ECM Faculty Focus
A world-first imaging and analysis facility with the ability to search for evidence of the earliest life on Earth, help find new ore deposits, and detect weapons-grade uranium in minute dust particles has been opened at The University of Western Australia.
The only one of its kind in the Southern Hemisphere and one of only 15 worldwide, the new ion microprobe joins a complementary instrument at UWA. Nowhere else in the world are two such instruments located together.
The Ion Probe Facility, launched on Friday, 28th of August, by the Federal Minister for Innovation, Industry, Science and Research, Senator Kim Carr, houses the two instruments, both of which are flagships of the $39 million national Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF).
UWA Vice-Chancellor, Professor Alan Robson, said the Cameca IMS 1280 would enable the University to extend beyond its existing record of scientific achievement to reach new levels of international excellence for the benefit of the whole community.
"The microprobe provides a rare opportunity to develop novel techniques for looking at the origin of the Earth, the Moon, and life on Earth," Professor Robson said.
Director of UWA's Centre for Microscopy, Characterisation and Analysis, Winthrop Professor David Sampson, said the machines worked by bombarding samples with high-energy ion beams.
"These instruments perform ‘secondary ion mass spectrometry' - they measure near surface chemistry and can differentiate isotopes of the same element (for example, carbon-12 and carbon-13, that only differ by one neutron) with minimal preparation of the samples," Professor Sampson said.
"The NanoSIMS does this with exquisite nanometre spatial resolution and is used primarily for chemical mapping. The IMS 1280 is optimised for exquisite sensitivity and precision at the expense of spatial resolution, so the two instruments complement each other."
Built in France, the $6 million, 7.5 tonne IMS 1280 had to be flown to Adelaide because of freight restrictions at Perth Airport. From there it was trucked over the Nullarbor in 12 crates. Then each component had to be lifted by crane to the first floor of the Centre, which had been reinforced with steel beams to take its weight.
Janine MacDonald (UWA Public Affairs) (+61 8) 6488 5563 / (+61 4) 32 637 716