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Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences

A researcher adjusting intricate machinery


Our research facilities rival those of other leading Earth and environmental research institutions around the world.

Many of our facilities are housed in the Williamson Research Centre, which acts as a hub for interdisciplinary research in molecular environmental science. The Centre houses a range of research laboratories and equipment for investigating our environment and the effect of human behaviour on environmental systems.

We also have a range of advanced instrumentation supporting the full spectrum of our research activities and the work undertaken by our students.

Further analytical capabilities are also available in the Williamson Research Centre. These include the Manchester Analytical Geochemistry Unit, the Mineral Analysis Facility and molecular environmental science facilities.

We are working hard to ensure we are able to provide safe access to these facilities in line with the latest government advice. The safety and wellbeing of our staff and students is our highest priority and we will be providing health and safety briefings as part of your induction.

Our labs and equipment

Advanced Isotope Geochemistry and Cosmochemistry Suite

We study the Earth and Solar System by analysing extraterrestrial and terrestrial samples with the latest techniques of isotopic and elemental analysis. Our researchers' interests range from the prehistory of the Solar System (studying the material from which it was made) through the chronology of the formation process to subsequent evolution of minor bodies and terrestrial planets.

Our facilities include:

  • Clean rooms: We have a class 1,000 clean room facility and a cosmic dust lab;
  • IDLE: Interstellar Dust Laser Explorer is a time-of-flight laser instrument that is used for the in-situ analysis of almost all elements with high spatial resolution, high mass resolution and high sensitivity. Its main purpose is the analysis of interstellar (presolar) grains;
  • MC-ICP-MS: Multi Collector Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer;
  • Noble gas laboratories: A conventional noble gas mass spectrometer system and two multi-collector noble gas mass spectrometers;
  • RELAX and RIMSKI: Refrigerator Enhanced Laser Analyser for Xenon is a unique resonance ionisation mass spectrometer with detection limits of a few tens of atoms.

Basins Seismic and Visualisation Facility

Software for teaching and research:

  • We are a Schlumberger centre of excellence and they donate 103 full Petrel licences for seismic interpretation, well log analysis and subsurface mapping project, Petromod and petroleum system analysis planning and management;
  • IHS donate 30 Kingdom licenses for seismic and well interpretation;
  • Ikon Science donate 30 RokDoc licences for rock physics based interpretation;
  • Paradigm Geophysical donate VoxelGeo and Reservoir Navigator;
  • PaleoScan from Eliis to help improve the speed of the seismic interpretation process and 3D model building;
  • OpenDtect is a freeware project that is used for attribute modelling and development of automated 3D feature recognition methodologies;
  • ffA donate GeoTeric for advanced attribute analysis, including spectral decomposition;
  • A variety of GIS and grid manipulation packages including GoCAD, ArcGIS, ERMapper, MapInfo, ERDAS Imagine and GMT are included in research workflows, as are image analysis and mathematical applications such as Matlab;
  • Petroleum Experts' (Petex) Move for data integration and constructing cross-sections and 3D models (value £1,872,217).

We also make use of the supercomputer facilities in Manchester Computing for computationally intensive 3D modelling, such as Dr Emma Finch's Discrete Element models.

High Pressure Experimental Petrology

The Manchester experimental petrology lab has a long history with an amazing list of Alumnus including Bill Fyfe. The laboratory has a number of apparatus for the study of high pressures and temperature phase equilibria:

  • Multianvil Press: 10 to 25 GPa, 20-1300 °C
  • Piston Cylinder: 1 to 10 GPa, 20-1300 °C
  • Diamond Anvil: 10 to 100 GPa, 20-1300 °C
  • Gas Mixing furnace room pressure controlled atmosphere furnace capable of reaching temperatures of 1700 °C

In-service Aircraft for a Global Observing System (IAGOS)

IAGOS is a Global Research Infrastructure (GRI) that instruments commercially operating Airbus passenger aircraft to provide climate modellers with measurements of greenhouse gases, aerosols and clouds across the globe.

Microanalysis facilities

Analytical equipment:

  • CAMECA SX100 electron probe microanalyser fitted with five wavelength dispersive spectrometers and an energy dispersive spectrometer for micron-scale analysis of elements from Be to U;
  • Ion probe and noble gas mass spectrometers;
  • Cold cathodoluminescence, UV fluorescence microscopes and fluid inclusion stages;
  • Comprehensive analytical geochemistry facilities including: ICP-MS, ICP-AES, XRF, XRD, pyrolysis and GC-MS;
  • ResLab porosimeter and permeameter for core studies.
Colourful rock sample viewed under a microscope

Research is undertaken in collaboration with the Department of Materials, which involves the computed tomography (CT) facility in the Materials Science Centre. Research collaboration is led in Materials by Professor Phil Withers and Professor Peter Lee.

The CT facility provides a world-class suite of five complementary imagers over the widest possible range of spatial resolution capabilities. The Henry Moseley X-ray Imaging Facility provides academic and industrial users with access to world-leading characterisation and research CT instrumentation.

Rock deformation and petrophysics

A rock sample with the end disintegrating

Manchester has a world leading laboratory with 50 years of experience squashing rocks. We can deform rocks and minerals in compression, extension and torsion up to 1300 °C and 300 MPa. We also can measure porosity, permeability, seismic velocity and electrical conductivity of rocks and minerals at elevated pressures and temperatures. This is achieved using the following equipment:

  • Paterson Gas rig: 700 to 1300 °C, 300 MPa, High temperature rheology
  • Nimonic: 100 to 700 °C, 200 MPa, Medium temperature rheology
  • Phoenix: 20-200 °C, 200 MPa, Strength and physical properties of reservoir rocks.
  • Big Rig: Room Temp, 500 MPa, Strength and physical properties of reservoir rocks.
  • Green Rig: Room Temp, 500 MPa, Physical properties of reservoir rocks
  • Core Test Rig: 20-200 °C, 60 MPa, Permeability
  • Gas Permeameter: Room Temp, 3 bars, Nitrogen Permeameter
  • Helium Porosimeter: Room Temp

Rock sectioning and sample preparation facility

Hand holding a thin rock sample slice up to the light

The techniques of making and using thin sections were developed in the 19th century. The person credited with the invention of the method of producing thin sections is William Nicol (1770-1851) of the University of Edinburgh. The first published paper reporting on the study of thin sections was by Henry Sorby (1826-1908). William Crawford Williamson (1816-1895) of The University of Manchester, after whom our building is named, also played a major role in developing the microscope techniques of studying rocks in thin section.

The Rock Sectioning and Sample Preparation Facility in the Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences provides excellent quality and bespoke rock sample preparation. This is an essential part of the study of Earth and planetary materials. In 2017 our facility saw significant investment, and our laboratory is now equipped with a Logitech (LP50) Auto Precision Lapping Machine and two Kemet Forcipol 300-IV polishing machines. The Department holds extensive collections of thin sections, used in our taught courses and for research by advanced analytical methods. Our geoscience undergraduate students have ample opportunity to have their own thin sections made, particularly during their third year when carrying out their independent mapping (or equivalent) projects.

Other facilities