An unparalleled combination of new highly sophisticated instrumentation at Perth’s Advanced Resource Characterisation Facility (ARCF) has been celebrated at the inaugural annual characterisation forum; this new technology at ARCF aims to transform Perth into a global metre-to-atomic scale geoscience hub.

(LtoR): Assoc/Prof Matt Kilburn (UWA), Ms Ingrid Magtengaard (NRSP) and Dr Louise Fisher (CSIRO) at the ARCF launch
Image (LtoR): Assoc/Prof Matt Kilburn (UWA), Ms Ingrid Magtengaard (NRSP) and Dr Louise Fisher (CSIRO) at the ARCF launch

Seventy attendees including researchers, executives, instrument specialists and PhD students, marked the dawn of a new era for the multi-million dollar ARCF facility developed by the National Resource Sciences Precinct (NRSP).

Ingrid Magtengaard, Executive Officer, NRSP explained “with the inaugural annual characterisation forum being so well received, the foundation partners were looking forward to this becoming an anticipated geoscience annual event, building a stronger science community.”

It’s hoped the new collaborative platform with its cutting edge technology, industry-relevant science agenda and resource-sector innovation will advance Australia’s growing geoscience-based knowledge economy.

The June forum introduced three new analytical instruments not co-located anywhere else in the world: the LEAP 4000X HR 3D Geoscience Atom Probe, now installed at Curtin University; the NanoSIMS 50L ion probe, currently being installed at the University of Western Australia’s (UWA) Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis (CMCA); and the Maia Mapper which is being built by CSIRO.

The three instruments will be used to characterise drill core and other geological materials, providing information about the chemistry and structure of the component minerals. While all produce maps showing the distribution of elements within a sample, they use different technologies to extract this information from spatial scales spanning ten orders-of-magnitude – from metre to atomic scale. The ARCF envisages a work-flow that will allow geoscientists to better understand large scale phenomena such as ore bodies, by examining the chemical processes happening at the nano-scale.

The Maia Mapper is a CSIRO project to design a high-sensitivity and high-throughput X-ray fluorescence (XRF) platform that can rapidly map entire geological thin-sections. This is currently only possible with a synchrotron X-ray source.

“The Maia Mapper technologies allow us to process, in real time, up to 20 million events per second, and we can detect and map trace elements and rare particles in minerals even below the sample surface, “ explained CSIRO physicist Dr Chris Ryan.

“The ability to rapidly collect large area scans means we are more likely to detect unexpected or rare features. In addition, the rapid collection allows large samples to be mapped and the full variability recognised, supporting selection of representative samples for further analysis on the NanoSIMS and Atom Probe.”

“The 3D-design model of the new instrument has been completed, most of the components have been ordered and we expect the Maia Mapper prototype to be ready by February 2016,” he said.

UWA’s Associate Professor Matt Kilburn, introduced the new NanoSIMS 50L, a nanoscale Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometer, or ion probe, that combines high lateral resolution and sensitivity to detect trace elements and isotopic variations at the sub-micron scale. Using a high-energy ion beam, the NanoSIMS can detect very low concentrations of elements such as gold in minerals only a few microns in size.

“Its capability for sub-micron elemental and isotopic mapping can be applied to a wide range of disciplines. Of interest to the resources sector is its capacity to determine the nanoscale distribution of metals in ore bearing minerals and rocks,” said Associate Professor Kilburn.

Professor Steven Reddy from Curtin University described the LEAP 4000X HR 3DGeoscience Atom Probe as an advanced microscope that can provide high-resolution three-dimensional pictures of atom distribution in very small volumes of natural materials.

“It is the first Atom Probe instrument in the world dedicated to the analysis of mineral and geological materials, and with its capability to deliver sub-nanometre chemical analysis of trace elements in minerals, it will provide further insight into patterns of element mobility recognised in Maia Mapper and NanoSIMS analysis,” he said.

Recent technological advances have opened up the application of these instruments to the field of geoscience: Atom probes are generally used by materials scientists to detect impurities in metal grain boundaries, while a NanoSIMS is commonly used for the sub-cellular mapping of biological and semiconductor samples.

The three platforms provide a unique infrastructure that will enable the ARCF to carry out multi-scale compositional analysis from drill core to the atomic scale. Existing infrastructure will be integrated across the NRSP foundation partners to optimise workflow and build the Australian geoscience community.

Professor David Sampson, Director, CMCA, said that combined with four-dimensional data integration through the Pawsey Centre, the ARCF will not only help solve a wide range of mineral exploration-related challenges, support future exploration and optimize the production from known deposits but will also transform science and achieve global recognition as a hub for metre-to-atomic scale analyses.
“All this will establish the ARCF as a facility that underpins and advances Australia’s growing geoscience-based knowledge economy,” Professor Sampson said.

The multi-million dollar ARCF has been developed by the National Resource Sciences Precinct (NRSP) with funding from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF)

  • $12.4M over five years
  • Funding contributions/in-kind from CSIRO, Curtin, Pawsey Centre, UWA
  • Total $37.2M

The NRSP is a CSIRO, Curtin University and The University of Western Australia collaboration connecting the world’s best researchers with industry and government to tackle some of the most complex challenges facing the resources industry.