Modern earth and environmental sciences rely heavily on instrumental methods for the geochemical and isotopic analysis of minerals, rocks and natural waters, which means that state-of-the-art research is equipment-intensive and costly.
Geochemical studies are interdisciplinary and typically involve application of a large number of analytical techniques. The Department of Earth Sciences houses some of the most modern analytical laboratories in Europe and is therefore ideal for such studies. The Department also hosts the EU Large-Scale Geochemical Facility, which has provided it with a culture and history of training non-anglophone users in the application of modern analytical techniques. Students will be required to take an advanced course in analytical methods and will be given ‘hands-on’ training in the use of the electron microprobe (for chemical analysis of minerals at length scales down to 1micron) and in the Inductively-Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) for analysis of solutions and rocks at concentrations down to 1 part in 109. Depending on the nature of their research, they may also receive training in X-ray Diffraction, Spectroscopy, Scanning Electron Microscopy, Thermal Ionisation Mass Spectrometry and low temperature experimental techniques.
Those performing environmental and field studies will be trained in sample collection at one of the sites currently under investigation by Bristol geochemists. Additional advanced courses which will be recommended, depending on research needs, include Geochemistry, Environmental Geochemistry, Soil Science, Hydrogeology, Contaminant Transport, Oceanography, Environmental Radioactivity, Environmental Impact Assessment, Environmental Law and Environmental Toxicology. The Group is well-equipped for theoretical analysis of analytical and field data using computational thermodynamic models, geochemical kinetics and, where appropriate, groundwater transport modelling. Students can also be trained in modern computational quantum chemistry and/or molecular dynamics which are fields of expertise within the Group.
The Group has been heavily involved with development and application of a number of novel techniques in the earth sciences. These include methods for boron isotope determinations and the application of EXAFS spectroscopy to studying the structures of solutions at 25-350oC and the coordination of metals at mineral surfaces. We have constructed flow-through geochemical reactors and potentiometric cells and developed extraction-quench methods for sampling fluids from experimental reactors at high pressure and temperature. Finally, we have applied quantum-mechanics and molecular dynamics to the study of bonding in geochemical systems.