Geosciences at Virginia Tech

Research Facilities

John K. Costain Geophysics Computing Facility

The facility supports modeling, processing and interpretation of reflection and refraction seismic and ground penetrating radar (GPR) data for subsurface imaging for petroleum exploration, deep crustal scale geophysical and geological studies, and shallow subsurface investigations for engineering and environmental purposes.

Software includes industry-standard packages for 2-D and 3-D seismic data processing, interpretation, modeling, log processing, and interpretation running on Linux PCs. The computer network and hardware are supported by full-time technicians and contain facilities such as large-scale plotting and multiple terabytes of disk storage. Software includes:

  • ProMAX VSP, 2-D, and 3-D seismic data processing packages
  • Paradigm's VoxelGeo and Focus
  • Multiple licenses of Landmark's complete interpretation package
  • Seismic Micro-Technology's KINGDOM interpretation package
  • Seismic Unix

In addition to these state-of-the art packages, special purpose modules developed at Virginia Tech are also available. The laboratory is supported by grants, the petroleum industry, and alumni donations.

For more information, contact Dr. John Hole.

Biogeochemistry of Earth Processes (BGEP) Laboratory

This four room complex (see sidebar image) houses facilities to conduct kinetic and thermodynamic studies of mineral-water interactions in biogeochemical and inorganic systems. Equipment includes an AFM with capabilities for flow-through and in situ measurements of nanoscale reaction processes at mineral surfaces and examinations of membranes (microbe-mineral interactions). The computer laboratory has machines for image analysis, structural and chemical speciation modeling. Other specialized equipment includes a Spin-Caster for wafer processing and thin film nano-deposition, incubators, a -20°C freezer, a Class A Biological Safety cabinet, a high throughput modular temperature controlled ultracentrifuge, reactor systems, and standard wet laboratory facilities. We utilize other facilities across campus including access to Circular Dicroism Spectropolarimeter to study static and dynamic biomolecules and synthetic molecules liquid phase secondary structure conformations, FE-SEM with EDAX, ICP-MS, AES, NMR, in situ Ellipsometry, and (coming soon!) a state-of-art TEM and Ion Probe.

For more information, contact Dr. Patricia Dove.

Chemical Hydrogeology Lab

Chemical hydrogeology facilities (see sidebar image) include a Varian Spectr220Z Atomic Absorption Spectrometer, a Shimadzu Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, an SRI Gas Chromatograph equipped with flame ionization and thermal conductivity detectors, a Coy anaerobic chamber, a Dionex ion chromatograph, filtration manifolds, and an anaerobic sparging manifold. We also have access to an HPLC-ICP-AES equipped with a hydride generator for arsenic research. Field equipment includes pressure transducers, pumps, flow meters, pH, ORP, DO, and ion selective electrodes, a portable spectrophotometer, well installation equipment, and access to an auger rig.

For more information, contact Dr. Madeline Schreiber.

Crystallography Laboratory

The Crystallography Laboratory of the department was re-established 2001 by Dr. Nancy Ross and Dr. Ross Angel. It is now a co-located facility of the Departments of Geosciences, Chemistry, and Biology.

The Crystallography Laboratory houses four four-circle diffractometers. Two Xcalibur instruments from Oxford Diffraction are used for ambient-pressure structure determination from single crystals of small molecules and proteins. They are equipped to go to temperatures below 15K. Two diffractometers are customized for high-pressure single crystal X-ray diffraction with diamond-anvil cells, one an Xcalibur system from Oxford Diffraction for high-pressure structure determination. The second is a customized Eulerian-cradle design from Huber Diffraktionstechnik GmbH, optimized for extremely precise measurements of lattice parameters of crystals. A selection of diamond-anvil cells suitable for single-crystal and powder X-ray diffraction and capable of generating pressures in excess of 10 GPa is available, together with the extensive preparation facilities necessary for their use.

For more information, contact Dr. Ross Angel.

