment of new Optical Rails to SHRIMP 2 (All RSES workshop staff)
  • AMS Graphitization Line (Carl Were, Geoff Woodward)
  • High Temperature Furnace Cooling Jackets (Ben Tranter, Brent Butler)
  • ICPMS Automated Aperture and Shutter Mechanisms (Brent Butler, Ben Tranter)
  • Seismic Recorder Hardware (David Thomson, Carl Were, Andrew Wilson)

Table 1
RSES Engineering Workshop Resource Distribution 2011

Labour totals hours %
Uncharged Jobs 1559 22.4
Research Support 5395 77.5
External work 9 0.1
Total 6964  
Uncharged Jobs    
Staff Training 375 5.4
Administration 709 10.2
Workshop Infrastructure 210 3.0
Machine Maintenance 140 2.0
Other 125 1.8
Total 1559  
Research Support Distribution    
Earth Chemistry 2412 34.5
Earth Environment 1439 20.7
Earth Materials & Processes 965 13.9
Earth Physics 409 5.9
External clients+ other 179 2.6
Total 5404  

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