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Perth PhD students utilise Waikato University equipment

13 August 2012

Perth PhD students utilise Waikato University science equipment

Two PhD students from Perth’s Curtin University have been at the University of Waikato over the past month, using unique equipment from the Department of Earth & Ocean Sciences.

Liping Liu and Ni Tao have been using the Helium Extraction Line and the Fission Track Microscope alongside Waikato Senior Research Fellow Martin Danisik.

“Both pieces of equipment are rare, and Waikato University is only one of two universities in the Southern Hemisphere, and one of few worldwide, to have both pieces of equipment in one location,” says Martin Danisik.

Liping and Ni are working within the same research group, on projects which include using the University of Waikato equipment to test mineral samples to find out how long ago they reached the Earth’s surface.

Liping’s research is looking at how rocks that were formed at extremely high pressures (>3 GPa) more than 100 kilometres deep in the Earth’s interior, came to the surface.

“The discovery of the ultra-high pressure rocks alone has revolutionized our understanding of plate tectonics. But using modern techniques available at the University of Waikato we can now measure when and how 'quickly' the rocks travelled from those incredible depths through the Earth's crust to the surface. The information from these rare rocks not only helps us as geologists to quantify tempo of tectonic plate movements, but also provides a window to see what is happening in the Earth’s mantle, hundreds of kilometres deep," says Martin.

Ni’s research is focused on samples taken from South East China, where scientists believe there was once a huge basin, which is of critical importance for understanding the geological evolution of southern China. At present there is little evidence to prove this theory correct and Ni has taken on the challenge of piecing together whether the basin did exist. She completed an extensive field trip, collecting samples at various locations, from an area over 500,000 square km in size. Some of Ni’s samples were taken from Zhangjiajie National Forest Park, an area believed to have been part of the basin. Rumour has it that this area’s stunning landscape inspired the directors to create the floating Hallelujah Mountains seen in the Avatar film.

Both the Helium Extraction Line and the Fission Track Microscope analyse apatite and zircon minerals and are used in tandem to cross check results and guarantee that measurements are accurate and will stand the test of time. The equipment is used throughout the year by students at Waikato University who are part of Professor Peter Kamp’s Earth Sciences research team.

Liping and Ni have enjoyed their time in New Zealand and describe one of the cultural highlights as attending the Chiefs vs Crusaders rugby semi-final at Waikato Stadium.

Before heading back to Perth the girls will attend the 13th International Thermochronology Conference in China, accompanied by Martin, and Waikato staff Professor Peter Kamp and Ganqing Xu. The conference is focused on the methodological development and applications of the helium and fission track dating techniques. Here Liping and Ni will present their fresh, high-quality results generated at the University of Waikato.


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