Electron Beam Laboratory

The Electron Beam Laboratory consists of two electron-beam instruments, a Cameca SX-50 Electron Probe Microanalyzer and a CamScan Series II Scanning Electron Microscope.

The Cameca SX-50 Electron Microprobe (EMP) is a fully automated four-spectrometer Wavelength-Dispersive Spectrometer instrument with an integral Bruker SDD Energy Dispersive Spectrometer system. Automation is done by a Sun SPARCstation running a complete Cameca package of software for rapid semiquantitative and fully quantitative non-destructive chemical analysis of elements from Boron to Uranium in natural and synthetic materials. We are currently migrating the automation to the PC-based system Probe for Windows that will allow integration of WDS and EDS analysis and elemental imaging. Electron-beam and stage scanning capability allows routine 2-D imaging of compositional variation in areas ranging from 100 square microns to 1 square centimeter or more. This powerful capability to make compositional maps is a major component of our productivity.

The lab also contains a CamScan Series II SEM that performs routine surface imaging using Secondary Electron techniques as well as Back-Scattered Electron quasi-compositional imaging. In addition, the CamScan is fitted with an automated American Nuclear Systems EDS system that allows rapid semiquantative chemical analysis of natural and synthetic materials. A recent addition to this instrument is a high-sensitivity GATAN Cathodoluminescence spectrometer that allows qualitative identification of luminescence patterns for study of mineral zoning as well as acquisition of quantitative spectral data from 200 to 900 nanometers.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Tracy.

Exploration Geophysics Field Equipment Laboratory

Field equipment for geophysical exploration at a variety of scales is maintained by a technician. Shotgun, hammer, and explosive sources can recorded on 10 or 100 Hz geophones and cables and the Geometrics 60-channel, 24-bit seismograph. The ground-penetrating radar system has 5 sets of antennae ranging from 12.5 to 200 MHz. Potential field techniques are supported by a Lacoste micro-gravimeter, a fluxgate magnetometer, and a VLF electromagnetic system. Surveying needs are supplied by a kinematic differential GPS (cm accuracy) system and several hand-held GPS units (~5 m accuracy).

For more information, contact Dr. John Hole.

Fluids Research Laboratory

The Fluids Research Laboratory is equipped with a range of experimental and analytical facilities to study the properties and role of fluids in the earth's crust and upper mantle. The FRL is composed of the Fluid Inclusion Laboratory, the Vibrational Spectroscopy Laboratory, and the Hydrothermal Laboratory. The Fluid Inclusion Laboratory contains state of the art equipment for studying melt and fluid inclusions in natural and synthetic materials. The Lab contains two USGS-type gas-flow heating and cooling stages, a Linkam THMSG 600 programmable heating/cooling stage, a Linkam XY 1500 degree stage, a Chaixmeca heating stage, a Leitz 1350 heating stage, and a hydrothermal diamond anvil cell that can be used as a pressurized heating stage. Five research-grade petrographic microscopes and complete still and video photography equipment are available for use with any of the microscopes and stages.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Bodnar.

Geothermal Database

The Geothermal Database maintains geothermal energy data for the southeastern United States. The site is continually updated to include temperature data from hundreds of temperature and other geophysical logs, rock thermal conductivity, and heat flow values from New Jersey to Georgia. The site is useful for those interested in terrestrial heat flow, practical applications of low-temperature geothermal energy, and also provides an excellent temperature versus depth data base for those wanting to do their own calculations to evaluate the hypothesis of global warming. Datasets can be displayed and/or downloaded for use by the user.

For more information, contact Dr. John Costain, Emeritus.

Physical Hydrogeology Laboratory

The Hydrogeosciences group has a wide range of borehole and surface tools for characterizing aquifer systems in fractured and porous media environments. Borehole logging to depths of 500 m can be accomplished using Mt. Sopris MX II logging system. Wireline probes include: Heat pulse flow meter; Natural gamma; Neutron and thermal neutron; SP and resistivity; Short and long-normal resistivity; Fluid temperature and conductivity; Optical televiewer and camera; 3-arm caliper.

