Labs and Research Facilities

Department Classrooms

The Department of Earth Sciences controls two computer labs, four teaching labs, a seminar room and a conference room in BGS.

Geology & Geochemistry Facilities

The Powder X-ray Diffraction (pXRD) and Micro X-ray diffraction (μXRD) Laboratory provides facilities for powder and in situ mineral analysis based on crystal structure. The laboratory has a conventional Rigaku Powder diffractometer and a Bruker D8 Discover microdiffractometer with a 50-500 μm beam diameter, 2D area detector, automated XYZ sample stage and microscope-camera system, for in situ X-ray analysis of discrete mineral grains in rock slabs, probe mounts or polished sections.

  • Experimental Mineralogy Laboratory (Roberta Flemming)

The Experimental Mineralogy Laboratory engages in mineral synthesis and characterization.  Facilities include high-temperature furnaces and sample preparation equipment. Crystal structures are refined using Topas Rietveld crystal-structure refinement software, and cation ordering is determined by solid-state NMR using NUTS and DMFIT software (NMR spectrometers are located in Chemistry and at the Ultrahigh-field Solid State NMR facility in Ottawa).  

  • Zircon and Accessory Phase Laboratory (ZAPLab) (Desmond Moser, Director)

The ZAPLab is an electron nanobeam facility ( for determining the orientation and chemical nanostructure of materials. It began operation in summer 2010, and, after two years of partial department support, a full-time technician position is now fully supported by ZAPLab industry clients and research collaborators. Moser’s group is expert in the application of Electron Backscatter Diffraction (EBSD), Cathodoluminescence (CL) and X-ray spectroscopy (EDS/WDS) techniques to micro minerals used for isotopic dating of earth, solar system and resource-forming events. Collaborative work is resulting in equal success in applying ZAPLab tools to the analysis of ores, environmental and manufactured bio/materials. Graduate student training in the facility is continuous and comprehensive, attracting students from across the Western community and the region.  Apart from Moser’s group of 5 graduate students, roughly triple that number from the Dept. of Earth Sciences have conducted research in the facility so far. Moser also co-supervises the research of graduate students in the Departments of Geography, Biology, Chemistry and Engineering/ Surface Science Western and is building collaborative links with the Center for Advanced Materials and Biomaterials Research (CAMBR) at Western and the Canadian Centre for Electron Microscopy at McMaster University. A growing number of graduate students from surrounding universities including University of Toronto, ROM, Waterloo, Carleton, Queen’s and McGill are also actively conducting research at the ZAPLab. This new facility is proving to be a valuable component of fundamental materials science research and training at Western.

  • Laboratory for structural geology and fabric simulation (Dazhi Jiang)

The structural geology and fabric simulation lab has three sets of equipment for integrated research on deformation structures in Earth’s continental crust.  The computational set contains 4 state-of-the-art computer workstations, associated commercial (FLAC2D and FLAC3D) and self-developed software (self-consistent MOPLA, the Self-Consistent MultiOrder Power Law Approach based on micromechanics), and peripheral devices for modeling and visualization of natural deformation and fabric development.  The digital mapping set contains 3 state-of-the-art Trimble GeoXH handheld mapping devices and a field vehicle (Toyota Tacoma) for large-scale high-precision field geological mapping.  The microstructure analysis set contains 4 microscopes (Nikon, Leitz, Leica), 2 Leica macroscopes, and attachable universal and mechanical stages for fabric characterization in rock thin sections.  Additionally, there is an EBSD camera installed in ZAPLab for textural analysis at the micron scale.  

The A.D. Edgar Laboratory for Electron-Probe Microanalysis houses an electron microprobe that is fully automated by a state-of-the-art computer system. Chemical microanalyses of thick samples, thin films and particles are possible and high-resolution digital electron and X-ray images can be acquired. The lab also houses a Scanning Electron Microscope. 

