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Durham Geochemistry Centre


Academic Staff

Prof. Kevin Burton

Professor and Director of the Durham Geochemistry Centre

Kevin’s research interests bring together a number of interrelated disciplines within the earth and environmental sciences - all linked by the use of isotopes and trace elements, measured using mass spectrometric techniques, to determine absolute timescales and to trace chemical sources through processes that range from planetary differentiation and mantle melting to continental weathering and erosion.

Dr. Pablo Cubillas

Lecturer in Geochemistry

My research career can be framed in the broad field of mineral-solution interface chemistry and the application of advanced scanning probe microscopy. Within this subject I am particularly interested in the study of:

  • Understanding the fundamental aspects that control the interactions between ions or molecules and crystal surfaces.
  • Nucleation and growth mechanisms of minerals and nanoporous materials.
  • Dissolution rates of minerals and how they are influenced by the presence of different ions and organic species.
  • Precipitation of secondary minerals in coupled dissolution/precipitation systems.
  • Role of surface covering on dissolution rates.
  • Application of minerals for environmental remediation.
  • Scanning probe microscopy development.

Dr. Chris Dale


Chris' work focuses principally on using the Re-Os system and highly siderophile elements (HSE, including the platinum-group elements) to understand a range of topics from mantle recycling and the origin of mantle-derived magmas to the accretion and differentiation of planetary bodies.

Prof. Chris Greenwell


Chris' research bridges across the computer simulation and experimental study of layered mineral systems. Areas where significant advances have been made include understanding the reatcivity and folding dynamics of biomarcomolecules at mineral surfaces, fossil and bio-fuel forming reactions at mineral catalysts, the material properties of nano-composites and the crystal growth and modification of layered double hydroxide minerals.

Dr Darren Gröcke


Darren Gröcke has diverse research interests ranging from palaeoceanography, palaeoclimatology to biogeochemistry. His research is not only on palaeo-records, but recently has focused on modern environmental and ecological systems in order to better understand and refine our knowledge of ancient climates

Prof. Colin Macpherson


Colin has applied new and established geochemical techniques in innovative ways to understand the origins of magmatism and its relationship to tectonics and set up the original stable isotope laboratory in Durham. He has developed particular expertise in SE Asia and the western Pacific where he has studied subduction initiation, lithosphere erosion, mantle melting, crustal growth and recycling of subducted crust and sediment.

Prof. Yaoling Niu


Igneous, metamorphic, and ore-forming processes; igneous phase equilibria during mantle melting and magma evolution; major element, trace element and isotope geochemistry; quantitative petrology and geochemistry of mantle and mantle-derived rocks; mantle melting dynamics and ocean crust formation; crust-mantle recycling; structure, composition and origin of lithospheric mantle (continental and oceanic); processes associated with mid-ocean ridges and subduction zones; seamount genesis; intra-plate volcanisms; and ophiolites. Petrology and geochemistry of ultra-high pressure metamorphic rocks in zones of continental collision and oceanic lithosphere subduction. Initiation of subduction zones and global tectonics.

Dr. Geoff Nowell

Senior Research Officer

Geoff specialises in multi-collector plasma ionisation and thermal ionisation mass spectrometry. Much of his career has specialised in Lu-Hf isotope measurements applied to mantle samples, combining this approach with Re-Os geochemistry to provide powerful constraints on the origins of potassic magmas and pyroxenite lithologies in the mantle.

Dr. Chris Ottley

Senior Research Officer

Chris has a wide ranging background in environmental analytical chemistry . In the last 15 years this has concentrated on the application of ICP-MS technologies supporting the research objectives of the Department of Earth Sciences. He has continually been developing methodologies for the low level determination of REE and other trace elements at low concentrations in geological materials.

Prof. Dave Selby

Chair and manager of the Source Rock and Sulfide Geochronology and Geochemistry Laboratory

Current interests include further development of the Re-Os chronometer to sedimentary and petroleum systems, time scale calibration and resolving controversy of the causes of mass extinctions. Additional interests surround Re-Os systematics of sulphide minerals, and the development and application of Ni stable isotopes to petroleum and sedimentary systems. His research is conducted in the Source Rock Geochronology and Geochemistry Laboratory

Prof. Fred Worrall

Professor of Environmental Chemistry

Fred is the leader of the Carbon, Waste and Water research group at Durham University. Fred works with many researchers, both at Durham and at a wide variety of external organisations in order to facilitiate the continued growth of the Environmental Research undertaken in the Earth Sciences Department.