Other tools and instrumentation include:

  • Surface electrical resistivity surveying equipment including a 25 channel Campus Geopulse Resistivity system with RES2DINV and RES3DINV inversion software for 2D profiling and 3D characterization.
  • Various pumps, packers, transducers, and water-level monitoring equipment and aquifer-testing software for aquifer characterization.
  • Guelph Permeameter for soil permeability and hydraulic conductivity
  • Modeling software capabilities include: Groundwater Vistas; GMS integrated with Modflow and MTD3DMS; Argus One integrated with Modflow; Visual Modflow; GDM (Granular Displacement Model); Aquifer Test and AQTESOLV aquifer testing software.

For more information, contact Dr. Thomas Burbey.

Hydrothermal Laboratories

The Hydrothermal Laboratory contains 12 cold-seal pressure vessels capable of operating to 800 Celsius and 3000 bars, and 10 cold-seals capable of reaching 800 Celsius and 6000 bars. Two cold-seal vessels arranged for in situ fracturing of quartz cores are available for synthetic fluid inclusion studies. A large volume internally heating pressure vessel that operates to 1,000 Celsius and 10,000 bars has recently been added.

Hydrothermal laboratory with 8 high pressure (7kb) hydrothermal cold-seal pressure vessels, 6 low pressure (1.5kb) gas pressured cold-seal bombs, 6 low pressure (1.0kb) hydrogen diffusion cold-seal pressure vessels and a hydrogen extraction and analysis system. In addition the following analytical facilities are readily available in the Department to support experimental and field oriented petrologic research: Cameca electron-microprobe; Camscan scanning electron microscope; Scintag automated x-ray powder diffractometer; optical microscopes; Nicolet fourier transform infrared spectrometer; Phillips x-ray florescence spectrometer.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Bodnar.

Micropaleontology Laboratory

Maceration hood handling acetic and hydrochloric acids; Logitech lapping machine and trim saw (1 mm serial section capability); Vacuum embedding system; Olympus BX51 epifluorescence microscope and SZ1145 stereoscope with digital imaging capabilities; three-headed Olympus BX51 petrographic microscope; Servo 7150 press driller; Merchantek micromilling system; Mettler Toledo microbalance.

For more information, contact Dr. Shuhai Xiao.

Nanogeoscience, Mineral Surface Geochemistry, and Biogeochemistry Laboratories

We have an extensive array of wet chemical and analytical laboratories (over 5,000 square feet in size) that specifically address the field of nanogeoscience applied to environmental geochemistry, biogeochemistry, and mineralogy. These labs are also equipped to study other complex environmental systems including mineral-microbe interactions and mineral surface science. We are a core member of the national Center for the Environmental Implications of Nanotechnology (CEINT), as well as Virginia Tech's Institute for Critical Technology and Applied Science. Our labs have equipment and instrumentation for mineral preparation, characterization, surface and solution analysis; biomolecular analyses and microbial characterization; and many types of microscopies and spectroscopies including high resolution TEM, SEM, FIB, SIMS, XPS, AES, AFM, STM, and many others. We also have reliable access to equipment and labs within the Department of Biochemistry, the Fralin Biotechnology Center, the Virginia Tech DNA Sequencing Facility, the Department of Crop and Soil Environmental Science, the Virginia Bioinformatics Institute, and the School of Engineering.

For more information, contact Dr. Michael Hochella.

Paleobiology Laboratory

Fossil preparation laboratory with facilities for physical and chemical extraction of fossils. Paleontological Collections Facility houses a teaching collection and representative fossils from all important fossil groups. Virginia Tech computer facility (IBM 370 with vectorization hardware) supports all major mathematical and statistical packages, including IMSL, SAS, SPSS, and BMDP. Optical microscopes, and petrographic microscopes are available in the paleontological laboratories, and TEM and SEM facilities are available in other departments on campus.

For more information, contact Dr. Michal Kowalweski.

