COSAM » Departments » Geosciences » Instrumentation and Facilities

Department of Geosciences

Research Instrumentation and Facilities


The Department of Geosciences has a broad range of laboratory, field, and computational facilities available for faculty and students research. The major in-house facilities include the following.

Paleoclimatology and Stable Isotopes Laboratory


The Auburn University Electron Microprobe Analysis Lab (AU-EMPA)

The Auburn University Electron Microprobe Analysis Lab (AU-EMPA) hosts a JEOL JXA-8600 electron microprobe equipped with a tungsten electron gun, 4 wavelength-dispersive spectrometers for quantitative analysis, Si-Li energy-dispersive spectrometer detector for qualitative analysis, and BSE and SE detectors for imaging. This electron microprobe can achieve a high spatial resolution (0.7-1.0 µm beam size) and relatively low detection limit, as low as 50-100 ppm for some elements. The in situ analytical volume is typically a few cubic microns, and can be as small as a cubic micron for dense material. We offer a wide range of in situ analytical applications, and we have a strong commitment to provide precise and accurate results.


Trace Metal Radiogenic Isotope Laboratory 

The trace metal radiogenic isotope laboratory at Auburn University includes two thermal ionization mass spectrometers (TIMS, Finnigan MAT 262 and MAT 261) and a trace metal clean laboratory. TIMS machines provide highly accurate and precise isotope data, because (1) ions produced by TIMS have small variations in energy and (2) the formation of interfering molecular ions is minimum. TIMS routinely achieves analytical precisions to the sixth decimal place for some elements (e.g., 87Sr/86Sr and 143Nd/144Nd). We use TIMS to measure Nd, Sr, Pb, U, Th and other isotopes in rocks, minerals, and other materials. These trace metal isotopes serve as geological clocks and tracers. Trace elements are separated and purified by column chromatography in a trace metal cleanroom laboratory.


Auburn Noble Isotope Mass Analysis Laboratory (ANIMAL)

The ANIMAL laboratory provides researchers with access to noble gas mass spectrometry facilities of high quality and a wide range of capability. The lab specializes in 40Ar/39Ar age measurements for very small sample quantities (typically single crystals), with procedures that enable efficient collection of large data sets. ANIMAL facilities are within ~750 ft2 of dedicated lab space in the Department of Geosciences of Auburn University, with provision for temperature control and uninterruptible electrical service. Routine analytical procedures in the ANIMAL facility are fully automated and monitored through computer control. Additional details for this facility are available through the lab web page:

1. The GLM-110, a 10-cm radius instrument with an extremely low internal volume and a single, high-sensitivity electron multiplier detector, eminently suitable for the analysis of sub-volumes in single crystals with current laser-extraction methods. ('GLM' is an abbreviation for 'Great Little Machine' for this instrument built at Auburn University.)

2. Mass Analyzer Products MAP-215, a 15-cm radius instrument with Faraday and electron multiplier detectors, with a mass resolution capable of analyzing noble gas isotopes from Helium to Xenon;

3. Mass Analyzer Products MAP-215-50, similar to the first and with an electrostatic filter to give a mass resolution of 600, sufficient to resolve 3He from 3H (tritium).

There are about 100 of the MAP instruments in use today in laboratories worldwide. They are used most commonly for geochronology, especially 40Ar/39Ar and (U-Th)/He dating, but are also used extensively to measure noble gases as environmental tracers (in surface and groundwaters, glacial ice, etc.) and for studies of primordial and cosmogenic isotopes in our solar system. These three instruments allow our noble gas research facility to provide analytical capabilities that are not met by any other laboratory in the southeastern US.


Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer (ICP-MS) Laboratory

This new facility, located in the Auburn University Center for Advanced Science, Innovation and Commerce (CASIC), contains a newly acquired Agilent 7900 Quadrupole ICP-MS system for high resolution multi-elemental analysis of liquid and solid samples. The system includes a high temperature (>6000°K) plasma source capable of ionizing samples, an interface system to transfer ions into the mass analyzer, and collision/reaction cells (CRCs) to remove interferences. Q-ICP-MS can rapidly measure trace elements at very low detection limits (to ppt levels) as well as major elements (at ppm levels). Elemental analysis can be performed on a PC-based ICP-MS MassHunter software.


X-Ray Diffractometer (XRD) and X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) Laboratory

This lab houses a Bruker D2 Phaser X-Ray Diffractometer and a portable Bruker Elemental Tracer IV-ED XRF system to study the structures and chemical compositions of rocks, minerals and other solid materials for identification and classification. The XRD instrument is equipped with a scintillation counter and Lynxeye detector using Cu-Kα radiation. Data are analyzed using PC-based Datascan software DIFFRAC.EVA. The XRF system has the capability to qualitatively and quantitatively measure elements with atomic of ~ 11 (Na) or higher in solid or powder materials.


Geophysical Laboratory

This lab contains a Geometrics Strataview 48-channel seismograph with 30-hz geophones, a Geonics EM-31 ground conductivity meter with fixed antennae separation, an Advanced Geosciences Inc. SuperSting 48-electrode earth resistivity meter also capable of measuring induced polarization and self-potential, and a Geometrics proton precession magnetometer with gradiometer option. A variety of commercial and non-commercial software is available for processing and analyzing seismic and potential field data.


Geomorphology Laboratory

The Geomorphology Lab supports field and laboratory research in river systems, soil/sediment analysis, and landscape change.  The lab is equipped for traditional sieve analysis as well as a Malvern Mastersizer 3000 Hydro EV laser diffraction particle size analyzer.  The lab also houses an Emriver Em2 geomodel flume with color-coded media and an electronic flow controller.  Field survey equipment includes a Trimble Geo 7x with laser range finder handheld GPS, Spectra Precision Laser Level, and a Trimble Robotic Total Station w/Vision.  Other field equipment includes flow meters, water samplers, and soil sampling.


