Geological Sciences Research Facilities

The Rock Prep Lab

This two-room laboratory (ISC 20A and 21) hosts several pieces of equipment for mechanical processing of rock and sediment. Major equipment includes:

  • jaw crushers
  • disk mill
  • ball mill
  • shatter box
  • Frantz magnetic separator
  • shaker tables
  • slab saw
  • trim saws

The rooms have abundant bench space for preparing samples for a variety of physical (e.g., thin section) and chemical analyses (e.g., XRD, XRF, SEM). 

Procedures and saftey information for operating equipment in the Rock Prep Lab are available from Dr. Nancy Mahlen


Instrumentation Lab - XRD and XRF   SEMThe Department of Geological Sciences has three major analytical instruments:

  • Panalytical X-Pert Pro Powder X-ray Diffractometer (XRD)
  • Panalytical Axios X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (XRF)
  • Zeiss SMT EVO MA-10 Scanning Electron Microscope (SEM)

All of these instruments are housed in ISC 17.  Sign-up to use the instruments here.

The XRD is used to determine the identity of crystalline compounds. This machine analyzes materials to determine their d-spacings (spacing of atomic planes). The d-spacing information is then matched to a database of known crystalline compounds to confirm an identity. The XRD is used by faculty and students in applications of petrology, environmental geology and archeology. 

The XRF provides quantitative analysis for major and trace elements. When analyzing for major elements, samples are usually fused into glass beads, which requires a minimum of 1.5 g of sample. When analyzing for trace elements, samples are powdered and then pressed into a packed pellet, which requires 6 g of sample. The XRF is used by facutly and students in applications of petrology, environmental geology and archeology. 

The SEM is equipped with a Bruker Energy Dispersive Spectrometer (EDS) system. The EDS allows for qualitative analysis of major elements and the SEM allows us to image the topography of samples as well as the relative chemistry of a sample through the use of a back-scattered electron detector (where materials that are elementally heavy are brighter than those that contain only light elements). The SEM is used by faculty and students in applications of paleontology, stratigraphy and mineralogy.

The department plans to acquire an Inductively Coupled Plasma Optical-Emission Spetrometer (ICP-OES) in the near future. This instrument will also be housed in ISC 17.

For more information, contact Dr. Nancy Mahlen.


The Earth Materials Lab

This lab occupies two 440 sq ft rooms (ISC 8A and 18) and houses a bottom-loading muffle furnace and a more traditional front-door furnace. These furnaces are used to melt/fuse samples and to carry out Loss On Ignition (LOI) studies. Also available through this lab is a Katanax K1 fluxer, which is used to fuse powdered samples into borate glass beads that are analyzed with the XRF (and could be used for ICP-OES sample preparation). A Mettler Toledo precision balance, six fume hoods, and several petrographic microscopes are also available in this lab. Also available in this space is a small collection of geological (rock) reference standards.

For more information, contact Dr. Dori Farthing.

the magnetics lab

Magnetics Lab

This lab (ISC 8B) is focused on the collection of paleomagnetic and magnetic susceptibility data.  Paleomagnetic data are collected using a AGICO JR6-A Spinner  and a  Sapphire Alternating Field Demagnetizer.  Magnetic susceptibility data are collected with a AGICO MFK-1 Kappabridge, which is capable of measuring both bulk susceptibility values and characterizing the anisotropy of magnetic susceptibility.  Additionally, this lab houses field sampling equipment (portable rock drill, pump can, orienting kit, etc.).  Support facilities in the rock preparation room include a drill press with water swivel for coring oriented hand samples collected in the field and a dual bladed rock saw for trimming cores to the proper length for analysis. 
For more information, contact Dr. Scott Giorgis.


The wave tank and flume (ISC 20) were acquired by the Department of Geological Sciences in 2006. The wave tank is primarily used for teaching shoreline processes and for conducting fluvial sedimentation experiments. The flume is used for simulating shallow-depth stream flow and bedform developed. 