  • Surface Science Western (SEM - EDX; FESEM; XPS/ESCA; SAM; SIMS; TOF-SIMS; FTIR; AFM; Tencor surface profilometry; Laser Raman spectroscopy; XRD; Contact angle goniometry; EPMA-WDX)

  • Basin Analysis Laboratory

Dr. Guy Plint, Director

The Basin Analysis Laboratory provides on-line access to a large Digital Well Log Library for Western Canada, plus proprietary software, donated by Divestco Inc.  A microfiche printer and an extensive Microfiche Log Library, donated by Imperial Oil Ltd. complements the digital data set. Three computers provide standard software for word processing, plus graphical and numerical manipulation of data. Large work tables, microscopes, roll- and flat-bed scanners, and projection facilities provide necessary support for research students.

  • Cathodoluminescence (CL) and Sample Separation Facility

Patricia L. Corcoran, Director

The CL and Sample Separation Facility houses (i) equipment used for mineral and sample separation, including a Frantz magnetic separator, sieve shaker, heavy liquid separation apparatuses, drying oven, and stereoscopic microscope, and  (ii) instruments for sample preparation, recognition, and analysis, which include a microdrill, CL microscope, CL spectrometer, petrographic microscope, and image analysis workstation. The cold CL unit enables the capability to analyze whole rock samples, loose samples (e.g. sands), and polished sections. Examples of samples studied using the facility’s infrastructure include the minerals quartz, diamond, apatite, corundum and carbonates, in addition to sea glass, plastic fragments and nanomaterials.

  • Petroleum Geology Lab

Dr. Burns Cheadle, Director

This facility provides the tools required for comprehensive technical and economic assessment of petroleum plays, prospects and developed pools. It has three purpose-built high-performance exploration workstations with dual 30" high-resolution flat panel monitors, running a comprehensive suite of industry-standard petroleum assessment software. Currently, the software suite - largely made possible by generous donations from vendors - includes Schlumberger's Petrel reservoir modeling system, SeisWare International's SeisWare™ and Divestco's WinPICS , WinPICS 3D, Synthetic Suite and VistBridge seismic interpretation packages, Fugro-Jason's PowerLog® petrophysical analysis software, geoLOGIC's geoSCOUT™ data and mapping system, IHS Canada's AccuMap™ and Petra® data and mapping packages, and Energy Navigator's Value Navigator® economic evaluation software. The workstations are networked through a dedicated server that manages software license administration and shared project files.

  • Magmatic-Hydrothermal Lab

Dr. Robert Linnen, Director

This laboratory contains equipment for the study of natural mineral deposits as well as experimental equipment to determine chemical parameters such as metal solubility and partition coefficients in fluid-mineral melt systems. The key components are:  

  • Petrographic microscopes (transmitted and reflected light as well as image analysis software)
  • Computers: software for 3D modeling of ore deposits, geochemical modeling and fluid inclusion interpretation
  • Fluid Inclusions: a Linkham THMSG600 heating-freezing stage
  • Rapid-quench cold seal autoclaves (both Ar and H2O pressure)
  • Piston cylinder apparatus

  • Mobile Geological Laboratory

Dr. Gordon Osinski, Director

The Mobile Geological Laboratory represents a paradigm shift in our approach to geological field and laboratory research, by maximizing the scientific return of fieldwork and allowing for iterative studies to be carried out and minimizing the mass of samples that must be returned for subsequent follow-up analyses. The Laboratory currently boasts the following analytical and mapping equipment:
  • Bruker Tracer III SD X-Ray Fluorescence (XRF) spectrometer.
  • DeltaNu RockHoundTM portable Raman spectrometer.
  • Trimble Yuma rugged tablet computers, featuring built in GPS and GIS capabilities.
  • Trimble GeoExplorer GeoXT handheld computers, featuring Windows Mobile® operating system, with ArcPad software and built in GPS.
  • Garmin Rino and GPSMAP® 60CSx handheld GPS units.

In addition, a large pool of logistical field equipment is available, including:

  • 2- and 3-person expedition tents.
  • Propane and white gas stoves, lightweight cooking sets, etc.

