New technology benefits BU Geology researchers, students

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The Brandon University (BU) Department of Geology is bringing old and new together.

As BU marks the 110th year of the study of geoscience at BU, state-of-the-art technology is giving researchers and students in the department a better look than ever at rocks and minerals that are often several million, and sometimes billions, of years old.

“We have some of the best lab facilities of any university in Canada right here at BU,” said the Dr. Hamid Mumin, Chair of the Department of Geology.

“We’ve partnered with government and industry to invest heavily in our equipment, giving us facilities that are an outstanding resource in the region and provide our students with the kind of hands-on experience that will give them a head start as they enter the workforce.”

The latest addition to the Geology labs is a top-of-the line automated heating-freezing stage for BU’s Thermometric Analytical Facility. The stage is the platform where samples sit on a microscope. By heating the sample, at temperatures up to 600C, or freezing it, to as low as
—80C, changes become evident in very small traces of fluid that have remained trapped since the formation of the material. These fluid inclusions are only a few microns in size, but the way they react to changing temperature provides information about of the conditions under which these geological materials formed, and about the nature of ancient hydrothermal solutions that deposited the minerals. They are also useful for ore and hydrocarbon exploration by indicating the types of hydrocarbon and ore-forming fluids trapped in crystals.

The heating-freezing stage, which cost about $25,000, was paid for by BU’s Department of Geology and Faculty of Science.

Brandon University Geology Professor Dr. Ali Somarin had the opportunity to use the automated stage during a research visit to China and was immediately convinced that it was worth the investment to step up from the manual stages that were previously used at BU and remain in use by geology departments at many universities that have the expertise to conduct the heating and freezing tests.

“The accuracy of the test is dependent on the accuracy of recording the correct temperature at each stage, meaning 30 minutes or more of careful observation for a manual test. If you blink and miss the correct temperature the test has to be redone, and in some cases this is impossible due to changes in the fluid, ” says Dr. Somarin. “This new automated stage is as good as anything that exists in the world right now and allows us to use a computer and software to take photos and stamp the specific temperature on each image. Now even students can run the test and get accurate results without any concerns. We already have a graduate student and an honours student using it for their research.”

The back of a man as seen as he sits at a desk and works on a computer. A microscope sits beside the computer.
The Micro Analytical Facility in the BU Department of Geology has also had significant upgrades in recent years.

The automated heating-freezing stage is only the latest notable addition to BU’s Geology facilities. In 2020 the department received support from Western Economic Diversification Canada to upgrade its Micro Analytical Facility, which is used by the University as well as by government and the private sector to support resource exploration and development and clean technology research.

“Our Geology labs are an important resource, for our own research, as well as for government and industry partners,” says Dr. Bernadette Ardelli, Dean of Science. “As an added benefit, our upgraded facilities also provide training opportunities for our students as they prepare to meet the growing demand in the field of geoscience.”


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