The study of minerals at the molecular scale is fundamental to understanding many processes within earth and environmental systems. The overall aim of mineralogy research within the MES group is to characterize process at the molecular and nanoscale to understand processes at larger scales, including those involving contaminated water and land, and the biogeochemical cycle of elements from the regional to global scale. There is a broad range of mineral science research undertaken within the MES group including mineral surface science, the crystallisation and evolution of nanoparticles, and mineral interactions with fluids and microorganisms.
The group is based within the Williamson Research Centre which is well equipped for all aspects of modern minerals science research, including X-ray diffractometers, electron microscopes and microprobes, scanning probe microscopes (AFM) for imaging and microanalysis, Mossbauer spectrometer, Mono-SIMS and XPS for particle surface analysis, surface area analysis, infrared microscopes, and a range of laboratory facilities for synthesis and transport experiments.
This group has also pioneered the use and development of synchrotron based techniques for mineral science research. Much of this research is conducted at the Diamond Light Source, but international synchrotron facilities are also utilized including the ESRF, SSRL, ANKA, ALS, CLS. A broad range of synchrotron techniques are used including in situ XRD, EXAFS, X-ray scattering experiments, X-ray magnetic circular dichroism (XMCD) and scanning transmission X-ray microscopy (STXM).
Mineral nanoparticle formation and evolution: Minerals formed at the Earth’s surface in terrestrial, fresh water and marine environments are often nanoparticlutae in nature (size<100nm). Much of the natural material transported through Earth surface systems is in the form of very fine particles (nanometer scale) carried through the atmosphere or suspended in flowing water. Our interests range from the characterization of natural nanoparticles in terms of morphology, size and composition, to the study of the kinetics and mechanism nanoparticle formation in natural systems. Also of concern are nanoparticles as important industrial materials for use in catalysis and cleanup, and the behaviour of engineered nanoparticles in natural environments as a potential hazard for the health of humans and of the biosphere in general.
Mineral Surfaces: The study of mineral surfaces at the molecular scale is fundamental to any attempts to understand mineral reactivity, including alteration and breakdown on interaction with the atmosphere or with aqueous fluids, and uptake of impurities by replacement reactions, precipitation, or sorption processes.
Mineral-microbe interactions: A rapidly developing research theme pursued in collaboration with colleagues in the Geomicrobiology Group concerns the interface between minerals and microoganisms. Interactions between minerals and microbes are important in both natural systems and in extraction processes (bioleaching) and cleanup of contaminated soils and sediments (including in situ cleanup). This is because specific microbes can be active in promoting changes in the chemical state of particular elements, including iron, sulphur and a variety of radioactive elements (U, Tc) and these changes can dramatically alter mobility and bioavailability of the elements concerned.