For details on rates and how to use any of this equipment, please contact Dr. Gordon Osinski at

  • Planetary Mapping Facility

Dr. Gordon Osinski, Director

The Planetary Mapping Facility contains seven state-of-the-art computer workstations designed for visualization and processing of a range of geospatial data, attached to a multi-disk storage array with several terabytes of capacity.  These workstations are equipped with a variety of software designed for mapping planetary surfaces, with an emphasis on the Earth, Moon, and Mars. Software includes: ArcGIS, Oasis Montaj, ENVI.

For details on rates and how to use any of this equipment, please contact Dr. Gordon Osinski at

  • High Resolution Earth and Planetary Materials Imaging Facility

Drs. Gordon Osinski, Neil Banerjee, and Robert Linnen, Co-Directors

This facility, funded in part by the Western Academic Development Fund, features high-resolution microscopic imaging systems for novel optical analysis of Earth and planetary materials in advance of microbeam and isotopic analysis. Three Nikon and one Olympus microscopes are available: three compound polarizing microscopes equipped with different combinations of transmitted (TL) and reflecting light (RL) illumination and imaging capabilities; one high magnification stereomicroscope with visible and illumination and imaging capabilities. The three compound microscopes are equipped with 5 Mpx and 12 Mpx cameras, connected to desktop computers with Nikon’s NIS- Elements software.

For details on rates and how to use any of this equipment, please contact Dr. Gordon Osinski at

  • Meteorites & Planetary Samples (M&PS) Laboratory

Phil McCausland, Director 

The M&PS Laboratory is the Departmental facility for the curation and initial examination of meteorites and other astromaterials. The Laboratory hosts the Western meteorite collection, which has samples available by request for research, teaching and outreach activities. The M&PS Laboratory has the capability to conduct specialized sample preparation (wire saw) as well as non-destructive bulk sample characterization with magnetic susceptibility, grain density (by He pycnometry) and bulk density.

  • Earth and Planetary Materials Analysis Laboratory

The Earth and Planetary Materials Analysis Laboratory (EPMA Lab) consists of a brand new JEOL JXA-8530F Hyperprobe, the first of its kind in Canada. Its field emission (FE) electron gun provides outstanding imaging and enables smaller analytical volumes than conventional instruments.  Services available include:  quantitative spot analysis of minerals for elements from Boron to Uranium, element maps  (EDS and WDS), cathodoluminescence imaging, and much more.

  • GEOMETRIC (Geochemistry, Meteorites and Radio-Isotope Chronometry) Lab

Audrey Bouvier, Director 

The facilities include a 900 sq ft metal-free clean laboratory in the Biotron Centre used for the preparation and research on trace metal isotope geochemistry and geochronology in planetary materials.  For trace element and isotopic analysis, a quadrupole inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometer (ICP-MS) funded by the CFI-JELF and ORF programs will soon be installed.


Dr. Rick Secco, Director

Studies on the high pressure-temperature physical properties of planetary and other materials are conducted using four large volume high pressure devices:  3000 ton multi-anvil press; 500 ton multi-anvil (with Walker module) apparatus; 1,000 and 200 ton cubic-anvil presses with pressure capability up to 23GPa. Each is fully equipped with AC power supplies capable of heating to temperatures up to 2500C inside pressurized cells. A 1000 kg capacity overhead gantry system spans the lab. Ancillary equipment includes many electronic devices for measuring electrical and thermal conductivity (Solartron 1260 and Agilent 4294A Impedance Analyzers, two Stanford Research Systems SR720 LCR Meters, two Agilent 3497A Data Acquisition/Switch Units, Agilent 34980A Multi-Function Switch/Measure Unit, Nicolet Oscilloscope, Solartron 7061 System Voltmeter, HP 3455A Digital Voltmeter, Keithley 197A Digital MultiMeter, HP 3478A multimeter, Keithley 487 Picoammeter, HP 4392A High Resistance Meter, Krohn-Hite 5300 Function Generator, Wiltron 352 Low Frequency Differential Input Phase Meter,  several AC and DC power supplies (Deltron AC, HP 6428B programmable DC, BK Precision DC, Agilent 3632A DC)); custom built electrical conductivity apparatus for measurement up to 500°C in vacuum; complete acoustic emission (Vallen Systeme) measuring equipment; Dupont Differential Thermal Analysis and Differential Thermogravimetric Analysis equipment.

