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Williamson Research Centre

Molecular Environmental Science

Our research focuses on the characterisation of mineral-water-organic matter reactions in surface and subsurface environments, and we're aided by a range of excellent facilities.

Biomineral synthesis laboratory

Laboratory for the advanced characterization and analysis of novel, nano-scale biominerals for both commercial exploitation and remediation applications. Examples include the biological synthesis of chalcogenide semiconducting quantum dots and ferrite spinels such as biomagnetite (Fe3O4) and associated mineral structures. Facilities in this laboratory are complemented by those in the Geomicrobiology, Radionuclide Biogeochemistry and Molecular Ecology Labs.

Facilities include:

  • Coy anaerobic cabinet
  • Refrigerated high-capacity centrifuge and microfuge
  • 5L Fermenter
  • Orbital incubators
  • UV/VIS spectrophotometer
  • Roller Mixers
  • Peristaltic pumps

FEI XL30 Environmental Scanning Electron Microscope

The FEI XL30 ESEM-FEG is used for imaging a wide range of samples, everything from polished rock sections to bacteria to Egyptian mummies. With carbon or gold coated samples, the ESEM can be used as a traditional SEM utilising either secondary electron or backscattered electron detectors.

Under ‘wet’ mode, the ESEM can be used to image uncoated samples, ideal for imaging biological materials and precious samples. The ESEM is equipped with an EDAX Gemini EDS system, so elemental analysis of samples can be carried out while imaging. The EDAX system can also be used to automatically map and analyse components. The ESEM is also equipped with a Gatan gold stage for cryo-imaging.

Geomicrobiology preparation laboratory

Laboratory with dedicated equipment for the production of media and materials to support research in the Geomicrobiology, Radionuclide Biogeochemistry, Biomineral Synthesis and Molecular Ecology Laboratories.

Facilities include:

  • Gas station (N2, CO2)
  • Laminar flow cabinet 
  • pH/Eh meter
  • Floor-standing autoclave
  • Analytical balance 
  • Oven
  • Static incubators

Molecular ecology laboratory

Laboratory for microbiological and molecular biological characterization of environmental samples in order to understand the role that microorganisms play in key geological processes. This includes the biological controls on mineral cycles in a range of environments as well as applications to the remediation of toxic metals and radionuclides, complementing the work carried out in the Geomicrobiology and Radionuclide Biogeochemistry labs.

Facilities include:

  • PCR machines including Q-PCR 
  • Fume cupboards
  • PAGE/AGE tanks
  • UV workstations
  • Nanodrop spectrophotometer 
  • Geldock system 
  • DNA speedvac
  • Beadbeater 
  • Plate spinner 
  • Microfuge
  • -80 freezers
  • Static incubators
  • Microscope

Organic geochemistry laboratory

Specifically designed laboratory for the preparation of samples for organic geochemical analyses, from initial sample handling and preparation, through extraction and (pre)-fractionation to derivatization. Subsequent instrument analysis includes GC-FID, (pyr)GC-MS, (pyr)FTIR and/or LCMS, available in the Manchester Analytical Geochemistry Unit.

Facilities include:

  • Fume cupboards
  • Ovens
  • Hot plates
  • Rotary evaporator
  • Soxhlet extraction 
  • Ultrasonic extraction
  • -20 Freezers
  • Gas stations (N2)
  • Centrifuge
  • Sample prep areas
  • Off-line pyrolysis set up

Radionuclide biogeochemistry laboratory

Radiochemistry lab designed for research into molecular scale understanding of the behaviour of radionuclides in natural and engineered environments. Work includes fundamental radionuclide biogeochemistry with a range of actinides and fission products. This work is also applied to contaminated land remediation and geological disposal of radioactive wastes. Facilities include a fully licensed radiochemistry lab for use of isotopes and the ability to manipulate radioactive samples (minerals, biomass) under controlled conditions. The laboratory complements the work carried out in the Molecular Ecology, Geomicrobiology and Environmental Mineralogy Labs in SEAES.

Facilities include:

  • Radiochemistry lab
  • Coy anaerobic Cabinet with CO2 control
  • Fume cupboard
  • -80oC Freezer
  • Incubators (static/orbital)
  • UV/vis spectrophotometer
  • Centrifuge/Microfuges
  • Autoclave
  • pH/Eh meter
  • MilliQ Dispenser
  • Ovens (0 – 250oC)

Thermal analysis

Mass and energy changes within a sample can be measured as a function of temperature / time using the Differential Scanning Calorimeter / Thermogravimetry (DSC/TG) instrument. Approximately 20mg of powdered sample is required for each analysis. Depending on the nature of the sample and the analysis required, different reaction gasses and heating rates can be used. Generally two samples can be run in a day.

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