2016: Year in review - Isotope Geochemistry

The research activities within the Isotope Geochemistry group span the extremes of the geologic timescale, from the study of rare pre-solar grains preserved in meteorites pre-dating the beginning of the solar system more than 4.5 billion through to high precision age determinations of young volcanoes, and in scale from planetary systems to individual molecules. Active areas of research within the Isotope Geochemistry area include planetary and early Earth studies including chronology of oldest solar system materials and investigations of earliest life habitats, volatile budgets and volatile cycling from the atmosphere to the deep Earth and exploration of climatic events in deep time. The diverse faculty and research activities under the Isotope Geochemistry banner are linked through reliance on the development and application of leading-edge analytical methods and instrumentation for isotopic measurements, with wide networks of internal, national and international collaborators.

2016 was an exciting and productive year with Isotope Geochemistry faculty and students being the recipients of various honours, featuring in international conferences, and with continued high rates of publication in leading international journals.

Highlights include:

Trevor Ireland was awarded a prestigious American Geophysical Union Fellowship. He is also a collaborator on the NASA Osiris-Rex asteroid return mission and ion the Science Team of the Hayabusa II asteroid return mission.

Photograph of meteorite NWA 7325 - a rock from a previously unsampled asteroid, or possibly (but less likely) from the planet Mercury. Allow this sample contains less than 2 parts per billion uranium, it was   possible to get a precise Pb-isotopic age of 4563.4 ± 2.6 Ma at the RSES SPIDE2R lab (published by PhD student Koefoed and co-authors (2016) GCA 183, 31–45). Field of view is 2 cm.


Trevor was an invited speaker at the 2016 Goldschmidt conference; he becomes President of the Meteoritical Society for 2017-2018; and he spent 3 months in Guangzhou Institute of Geochemistry as a Chinese Academy of Science President’s International Fellow.

Vickie Bennett was a plenary speaker at the 2016 Goldschmidt Conference, Yokohama Japan presenting a talk on “Deep Time, Deep Earth: Revealing Earth’s early history”. She also served as the Early Earth theme chair for the Goldschmidt conference, and was the 2016 Chair of the Awards Nomination Committee of the Geochemical Society.

Fieldwork in early Archean terranes of SW Greenland. Vickie Bennett (left) was part of team that discovered the oldest fossil evidence for life in the form of 3.7 Ga stromatolites, providing new insights into the habitats and chemical conditions on the early Earth.  Nutman et al., Nature 537, 535–538 (2016).

Marc Norman received an Outstanding Alumnus Award form Tennessee Technological University, where he received his undergraduate degree, and received his award during a dinner in his honour.  Marc continues as Executive Editor of the leading geochemistry journal Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, overseeing 90 associate editors and 1000 new manuscript submissions per year.

PhD student Hannah James (Supervisor I. Williams) was a semi-finalist at the FameLab Australian science communication competition in March, 2016, Hannah was also awarded a UC National Science Foundation Travel Grant to attend the SPATIAL short course at the University of Utah and was awarded an international student volunteer position position for the World Archaeological Congress in Kyoto Japan August 2016.

PhD student Patrick Carr (Supervisor V. Bennett) gave a talk at the International Geological Congress, Cape Town, South Africa on his work on the use of tourmaline compositions to track the sources of mineralizing fluids. He also participated in two field trips associated with the IGC.

PhD student Joelle Ducommun (Supervisor M. Kendrick) presented a talk on “Serpentine in ultramafic rocks from the Isua Supracrustal Belt, a proxy for Archean Seawater Chemistry?” at the 4th International Serpentinite Conference, Sete, France.

PhD student Suzette Timmerman (Supervisor M. Honda) was invited to attend the DCO (Deep Carbon Observatory) summer school held in Yellowstone National Park. Suzette also visited the University of Alberta to undertake trace element analyses on some of African diamonds in relation to U/He dating of diamonds.

PhD student Kelsie Long (I. Williams) presented her research at a meeting of the Willandra Lakes World Heritage Area Aboriginal Advisory committee (February 2016). She is also a volunteer as part of the Engage: University Outreach team serving at the 2016 Director of External Relations. As part of this organization she also spent 2 weeks (one in June and one in November 2016) visiting regional schools and running University outreach workshops.

PhD Student Kelsie Long leading a science outreach workshop at a primary school.

Faculty and students of Isotope Geochemistry area are active in the newly formed SSERVI Australia, which is a node of the NASA Solar System Exploration Research Virtual Institute.

Members of the Isotope Geochemistry Group were active participants in the School Review with V. Bennett and I. Williams giving a presentation on behalf of the Isotope Geochemistry group to the review panel.

2016 Australian Research Council Funding Successes:

V. Bennett is a CI on the funded ARC Discovery Grant Engineering planetary habitability: Earth’s critical first billion years (2017-2019, Allen Nutman, Univ. of Wollongong, lead CI.)

T. Ireland is part of the successful ARC LIEF bid for the Desert Fireball Network (Phil Bland, Curtin University Lead CI). 

M. Norman is a Chief Investigator on the funded ARC Linkage grant: Ore deposits and tectonic evolution of the Lachlan Orogen, SE Australia (2016-2018, S. Meffre, U. Tasmania, lead CI).

Students in Planetary Geology EMSC3022 class outside RSES observing the planets Mercury, Venus, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn (photo from course instructor T. Ireland).

2016 Student and Staff Milestones:

Marian Sapah has been awarded her PhD (Supervisors T. Ireland and Y. Amelin) and has accepted a faculty position at the. University of Ghana.

Piers Koefoed (Y. Amelin) and Thomas Haber (V. Bennett and M. Norman) have submitted their PhD theses with Thomas now having moved to a postdoctoral position at the University of Münster to continue his investigations of lunar impact materials.

We welcomed new PhD students Perrine Tyler (Supervisor T. Ireland) and Laura Stone (Supervisor I. Williams) and Masters student Leonardo Baeza (Supervisor T. Ireland)

Honours students Geoff Bonning (thesis title: Oxygen isotopes in chondrules from ordinary chondrites, Supervisor T. Ireland) and Callum Macfarlane (thesis title: Biogenic sulfur isotope fractionation, Supervisor T. Ireland) successfully completed their programs.

Vickie Bennett was successful in the 2016 promotion round achieving the level of Professor.

Renaud Merle joined Isotope Geochemistry as a postdoctoral fellow working with Yuri Amelin and Marion Grange is spending a year as a visiting scientist from Curtin University working with Marc Norman and Vickie Bennett on precise age determinations of lunar impact related samples to test models for the impact history of the early Earth-Moon system.

Numerous national and international visitors were hosted in the SHRIMP and TIMS laboratories throughout the year creating a lively and dynamic research environment.

Richard Armstrong and Mark Fanning joined the Isotope Geochemistry Group following restructuring with RSES.

David Thomson has fully transferred to the SHRIMP team following a year on secondment from the Engineering Workshop. Bin Fu joins the SHRIMP group as a professional staff member. Shane Paxton (Head of Mineral Separation Laboratory) was honoured for 25 years of service to the ANU.

Xiaodong Zhang received an RSES professional staff development award. We sadly farewell Hongtao Gao after 4 years of dedicated service as part of the Mineral Separation Lab Team and wish him well.