Paleoecology Laboratory

A complete range of preparation equipment (from crushers and saws to acid facilities and ultrasonic cleaners) in a separate fossil preparation laboratory, computer terminal and reference collections in a separate collection storage facility. Video digitizing system for morphometric analysis. A full range of research grade binoculars and high magnification transmitted light microscopes. Darkroom, and, of course, access to every Paleozoic geologic system (except Permian) within an hour's drive of Blacksburg.

For more information, contact Dr. Michal Kowalweski.

Radiogenic Helium Laboratory

The radiogenic helium laboratory is a new facility capable of measuring (U-Th)/He ages for constraining the low-temperature cooling history of rocks. This facility is one of only several in the US and was custom designed and built. Helium ages are determined based on measurements of radiogenic helium and parent nuclides (U and Th) on aliquots of 10-20 mineral grains. Helium is measured using a high-vacuum extraction line and quadrupole mass spectrometer. Parent nuclides are measured by isotope dilution using an off-campus ICP-MS. This facility has been applied to studies in California, Alaska, and the Appalachians, and provides valuable constraints for the history of uplift and erosion in mountain belts.

For more information, contact Dr. James Spotila.

Sedimentology and Stratigraphy Laboratory

Fully equipped sedimentation laboratory with plastic impregnation chambers; research grade microscopes equipped for cathodoluminescence, epifluorescence and reflectivity; high speed thin section equipment, slab saws and polishing equipment; lab has PCs and software for numerical modeling and spectral analysis; Neuralog software for automatic digitizing of well logs; hand-held Gamma Ray Scintillometer for field measurements; Petra and NeuraSection software for the application of well log data to sub-surface stratigraphic mapping.

For more information, contact Dr. Fred Read.

Seismological Observatory

The Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory is maintained by several research and technical personnel under the direction of Dr. Martin Chapman. Observatory activities include the location of local and regional earthquakes, community response to such earthquakes, research on intraplate earthquakes, strong motion seismology, seismic hazard assessment, and theoretical and observational seismology. Observatory personnel have conducted several community outreach and education seminars in recent years.

The Observatory operates and maintains a network of four short-period seismic stations and one broadband seismic station located in southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. The current network coverage is being expanded toward central and eastern Virginia with new stations under construction in Roanoke, Virginia, and Richmond, Virginia. VTSO also owns several portable seismographs and responds regularly to reported seismic events in the region.

For more information, contact Dr. Martin Chapman.

Structure Laboratory

The structural geology lab is equipped with a full range of optical microscopes (Leitz and Nikon) plus universal stages, and both IBM and Macintosh PCs and computer software for petrofabric work.

For more information, contact Dr. Richard Law.

Vibrational Spectroscopy Lab

The Vibrational Spectroscopy Laboratory contains an ISA Jobin-Yvon 1 meter U-1000 Raman microprobe with a PMT detector, a Dilor XY 0.64 meter Raman microprobe and accessory spectrometer with CCD multichannel detector, and a Nicolet 740 FTIR microprobe with Spectra-Tech microscope. A Joule-Thompson cooling stage that operates to -180°C, a pressurized gas cell, and a heating stage are available for use on any of the microprobes.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Bodnar.

Crystallography Laboratory

Huber diffractometer

Single-crystal diffraction with a diamond-anvil pressure cell on the Crystallography Laboratory's Huber diffractometer.

BGEP Laboratory

New geochemistry laboratory
Photo: Mark Fortney

New geochemistry laboratory for studying kinetics and mechanisms of mineral-water surface reaction processes.

BGEP Laboratory

Darren Wilson using AFM
Photo: Mark Fortney

M.S. student Darren Wilson investigates mechanisms of crystal growth by direct observations with the Atomic Force Microscope.

Hydrogeochemistry Laboratory

Hydrogeochemistry laboratory
Photo: Dr. M. Schreiber

Modern hydrogeochemistry laboratory for field and laboratory studies of subsurface contaminant transport and transformations.