Several furnaces (up to maximum 1700°C) are housed in the shared Furnace Room (B&G 0132) and include Lindberg Tube, Carbolite Muffle, Isotemp Vacuum Oven, Dyna-Trol Muffle, Thermolyne 48000, and Thermolyne 46100). A wide variety of machining equipment purchased with funding from this high pressure-temperature lab is housed and maintained in both the lab as well as the departmental Machine Shop (B&G Rm 0140) and includes: a Roland 4-axis MD-540 CNC milling machine, Kent 2-axis CNC milling machine, hydraulic surface grinder, CNC-adapted Sherline micro-milling machine, CNC-adapted Sherline micro-lathe, three Sherline micro-lathes, small engine lathe, micro-drill press, Isomet 1000 precision saw, full array of regular and micro-machining tools, and specialized (custom designed and in-house built) jigs and fixtures for various pressure cell machining and assembly operations. Sample preparation equipment includes an inert gas environment glove box, Carver Laboratory Press, three stereozoom microscopes (one with Nikon digital camera), weighing balances (Sartorius – ng accuracy; Ohaus – mg accuracy). Four computers are used for experimental control (each with specialized software) of each of the four large volume presses and an additional three computers with printers are housed in the data analysis ante-room (B&G Rm 0127a). 

  • Mineral Physics & Materials Science Laboratory (Sean Shieh)

This laboratory consists of custom-built micro-Raman system and high-temperature (resistive and laser) heating system.  The micro-Raman system provides non-destructive spectroscopic measurements for a wide range of Earth and planetary materials at extensive pressure and temperature ranges.  This micro-Raman system equips with a tunable laser (Coherent I90C), a liquid-nitrogen cooled CCD and a 0.5-m spectrometer with three gratings (300, 1200, and 1800 groove/mm). The micro-Raman can be used to study solid or liquid matters and thin films. It is particularly suitable for hydrothermal research and inclusion study.  Besides, the micro-beam (with 1-3 microns in diameter) of the Raman system allows users to work on micron-sized sample and to probe samples in a micron step.

  • Computational Geophysics Laboratory (CGL)

Robert Shcherbakov, Gerhard Pratt

Funded by CFI, this computational infrastructure is housed within the Department of Earth Sciences (BGS Rm 059 and Rm 179). The aim of the CGL is to implement research projects in computational geophysics, leading naturally to the development of a parallel computational framework in geophysics. The infrastructure consists of the following components: 1) a computer mini-cluster (8 nodes – 96 processors), a server node, a storage/backup node; 2) a software suite for parallel code development, data analysis, and visualization. Each computer workstation has specific software installed for modelling, analysis, and interpretation of natural and synthetic data (Matlab, Gedco Vista, Mathematica, OriginPro, Comsol Multiphysics). They also have appropriate software development tools installed, including compilers for C/C++, Fortran with MPI library implementation (Intel Compiler and Cluster Toolkits, NAG Libraries) for the development of in-house serial and parallel codes. Once executable codes are ready, large-scale testing and production runs are submitted to SHARCNET clusters (a consortium of Canadian academic high performance computers), fully leveraging the computing power of these parallel facilities.

Environmental Geosciences

  • Hydrogeology Laboratory
    Dr. Rob Schincariol
The hydrogeology laboratory is subdivided into a computer room and a water / porous media assessment room.  Two servers in the computer room support ground water modelling studies with networked licences for FEFLOW FMH3 and several other programs including SUTRA, SUTRA-ICE, MODFLOW, AQTESOLV Pro, Tecplot, Surfer, MATLAB, ArcGIS.  The assessment room allows for the characterization of surface and ground water flows through equipment such as SonTek 3D FlowTracker ADV, Price and Pygmy current meters, depth (DH-48) and point integrated (DH-59) sediment samplers, permeameters, conductivity meters, time-domain reflectometers (TDR100), thermistors, pressure transducers, all supported by Campbell Scientific data loggers (CR1000, CR10X). The lab is linked with the Earth Sciences Biome – a unique two-level climate chamber in which soil monoliths (up to 1m diameter x 3m high) can be studied under replicated environments mirroring Arctic tundra to modern agricultural fields.