Jo Peterkin

Research Lab Technician

Jo provides technical support for the Arthur Holmes Laboratories and the carbonate side of the Stable Isotope Lab. Responsibilities’ include overseeing the day-to-day running of the associated mass spectrometers (Thermo-Finnigan Neptune, Triton, MAT 253), offers on-site training in the operation of instruments (and associated sample preparation chemistry work) to new users both within and outside Durham University. Jo also monitors and advises lab managers on levels of detection, analysis reproducibility and conducts diagnostic tests and investigations where appropriate.

Postdoctoral Researchers

Dr. Lisa Baldini

Research Fellow

Lisa’s research interests include palaeoclimate reconstruction using stalagmites, cave monitoring, atmospheric dynamics, and stable isotope systematics. She researches cave sites in Ireland, Spain, Poland, and Central America, and has helped to develop climate records for all these areas. Lisa was a Marie Curie Research Fellow at Durham reconstructing the North Atlantic Oscillation using stalagmites from southern Poland, and is currently a senior postdoctoral researcher working on the HURRICANE project.

Dr. Ian Boothroyd

Postdoctoral Researcher

I am currently working for ReFINE, investigating the environmental impacts that oil and gas exploitation have and the potential impact of fracking. My research is focused upon determination of greenhouse gas emissions, investigating long-term well integrity and fugitive emissions of methane.

Dr. George Cooper

Postdoctoral Researcher

Dr. Valentina Erastova

Postdoctoral Researcher

My research aims to understand how amino acids organise and react to form peptides within the structure of layered minerals. To do this I use computer simulations to add insight and fundamental knowledge into how simple biomolecules react with layered mineral surfaces.

Dr. Madeleine Humphreys

Royal Society Research Fellow

Research interests include the importance of volatiles in the generation and eruption of subduction zone magmas, through use of melt inclusions and hydrous minerals; crystal-scale disequilibrium as a tool to understand magmatic processes; and the textural, chemical and physical evolution of crystal mushes during solidification of mafic rocks.

Dr. Alexander McCoy-West

Postdoctoral Researcher

Alex's research interests centre on understanding the geochemical and isotopic evolution of the mantle the Earth's largest silicate reservoir. As part of the Habitable Planet project, Alex will use stable isotopes to constrain the transfer of oxidized components within subduction zones, from the down-going oceanic slab, to the sub-arc mantle and ultimately into the erupted magmas. At Durham he has been refining methods to make ultra-high precision double spike Mo isotope measurements in low concentration samples. This information will be coupled with other stable and traditional isotopic data to track the transfer of redox components in the mantle wedge.

Dr. Musarrat Mohammed

Postdoctoral Research Assistant

Dr. Amy Riches

Marie Curie Research Fellow

Rocks and their constituents act as windows into the history of our planet. Meteorites and returned lunar samples offer clues about other bodies in our Solar System. As an avid petrological detective and isotope geochemist, fortunate in working with highly-skilled colleagues/collaborators, I seek to unravel these rocky stories. I possess broad expertise in geochemistry, which includes analyses of platinum-group-elements and osmium isotope ratios, and seek to push the boundaries of the small-scales at which such studies are conducted.

Dr. Paul Savage

Marie Curie Research Fellow

My principal research interests lie in the development of non-traditional stable isotope systems to further our understanding of the composition of, and processes that occur within, the silicate reservoirs of terrestrial planets. In particular, my research to date has focussed on the silicon, copper and zinc isotope systems. The development and application of new analytical techniques has allowed, for the first time, the means to investigate the small but significant isotopic variations that exist in these systems in high temperature and extraterrestrial systems.

Dr. Daniel Viete

Junior Research Fellow

Postgraduate Students

Abbey Corbin

Supervisors: Prof. Fred Worrall, Prof. Chris Greenwell

(MPhil) The wrong colour water - the problem of low concentrations of dissolved organic carbon in mine waters

Andrew Dobrzanski

Supervisors: Prof. Fred Worrall and Prof. Jon Gluyas

(MPhil) Realising the CO2 sequestration potential of steel and ironmaking slags.

Catherine Gallagher

Supervisors: Dr. Richie Brown and Prof. Kevin Burton

(PhD) Isotope tracing of carbon sequestration in basalt

Blanca Racionero Gómez

Supervisors: Dr. Darren Gröcke and Prof. Chris Greenwell

(MScR) Rhenium and Osmium in brown macroalgae (Fucus vesiculosus)

It has been observed that living brown macroalgae concentrate Rhenium (Re) and Osmium (Os). Re is uptaken by Fucus vesiculosus up to many thousands of times the background level of Re in seawater. The current project seeks to examine how and why these elements end up into the seaweed, which is the limit uptake and how the mechanism works (i.e. is it active or passive). Studying this will allow us to see if the macroalgae can be used as a source of phytomining and to improve our understanding of the Re and Os cycles.

