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

Current News

Spring 2017 Research Internships at PCIGR

May 2017 — Vancouver

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.

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


The 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 that 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


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

NWilliamson mentees

The students’ 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 Eden1

The 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!