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

Powder X-ray Diffraction and Micro X-ray Diffraction Laboratory 
Dr. Roberta Flemming
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 
Dr. 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)
Dr. 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 
Dr. 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. 

Laboratory for Stable Isotope Science (LSIS)

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. Four computers provide standard software for word processing, plus graphical and numerical manipulation of data. Large work tables, microscopes, scanners and projection facilities provide necessary support for research students.  A gamma ray spectrometer, donated by Pan Canadian Petroleum Ltd.  provides an essential  means to document radioactivity in outcrop sections and hence relate outcrop stratigraphy to wireline logs from boreholes.

Cathodoluminescence (CL) and Sample Separation Facility
Dr. 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.

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
Dr. 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
Drs. Robert Linnen & Gordon Osinski
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.



Southern Ontario Seismic Network

Experimental High Pressure-Temperature Mineral Physics and Materials Science laboratory
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 25GPa. Each is fully equipped with AC power supplies capable of heating to temperatures up to 2500°C 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, Keysight 34470A 7.5 digit data acquisition meter,Nicolet Oscilloscope, Krohn-Hite 5300 Function Generator, Wiltron 352 Low Frequency Differential Input Phase Meter,  several AC and DC power supplies (Deltron AC, Keysight B2961 6.5 digit low noise power source, 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 DS-Fi3 digital camera and LED light source), weighing balances (Sartorius – 100ng accuracy; Mettler μg accuracy, Ohaus –mg accuracy), a Buehler EcoMet 30 manual single grinder polisher. Four computers are used for experimental control (each with specialized software) of each of the four large volume presses and an additional five computers with printers are housed in the data analysis ante-room (B&G Rm 0127a). 

High-Pressure Diamond Anvil Cell (HPDAC) Mineral Physics Laboratory 
Dr. Sean Shieh

This laboratory consists of different types of diamond anvil cell, custom-built micro-Raman system and high-temperature (resistive and laser) heating system for investigation of materials at extensive pressure and temperature conditions, from crust to core.  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.

  • Diamond anvil cell – symmetrical DAC, panoramic DAC, hydrothermal DAC, Merrill-Bassett-type DAC and BX 90 DAC.
  • Micro drilling system – Hylozoic micro EDM system
  • High-temperature heating system – Linkam TS1500 stage

Computational Geophysics Laboratory (CGL)
Dr. 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

Subsurface Interpretation LaboratoryDr. Bruce Hart, DirectorThe Subsurface Interpretation Laboratory hosts a variety of software and hardware solutions for the analysis of sedimentary and structural features. In particular, we have software to interpret borehole geophysical logs, 2D and 3D seismic data, and other data types. These tools are commonly applied to academic and applied studies that focus on stratigraphy, structural analyses, petroleum reservoirs, hydrogeology, underground storage of carbon and other liquids/gases, etc. Fee schedule

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
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
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

Earth Sciences Department Geoscience Collections
Samples from the Suffel, Dana, or Meteorite Collections described below are available by request for research, display, teaching or outreach activities. Please contact our Geoscience Collections Curator at

The Suffel Collection
The Suffel Collection 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 40,000 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 by loan agreement with the provisio the borrower provides an electronic copy of any data acquired and recognition in subsequent publication. 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. However, due to space limitations, we are selective in the types of specimen donations that we accept at this time.

The Earth Sciences Department at Western also annually awards the G. Gordon Suffel Fellowship for Graduate Studies in Applied Economic Geology to graduate students in a Master's or PhD program in Geology who have selected a thesis topic in applied economic geology, based on academic achievement and research merit. The recipient may receive this fellowship for up to three years, dependent upon performance and satisfactory progress. The student(s) selected will give a lecture to the Earth Sciences Department during the second term of the award, describing their research; and is required to assist in curating the Suffel Collection.

Dana Mineral Collection
The Dana Collection is a global suite of research quality mineral specimens that was first developed by Dr. G. Gordon Suffel and was later curated by Dr. Roberta Flemming. The collection, named after Dana's system of mineralogy, was developed to include the highest quality mineral specimens from the Suffel Collection to be used for both research and display. Subsequent donors have added to the Dana Collection, providing a wide range of mineral species and varieties for use in research by graduate students, faculty, and other academics, by loan agreement. The collection currently contains upwards of 8000 specimens from hundreds of deposits worldwide. The largest individual donor to the Dana Collection is Arnim Walter, with his mineral donations constituting almost half of the collection. Being an avid mineral enthusiast and professional photographer, Arnim spent his life touring, photographing and collecting spectacular mineral specimens from mines around the world. There are several displays containing Dana Collection minerals in the Department of Earth Sciences at Western. These minerals 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
The Western Meteorite Collection is an approved institutional repository of the Meteoritical Society. As Canada's leading research centre for planetary science and space exploration, Western is home to a collection of more than 250 meteorites that are available for researchers and students. The Western Meteorite Collection contains research type specimens including signature Canadian observed fall meteorites such as Dresden (1939), Tagish Lake (2000) and Grimsby (2009). This collection is primarily housed and displayed in the Biological and Geological Sciences Building. 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.

Western Paleontology Collection
The Western Paleontology Collection is a suite of fossils consisting of all the major invertebrate phyla, with some bacterial, protist, plant, and vertebrate specimens. The collection is primarily used for teaching, accumulated over many decades from purchases, donations from fossil collectors, and contributions from the research collections of department faculty. The fossils are mostly from well-known fossil sites in North America, Europe, and other parts of the world. Teaching fossils are kept in the teaching laboratory in the Biological and Geological Sciences Building.

Electronic Instrumentation Lab

Mechanical Instrumentation Lab

Material Preparation Lab