The Cosmogenic Nuclide preparation Lab

The Cosmogenic Nuclide Preparation Lab

This is a 440 sq ft laboratory devoted entirely to chemical preparation of cosmogenic nuclides of beryllium and aluminum. The lab includes one chemical fume hood, a laminar flow hood, 48 linear feet of bench space, a Millipore water purifier, a high-precision Mettler analytic balance, two convection ovens, a centrifuge, a vortex mixer, two new laminar-flow boxes constructed from clear plexi-glass, two  hot-dog rollers (alternatives to an ultra-sonicator) used to heat and rotate plastic bottles during sample-etching experiments, new flasks and ring stands for heavy-liquid mineral separations, a carbonation system for mineral separation by froth floatation, and more than 150 Savillex containers used repeatedly for sample preparation. The lab includes an iMac computer designated for storing laboratory data.

Beyond this space, the lab uses the Rock Prep Lab, three chemical fume hoods, and 64 linear feet of bench space in a multi-user geochemistry lab for early stages of sample preparation (sample etching/quartz purification), cleaning equipment, and neutralizing acids. 

Sample preparation procedures are a combination of methods developed at the University of Wisconsin-Madison, the University of Vermont, the University of New Hampshire, the University at Buffalo, the University of Washington, and PRIME Lab (Purdue University). 

Samples prepared in the Cosmogenic Nuclide Preparation Lab are analyzed for quartz purity by ICP-OES at the Laboratory for Environmental and Geological Sciences (LEGS) at the University of Colorado-Boulder and for beryllium and aluminum-isotope concentrations by accelerator mass spectrometry (AMS) at the Purdue Rare Isotope Measurement Laboratory (PRIME Lab).

For more information, contact Dr. Benjamin Laabs.

the water chemistry lab

The Water Chemistry Lab

The primary focus of the water chemistry lab (ISC 248) is the preparation and analysis of water samples for the measurement of chlorofluorocarbons (CFCs), and the performance of sorption experiments of CFCs to geologic materials. The lab houses a Shimadzu 8A gas chromatograph with a CBM-102 communications bus module and numerous stainless steel components (Valco multiport valves, traps, compressed gases, tubing), Barnstead immersion heater, Thermo Electron neslab CC 65 cryogenic cooler, Crytrol controller, flow meters, metering valves, barometer, dewards, heating tape and other assorted supplies for the purge-and-trap procedure to strip CFCs from water samples, trap the CFCs while removing unwanted gases from the gas stream, and analyze for CFCs.  A Plas-Labs Scientific Division anaerobic chamber, model No. 855-AC, is used to maintain a CFC-free atmosphere for the performance of CFC sorption experiments. In addition to the dedicated space for the analysis of CFCs, the lab also contains a Safeaire restricted bypass chemical fume hood, reverse osmosis house water and secondary Millipore Milli-Q Ultrapure water purification system, refrigerator with freezer, sample storage space, water sample bottles, water filtration supplies, ground water sampling equipment (Grundfos pump, bailers), water level meters, conductivity meters, a Hydrolab, a high-precision Mettler analytic balance, and other standard laboratory supplies. 

For more information, contact Dr. Amy Sheldon.

The Geology GIS lab

The Geology GIS Lab

This laboratory occupies ISC 133 and includes three GIS workstations (Dell PCs with dual processors) and an Xplore Tablet PC and docking station. Each PC runs Windows XP and has software available for word processing, graphic design and presentation, data analysis, spatial analyis, and GIS. The GISs used on these computers are ArcView 3.2 and ArcGIS 9.3 with numerous extensions. 

The laboratory has space for 16 students and is equipped with presentation technology. Faculty and students use this lab for GIS applications in geology, running specific software for geophysics applications, graphic design, and preparing presentations. 

For more information, contact Dr. Benjamin Laabs