Scott Hawley

Supervisors: Prof. Kevin Burton, Dr. Helen Williams

(PhD) Quantifying the impact of anthropogenic platinum group elements in the environment

I study the behaviour of iron as it transported from rocks into the ocean via weathering processess. I am specifically interested in how this behaviour differs between rocks weathered under glacial and glacial conditions. Iron is a limiting nutrient for life in large areas of the ocean thereby controlling not only marine biology but also the Earth's climate. As climatic changes also have a direct impact on glaciation this research aims to unlock a significant feeback mechanism which helps control Earth's climate.

This project is part of the MetTrans (Transition Metals in the Environment) Network supported by the European Union.

Kate Horan

Supervisors: Prof. Kevin Burton and Dr. Bob Hilton

(PhD) Atmospheric CO2 supplied by weathering of fossil organic carbon

The Earth is host to many distinct carbon reservoirs within the ocean, atmosphere and terrestrial biosphere. These reservoirs exchange and interact with each other in biological, chemical and physical processes over various timescales as part of the carbon cycle. Such interactions and feedbacks are an integral part of Earth System processes. They lay out the foundations for the evolution of Earth’s climate and habitability and consequently are critical to life.

Kate’s research will focus on the weathering of fossil organic carbon in actively eroding river catchments and glacial outwash plains. It will explore how the flux of carbon dioxide from this currently unresolved carbon source is dependent upon erosion rates. With this aim in mind, the project will use an integrated approach, combining detailed field observations such as hydrometric monitoring and remote-sensing with novel geochemical laboratory analyses of the redox sensitive elements molybdenum and rhenium. Ultimately, the results from the project are expected to have global implications for understanding the release of carbon dioxide to the atmosphere and carbon budgets over glacial-interglacial cycles.

Edward Inglis

Supervisors: Dr. Helen Williams, Prof. Kevin Burton, Dr. Geoff Nowell

(PhD) Tracking element recycling into the mantle wedge and beyond: New insights from novel Se and Fe isotopes

My PhD seeks to characterise recycling of elements from the terrestrial realm into the mantle wedge and beyond. To address this broad topic I am developing the use of non traditional isotopic tracers, such as Se, which is believed could serve as a proxy for S and thus as a potential oxidant in the mantle wedge. In addition to this I am working to characterise fluids generated in the subduction zone, either occurring as a result of slab dehydration or as sediment hosted, marine pore waters. It is hoped that by gaining better understanding of these fluids, we can assess the potential for these to be subducted to depth and thus exert a control on element cycling into the mantle.

Robert "Bob" Jamieson

Supervisors: Dr. James Baldini, Prof. Colin Macpherson

(PhD) Reconstructing palaeo-hurricane activity using the geochemistry of Central American and Caribbean stalagmites over the last millennium.

Bob’s general area of interest is in the application of proxy measurements to palaeoclimatic reconstruction. He is particularly interested in high-resolution archives and the development of novel techniques and applications. His work in the Glasgow Molecular Organic Geochemistry Laboratory (GMOL) allowed him to work with biomarker proxies in both Lake and Ocean sediment archives and perform chemical extractions coupled with Gas Chromatograph measurement and Gas Chromatograph Mass Spectrometry Identification. His Masters thesis work and PhD are aimed at allowing me to gain familiarity with δ18O and δ13C measurement techniques and their application to palaeoclimate reconstruction. Novel uses of δ18O techniques such as those utilized to reconstruct past storm events are of particular interest, as they allow an increasing amount of information to be extracted from suitable archives. One of the key foci of his early PhD work is in the application of trace element geochemistry in speleothems for paleoclimate reconstruction. High resolution ICP-MS analysis of speleothem calcite allows the extraction of useful information about the hydrology of karst water systems.

Rikan Kareem

Supervisors: Prof. Chris Greenwell, Prof. Jon Gluyas

(PhD) Nano Geochemistry of Low Salinity Enhanced Oil Recovery

The World’s energy demand will grow by more than one – third over the period to 2035 according to the 2012 IEA’s World Energy Outlook report. For this reason, this research is an extension of research studies conducted on low salinity waterflooding EOR method to optimize oil yields from mature fields in order to meet the increasing demand for energy and maintain economic growth. Although, low salinity waterflooding EOR is a promising method for recovering further oil, there still remains a number of fundamental questions to be answer regarding the way his technique works, and how to enable the optimisation of low salinity waterflooding EOR deployment. This project is the first attempt to address the key factors underpinning low salinity waterflooding EOR studying, the ways these factors impact on clay mineral surface chemistry, interlayer water and clay-oil interaction based on understanding the nature of the clay-oil interactions, and ascertain how different cations affect the oil/water and oil/clay structure from the experimental studies in order to fully understanding what is happening in the reservoir during the low salinity waterflooding.