Petrography and Petrology Facilities

The Department has numerous Nikon SMZ645 stereo scopes and Nikon Eclipse E200 and Labophot2 petrographic scopes teaching and research purposes.  We have a Leica Z16 imaging scope for research.  Also, we have a gas-flow fluid inclusion/cathode luminescence (CL) unit.


Rock/Mineral Preparation Facilities

Our Rock Preparation Lab consists of a rock crushing station with a coarse and medium pulverizers and a Disk Mill that will crush boulders to fine grain particles.  We have four rock saws of varied sizes ranging from the Covington 24” slab saw to 10’ tile saw to get a smooth cut. There is an Ingram-Ward Petrographic Thin Section grinder and polishing station for making thin sections. Our mineral separation facilities consist of a Franz Magnetic Separator, fumehoods, heavy liquids and associated glasswares, and hyrologic separatory equipment.  


Clean Laboratory

 A class 10,000 clean laboratory is kept under positive air pressure with HEPA filtered air. The metal-free clean laboratory is equipped with a Microzoneâ acid hood and a Microzoneâ low level trace analysis workstation. The Microzoneâ fully exhausted polypropylene vertical laminar flow workstation provides class 100 conditions for ion-exchange column chromatography. The clean lab is equipped with a Milli-Q Water Purification System (Milliporeâ Q-POD Element) and an acid purification system (Savillexâ DST-1000). This lab is used for trace metal U, Th, Sr, Nd, Pb, and Hf separation and purification from rocks and minerals using column chromatography. Separated trace metals will be analyzed for isotopic compositions by mass spectrometers.


Light Detection and Ranging (LiDAR) Laser Scanner

Leica C10 High Definition Laser Scanner provides extremely detailed 3D point clouds for scanning earth features. Used in conjunction with our Leica GS 14 RTK GPS unit allows for geo-registering of point clouds for use in a GIS with very high spatial accuracy. Our lab also has 19 Alabama Counties of 1m airborne LiDAR first and last return datasets. The combination of ground and air based LiDAR allows for 3D Modeling at localized and regional scales.


Field Equipment

Brunton compasses, GPS units, rod & stadia stations, and a total station. Our XRF instrument is a hand-held field-portable unit. Various hydrogeologic and water-chemistry field instruments include HACH DR/2700 Spectrophotometer, YSI 556 Water Quality Multiparameter, down-hole water quality probes and data logger (TROLL 8000 and 9000 Multi-Parameter, and Wildco sediment corers. We have two Unmanned Aerial Vehicles (UAV), a DJI Vision 2 and a DJI Vision 2+. Field vehicles include a van, 4WD SUV, and pickup truck, and various water craft (18 ft johnboat, three canoes, and several kayaks).


Infrared Carbon/Sulfur Analysis Laboratory

The Infrared Carbon/Sulfur Analysis lab houses a LECO Corporation CS-200C Simultaneous Infrared Carbon/Sulfur Determinator system that provides for time- and cost-efficient analyses of carbon and sulfur in sedimentary materials. This system is employed in research and teaching programs that involve detailed characterization of fine-grained sediments and sedimentary rocks. Accurate measurement of organic carbon is important for overall characterization of sedimentary materials and contributes significantly to available data useful in the interpretation of depositional environments and mechanisms. Organic carbon data are also critical for evaluating hydrocarbon-source potential and distribution. Sulfide contents of mudrocks, generally reflected by sulfur contents, and organic carbon/sulfur relationships may be indicative of early diagenetic processes and conditions and, hence, also can assist in interpretation of paleoenvironmental regimes (e.g., oxygenation and salinity levels).


Computational Facilities

Our computational facilities include an extensive network of PC and SUN workstations and computers. We have ancillary large-format printing, scanning and digitizing capabilities, as well as specialized software for GIS, Remote Sensing, hydrogeological, geophysical, and geochemical modeling tailored to the computational requirements of individual research groups. A state-of-the-art 25 seat teaching lab has individualized workstations.  Four fast computers are reserved for use by students who take part at the annual competition of the Imperial Barrel Award (IBA) organized by the American Association of Petroleum Geologists (AAPG) and the Gulf Coast Association of Geological Societies. The IBA lab is also equipped with software for studying petroleum systems that include Arc GIS, Interactive Petrophysics (IP), Seisware, Petra, Basin2, Geochemist’s Workbench, Surfer and the Adobe package of Photoshop and Photo Illustrator. 


AU Allied facilities

The Department of Geosciences also enjoys access to other shared research facilities on campus, including the Auburn University Research Instrumentation Facility ( and Materials Research & Education Center ( These centers house various imaging instruments and mass spectrometers such as light and fluorescence-based microscopy, transmission and scanning electron microscopy (TEM and SEM, respectively), nuclear magnetic resonance spectroscopy (NMR), FT-IR/FT-Raman spectrometer, Ion Chromatograph (IC), Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometer (GC-MS), and High Precision Liquid Chromatograph (HPLC). The National Center for Asphalt Technology (NCAT) has equipment to measure the following characteristics of aggregate stone: Soundness by use of Sodium Sulfate or Magnesium Sulfate (ASTM C 88); Resistance to Degradation by Abrasion and Impact using the Los Angeles Machine (ASTM C 131); Specific Gravity and Absorption; Accelerated Polishing using the British Wheel (ASTM D 3319); and Surface Frictional Properties using the British Pendulum Tester (ASTM E 303).

Last Updated: 08/07/2017