Geochronology and Isotope Geochemistry Laboratory

The Geochronology and Isotope Geochemistry Lab at UNC is a fully functional geochemistry laboratory overseen by Dr. Drew Coleman and Dr. Paul Fullagar (emeritus). The lab operates continuously in support of student, faculty and external user research. University, local, national and international researchers regularly use the lab. Current Research in the Lab

Mass Spectrometer


The centerpiece of the geochemistry lab is the thermal ionization mass spectrometer (TIMS). The VG Sector 54 is a fully automated mass spectrometer with eight adjustable faraday cups and a Daly ion-counting photomultiplier system.

We routinely analyze isotopes of Sr, Rb, Nd, Pb, and U from rocks, minerals, water, sediments, fossils, and biogenic materials. Isotope geochemical analyses are conducted in support of a variety of projects by UNC students and faculty, as well as by guest researchers from other institutions. The lab also runs samples under contract from outside organizations.

Clean Labs

The mass spectrometer and sample preparation facilities are housed in a class-1000 clean lab. The lab contains supporting electronics and computing for the mass spectrometer. Additionally, seven class 100 vented-hood workstations are available for sample preparation and column chemistry (for isolation of elements for analysis). Additionally, the clean lab houses facilities for geochemical work with acids, including whole-rock dissolution and etching/staining.

The entire 3-room lab facility is pressurized and contains a Milli-Q water purification system. Cleaning protocols for the lab and equipment are rigorously maintained to reduce contamination.

Zircon Lab


At UNC, much work has been done using zircon geochronology to enhance understanding of the rates of geologic  processes. The UNC Geology Department maintains a separate lab facility specifically for working with zircons for U-Pb dating. The Zircon lab is a class 100 clean lab with facilities geared towards the separation and preparation of zircons in an ultra-clean environment.

Support Labs

The UNC Geochemistry Lab includes a suite of support labs focused on sample preparation and maintenance. The rock preparation room contains equipment for density separation of minerals using heavy liquids, as well as magnetic separation equipment. The lab also includes facilities for the degassing of mass-spectrometer filaments and furnaces for the heating of whole-rock bombs.

The rock-crushing lab contains standard rock-crushing equipment including a shatterbox, disk mill, and jaw crushers, as well as other preparation equipment such as a diamond rock saw.

Preparation equipment such as optical microscopes with video display and mineral picking capabilities are also available.

Other Facilities

Researchers in the UNC Geochemistry Lab receive access to the full array of equipment available in the UNC Department of Geological Sciences. Access to the scanning electron microscope is particularly useful for mineral identification and semi-quantitative analysis. Additionally we installed an x-ray fluorescence spectromertry lab with all the necessary supporting equipment in summer 2009.

For additional information about our Geochronology and Isotope Geochemistry facilities contact:

Dr. Drew Coleman
Department of Geological Sciences
325 Mitchell Hall, CB#3315
University of North Carolina
Chapel Hill, NC 27599-3315
email: dcoleman at
telephone: (919) 962-0705
fax: (919) 966-4519