Computer Facilities

  • Parallel Supercomputing facility 

A Parallel Supercomputing facility consisting of clustered very-high performance PC servers running on the LINUX operating system. Two sub-clusters are now available in the Computational Geodynamics Laboratory. One is a five-node Compaq Alpha cluster consisting of a dual-processor DS20 master node and four XP1000 nodes. The second and newest sub-cluster is based entirely on the latest Intel Itanium processors and consists of 6 IBM quad (4-processor) servers interconnected with high-perfomance Dolphin network interface cards. The Computational Geodynamics group also possesses five high-performance Pentium workstations running on LINUX for everyday student use. These workstations are interconnected with high-speed Ethernet and may also be used as a parallel cluster.

  • Laboratory for Education in the Digital Geosciences

Barry Price, supervisor

The Laboratory for Education in the Digital Geosciences has five Geographical Information System workstations (NT) with digitizing tablets and software, a scanner and Global Positioning System equipment.

  • Student Computer Drop-In Facilities

Barry Price, supervisor

Student Computer Drop-In Facilities include about 60 computers that are networked or run on an NT server, as well as printers and back-up devices.

Support Facilities & Resources

  • The Suffel Collection

    The Suffel Collection (Norm Duke, curator) is composed of ore suites and was initiated at Western by Dr. Rod McDonald about 1940.  In 1946-47 Dr. Gordon Suffel began to reorganize and add to this nucleus. By the early 1970s gifts from faculty, students and donations by interested mining companies amounted to about 15,000 catalogued specimens. Subsequent to his retirement in 1975 the Suffel Collection has been augmented primarily by sampling on student/faculty fieldtrips and from rock suites utilized in theses on the geology of mineral deposits. This latter phase of collection was initiated by R.W. Hutchinson, has been carried on by R.W. Hodder and most recently by N.A. Duke. The collection now consists of more than 200,000 catalogued samples. Although most of the original suites were collected from ore deposits in North America, the collection now has a much more international scope.

    The Suffel Collection is a valuable resource for mineral deposit research, from conventional metallogenic studies to investigations into the susceptibility of differing ores to weathering. Having a range of sample material from widely differing deposit types is becoming increasingly important as many of the mines represented in the collection are now closed and inaccessible. More than other specialties within the Earth Sciences, comparative studies are central to research into the subtle differences shown by broadly similar deposit-types. Housing such a large number of ore suites under one roof is unique in North America.

    The samples are available for teaching, research and display purposes. Several hundreds have sections suitable for microscopy. The collection is more freely available to senior undergraduate and graduate students, faculty and alumni. Your interest in this collection is earnestly solicited. We encourage anyone having the opportunity to collect suitable material to do so and donate it to the department, along with an appropriate description and details of location and date.

  • Dana Mineral Collection (Curator, Roberta Flemming), named after Dana’s System of Mineralogy, consists of over 3800 mineral specimens, first collected by Professor Gordon Suffel. Several subsequent donors have added minerals to the collection. These minerals comprise several displays in the department and may be borrowed as research specimens with the proviso the borrower provides to the Dana Collection an electronic copy of any data acquired, and recognition in subsequent publication.
  • Western Meteorite Collection, (Curator, Phil McCausland) The Western meteorite collection contains nearly 200 different meteorites, including large portions of several Canadian meteorite falls and finds such as the Tagish Lake carbonaceous chondrite, the Dresden H5 chondrite and the Southampton pallasite. The growing Western meteorite collection contains a wide variety of meteorites and meteorite types to facilitate research as well as teaching and outreach activities throughout each year. Samples for these activities are available by request to the Curator Phil McCausland, at
  • Electronic Instrumentation Lab

  • Mechanical Instrumentation Lab

  • Material Preparation Lab