The University of Western Australia has doubled its capacity to help find new mineral ore deposits through funding for a new NanoSIMS imaging and analysis facility announced yesterday by Federal Innovation, Industry Science and Research Minister Kim Carr.
The equipment is part of a new Advanced Resource Characterisation Facility (ARCF) in Perth announced by Senator Carr. The ARCF will receive a grant of $12.4 million from the Science and Industry Endowment Fund (SIEF).
The new Facility is being developed as part of the National Resource Sciences Precinct, a partnership between UWA, CSIRO and Curtin University that aims to position Perth as a global centre for minerals and energy research.
The SIEF grant, made jointly to the collaborators, will support the installation of 3 new pieces of equipment: the NanoSIMS to be located at UWA; a Maia Mapper at CSIRO and a Geosciences Atom Probe at Curtin University.
The Acting Director of UWA's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis (CMCA), Associate Professor Peta Clode, said the NanoSIMS worked by bombarding samples with high-energy ion beams.
"These secondary ion mass spectrometry instruments measure near-surface chemistry and can differentiate isotopes of the same element (for example, carbon-12 and carbon-13 that differ by only one neutron)," Associate Professor Clode said.
"This new NanoSIMS is highly automated meaning it will be more productive for determining trace elements of ore deposits, such as gold in rock, which in turn means industry can mine more efficiently and gain higher production yields.
"It will improve productivity for future mineral exploration as well as optimising production from known deposits," Associate Professor Clode said.
Between UWA, CSIRO and Curtin, the National Resource Sciences Precinct already hosts more than 900 research staff and is supported by research infrastructure worth more than $700 million.
UWA's CMCA operates more than 45 instruments with a value of almost $50 million. The instruments, as well as academic research and technical support and guidance, are made available to more than 400 users based locally, interstate and internationally. The two current ion mass spectrometry instruments currently available through CMCA (the first NanoSIMS, which was installed in 2003, and a 1280 ion probe installed in 2009) are used for research exploration in the mining and resource industry.
UWA is one of the only universities in the world that will have three world-class ion mass spectrometry instruments working together, enabling researchers to compare similar and contrasting results with precise outcomes.
"UWA and CMCA look forward to continuing to support researchers in delivering further cutting edge instruments and technique development to the Australian resources sector," Associate Professor Clode said.