Pacific Centre for Isotopic and Geochemical Research
Department of Earth, Ocean and Atmospheric Sciences,
The University of British Columbia

Spring 2017 Research Internships at PCIGR

Spring 2017 Research Internships – High School Students at PCIGR

For the second year in a row, PCIGR partnered with STEM Fellowship, a federal non-profit organization that facilitates mentorship and learning in students across Canada, to take part in their Spring Research Internship Program. The program offers grade 11/12 students the unique opportunity to participate in cutting edge research and be mentored by graduate students and postdoctoral fellows over the course of 5 days. This year the program received 60 applications, and PCIGR hosted 8 students from secondary schools across Vancouver. The students were exposed to exciting geochemistry projects, and were mentored by PCIGR graduate students and MAGNET trainees Evelyn Freres, Rhy McMillan, Nichole Moerhuis, Nicole Williamson, and PCIGR postdoctoral fellow and MAGNET trainee, Laura Bilenker. More information about each of the projects is below:

Evelyn’s project – isotopic analysis using MC-ICP-MS

Unknown-1The students were introduced to isotopic analysis using multi collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (MC-ICP-MS). They were taught how the instrument works, learned how to operate it, and how correction for instrumental mass bias is performed. They also analyzed the solid deposits formed on MC-ICP-MS sampler and skimmer cones using SEM-EDS, and helped to solubilize the deposits in a solution that will be later analyzed using ICP-OES and/or ICP-MS.

Rhy’s project  – sedimentology, stratigraphy, mineralogy, and archaeology

The interns IMG_1602that worked with Rhy were introduced to sedimentology, stratigraphy, mineralogy, and archaeology by working together on their own small project associated with Rhy’s MAGNET Research Award. Their project focused on the mineralogy of sediments from different layers in Scladina Cave, Belgium, and compliments the geochemical analyses of bones from the same layers. The interns prepared 36 smear mounts for X-ray diffraction analyses of sediments, successfully identified the minerals in the sediments, then wrote a draft report of their findings, which were very interesting and unexpected (in a good way).

Nichole’s project – constraining the temporal evolution of the Coast Plutonic Complex

20170313_150028[2]The students helped constrain the temporal evolution of the Coast Plutonic Complex exposed in Vancouver’s mountains. During the week, they experienced every stage of processing and analysis required to turn a rock hand sample into a concentrated mineral separate, and then established the crystallization age for this magmatic rock. Highlights included hands-on use of the LA-ICP-MS to spatially resolve trace element and U-Pb age distribution in zircon, a thorough tour of the nUBC facility by Research Associate, Marg Amini, and succeeding to make a zircon ‘puck’ without losing any zircon! The students were fantastic to work with and Nichole wishes them the very best in their future endeavours.

Nicole’s project – characterizing the bulk mineralogy of paleosol from Hawaii

The studNWilliamson menteesents’ project aimed to characterize the bulk mineralogy of an ancient, 4.5 million year-old, soil (paleosol) from the island of Kauai, Hawaii. The students started by doing research on Hawaii, paleosols, and the XRD method. They then separated the sample into four natural size fractions to test whether there is a mineralogical difference between them. The students then crushed the entire sample, and took two sub-samples per size fraction for hand powdering. Once the sub-samples were powdered, the students prepared smear mounts for the XRD analysis, loaded the instrument, and set up the analysis parameters. Following the analyses, we matched mineral peaks to the XRD spectra and discussed our results. At the end of the five-week period the students prepared a presentation that they will present to the rest of their class about their mentorship and research experience.

Laura’s project – analyzing the Fe isotope composition of pyrrhotite

Cecilia and Eden1The students helped with an ambitious week-long project to analye the Fe isotope composition of the mineral pyrrhotite. They characterized, photographed, sampled, and dissolved 21 pyrrhotite samples before chemically extracting its Fe in the clean lab. Individual masses of Fe were measured by using a multi-collector inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer. The data they obtained is helping to improve our understanding of how Fe behaves in magma chamber, which eventually solidifies to form a potentially economically important deposit.




Both the interns and mentors benefitted from their experiences in the program:

“Thank you so much for a rewarding experience! Internships that are as immersive as these ones are difficult to find for high school students, and everyone involved was super friendly.” – Intern

“I just want to say thank you to everyone that worked hard on allowing the students to get an insight into the lab environment and what working in a lab setting feels like.” – Intern

“Hosting the STEM interns has been a great experience from start to finish. It’s been a pleasure to provide them with valuable experience and share my passion for research with enthusiastic people!” – Mentor

“I was impressed by the enthusiasm and quality of work from each of my interns, and I sincerely enjoyed hosting and teaching them at PCIGR! I look forward to remaining in touch as our work moves toward publication.” – Mentor

Supporting the training and mentorship of young scientists in geochemistry is an important part of PCIGR’s philosophy, so we were pleased to once again be able to participate in the Spring Research Internship Program. Until next year!

Honey study with beekeeping non-profit helps monitor Vancouver’s air quality

honey2The Pacific Center for Isotopic and Geochemical Research is analyzing analysing honey from hives throughout the Lower Mainland, working in collaboration with Hives for Humanity, a non-profit organization in the Downtown Eastside that encourages community connections through beekeeping.

Researchers at PCIGR have been working on determining the concentrations of trace metals (e.g., lead, zinc, arsenic, copper and cadmium) in these challenging organic samples. The lab results show that the urban honey produced by Hives for Humanity is entirely safe for human consumption.

The research team is alsPCIGRo measuring the Pb isotopic composition of the honey to track the sources of these metals and potential pollutants. Because bees forage in a three-kilometer radius, each hive represents a tiny sample of the local environment. As such, the results help to monitor air quality and identify various sources of pollution in Metro Vancouver. In the long-term, the study will also help establish a baseline of metal distribution across the Lower Mainland.

The honey study has just been showcased in a feature article and video by UBC Science, “A Sweet Chemical Analysis”:

Postdoctoral opportunity with MAGNET and Nu Instruments

We are seeking a postdoctoral fellow to join our dynamic and rapidly growing network of leading scientists, industry partners and state-of-the-art analytical laboratories across Canada.  The Multidisciplinary Applied Geochemistry Network (MAGNET) is an NSERC-funded industrial stream Collaborative Research and Training Experience (CREATE) program devoted to addressing global challenges in geochemistry. Nu Instruments Ltd. (UK) is a high technology manufacturing company specializing in the design and manufacture of high precision mass spectrometers.

MAGNET-Nu Instruments fellow sought for the following research project: Optimizing Fe isotope analyses by ICP-MS

The successful candidate of this one-year postdoctoral project will be based at PCIGR’s nUBC facility and utilise the clean labs and the Nu Plasma 1700 and Nu Plasma II for initial testing of the measurements of the Fe standards/samples, and visit the Nu factory to analyse these on the prototype Sapphire instrument.  This project will serve as validation and promotion for the new Sapphire collision/reaction cell MC-ICP-MS and may have profound implications for the way in which we measure stable Fe isotopes in igneous and economic geochemistry.

The deadline to apply is March 22nd, 2017.  Please consult the MAGNET website for project descriptions and application instructions.