Junjie Liu

Supervisor: Dr. David Selby

(PhD) Petroleum genesis, expulsion, migration or trapping: understanding Re-Os dating using well-constrained case studies

My projects aim to identify process(es) responsible for Re-Os geochronometer resetting and Re-Os chemical fractionation during petroleum genesis, expulsion, migration and trapping. By comparing Re-Os data of an in-situ and a migrated oil of a similar maturity from the same source, critical insights concerning the transfer of Re and Os from the source phase to oil, Re-Os fractionation and secondary processes possibly affecting the Re-Os systematics will be provided. The effect of contacting with water on Re-Os system will also be explored by comparing two oils from the same kitchen but with different distances from the oil-water contact.

Zeyang Liu

Supervisors: Dr. David Selby, Dr. Chris Greenwell

(PhD) Controls of Re and Os abundance and fractionation in petroleum source rocks and Re-Os geochronology on Devonian Strata of the Western Canada Sedimentary Basin

(J.A.M) Fienke Nanne

Supervisors: Dr. Helen Williams, Prof. Kevin Burton, Dr. Chris Dale

(PhD) Determining the oxidation state of the Earth's mantle using platinum group elements and their isotopes

My PhD project is part of the Habitable Planet project led by Helen Williams with a specific focus on the fractionation of stable Osmium (Os) isotopes within the Earth's mantle. The first stage of the project will involve the development of a new geochemical tool to determine stable Os isotope fractionation by multicollector mass spectrometry. Secondly, the method will be applied to multiple different mantle reservoirs to characterize the stable Os signature of the Earth's mantle. These data will be used to place constrains on secular variations in oxidation state and melting that have defined the evolution of Earth's mantle.

Victoria Pinner

Supervisors: Prof. C Greenwell and Prof. Fred Worrall

(MScR) Use of ochre to prepare layered double hydroxides to maximise phosphate capture

Katharina Schweitzer

Supervisors: Prof. Kevin Burton, Dr. Geoff Nowell

(PhD) Siderophile element systematics and Hf-Os isotope signatures of carbonatites: insights into the oigin of Earth's most unusual lavas

Adam Sproson

Supervisors: Prof. Dave Selby, Prof. David Harper, Dr. Howard Armstrong

(PhD) Palaezoic continental-atmosphere-ocean interactions: Insights for global implications from osmium isotopes

The proposed project will investigate global Silurian and Devonian Strata, principally at global type stage boundaries and correlated sections:

  1. To establish an Os isotope composition record for the Silurian and Devonian.
  2. To establish the controls of changes in the Os isotope record.
  3. To establish any possible relationships between the Os isotope composition and:
    • Mass extinctions
    • Global colonization of vegetation
    • Glaciations
    • Changes in atmosphere composition
  4. These objectives will permit the following to be established:
    • An improved understanding of Palaeozoic geological Events
    • Global chemostratigraphic markers to support carbon and Sr isotope, and other isotope data sets.

Thomas Underwood

Supervisors: Prof. Chris Greenwell and Prof. Mark Wilson

(PhD) Understanding the molecular basis for low salinity enhanced oil recovery through molecular simulation

The aim of the project is to bring clarity to the fundamental mechanisms behind low salinity enhanced oil recovery (LoSal EOR), a technique where sea water, partially desalinated, is used to push increasing amounts of crude oil from existing, and future, oil reservoirs, increasing the reservoir lifetime and overall production. To investigate the properties of varying salt concentration with regards to EOR I shall be running large–scale molecular level computer simulations of clay–salt–water–organic interactions.

Li Yang

Supervisors: Prof. Dave Selby, Prof. Colin Macpherson, Prof. Jianwei Li

(PhD) Precious metal enrichment of ore systems

My research focuses on developing and applications of ultra-precise Re–Os geochronology of sulfides (specifically molybdenite) in ore deposits, with specific focus on porphyry systems. As such this research will focus on the largest Chinese porphyry Cu–Mo system, QuLong in Tibet. This research will also involve U–Pb zircon CA–ID–TIMS geochronology and stable isotope (O) analysis to better understand the ore forming processes of porphyry copper systems to understand the P–T–X–t path of porphyry copper systems.