Thin Sectioning Equipment for Multi-Disciplinary Research in Engineering and the Geosciences

Lead Research Organisation: Queen's University of Belfast
Department Name: Sch Planning Architecture and Civil Eng

Abstract

SummaryThin sectioning of soil, geological and engineering materials is an important investigative tool. Within Queen's University Belfast (QUB), for example, it is already used to study 1) contamination in soil, 2) weathering and durability of natural rocks and stone and other materials such as concrete used in construction, 3) geomaterials in a forensic context and 4) to characterise across a wide range of both traditional and novel engineering materials. Increasingly, thin and polished sections are also examined by electron microscopy, both for fabric analysis using backscatter and chemically using EDS (energy dispersive x-ray analysis). Advances in X-ray diffraction also allow the mapping and quantification of surface and near surface mineralogy by multiple spot analyses across polished surfaces. Thin and polished sections are thus an extremely effective cross-disciplinary tool that is not only invaluable in its traditional format, but has the potential to unlock a range of additional analyses. It is for these reasons that it features strongly in the arsenal of techniques already employed in the engineering and geoscience research at QUB. In both laboratories, the present equipment is serviceable, but is reaching the end of its working life and in some instances is not amenable to the wider research goals. The success of the two research groups has, for example, not simply demanded more thin sections but has also required the development of new techniques for increasing non-traditional materials. The request is not, therefore, for a direct replacement, but for the opportunity to upgrade facilities. To automate where possible, but also to develop techniques and protocols for the impregnation of structurally weak and often chemically complex materials in a manner that facilitates quantitative analysis of morphology, chemistry and, where appropriate, mineralogy. The bid is also designed specifically to synergistically build on the expertise available in the two research groups by concentrating impregnation development in Engineering and the mechanics of section preparation in Geography. The intention is also that this will cement strong research links between the two groups that already exist through joint EPSRC funding and further strengthen their focus on interdisciplinary solutions for a range of applied and theoretical issues. The recent appointments of Dr. Phillips who is a micromorphologist and environmental engineer and Dr. McKinley who is a geologist and spatial analyst have stimulated a requirement for taking thin and polished section analysis beyond existing capabilities in the Schools of Planning, Architecture and Civil Engineering; and Geography Archaeology and Paleoecology at QUB. Additionally, this new state-of-the-art thin sectioning equipment will allow QUB to become a regional facility for making thin sections of a variety of materials.

Publications

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Phillips DH (2015) Distribution of uranium and thorium in dolomitic gravel fill and shale saprolite. in Journal of hazardous materials

 
Description A greater knowledge in developing and designing landfill caps that are used to protect the environment from harmful materials such as nuclear waste.

A better understanding of novel materials and their durability used in permeable reactive barriers.

A greater understanding of the fate, transport and containment of contaminants in the environment.

A better understanding on how building materials especially on historic buildings, monuments weather and are impacted by climate change.

Understanding better the properties of sustainable concrete and how it reacts in the environment.
Exploitation Route The contributions are mainly from studying thin sections of material created on the thin sectioning equipment grant. In many studies that are based on these novel materials, the microscopic information is overlooked or not studied because researchers are unsure how to approach studying the material via microscopy. The detail provided by the microscopic studies helps to connect the field investigations with chemical, physical and other laboratory analysis. Also, in some of the studies new methods of analysis and preparations of the materials for microscopic analysis were designed and used.
Sectors Agriculture, Food and Drink,Chemicals,Construction,Environment,Manufacturing, including Industrial Biotechology,Culture, Heritage, Museums and Collections,Other

 
Description Crack formation in simulated landfill caps under climate change conditions that could be used to protect nuclear waste were studied via soil thin sections made by equipment bought by the EPSRC soil thin sectioning grant. The finding will go into designing and developing stronger landfill caps and materials to help pretect the environment from stored nuclear materials.
First Year Of Impact 2012
Sector Environment,Other
Impact Types Societal,Policy & public services

 
Description Nuclear Decommissioning Authority PhD Studentship
Amount £82,242 (GBP)
Organisation Nuclear Decommissioning Authority NDA 
Sector Public
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2007 
 
Description United Kingdom-India Education and Research Initiative
Amount £52,000 (GBP)
Organisation UK-India Education and Research Initiative (UKIERI) 
Sector Academic/University
Country United Kingdom
Start 09/2013 
End 09/2016
 
Description Fate and Transport of Uranium and Mercury in the Shallow Subsurface 
Organisation Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution My role in this collaboration was conducting numerous field and laboratory analysis in relation to field properties, geochemistry and mineralogy of the soil and geological material. The thin sectioning and microscopic equipment funded by the EPSRC thin sectioning equipment grant was used greatly in this project.
Collaborator Contribution ORNL UHK, and Stanford made major contributions in the areas of microbiology, hydrogeology and geochemistry in this collaboration.
Impact A number of papers have been published in high impact journals. This collaboration is long-term and multi-disciplinary (i.e. geochemistry, hydrogeology, microbiology, soil science, geology) Miller, C.L., D.B. Watson, B. Lester, J. Howe, and D.H. Phillips, L. Liang, K. Lowe, E. Pierce. 2015. Formation of mercury oxide coatings: fate of liquid mercury beads in soils. Environmental Science and Technology. 49: 12105-12111. Phillips, D.H., and D.B. Watson. 2015. Distribution of uranium and thorium in dolomitic gravel and shale saprolite. Journal of Hazardous Material. 285: 474-482. Phillips, D.H., D.B. Watson, S.D. Kelly, D. Ravel, and K.M. Kemner. 2008. Deposition of uranium precipitates in dolomitic gravel fill. Environmental Science and Technology. 42:7104-7110. Kelly, S.D, K. M. Kemner, J. Carley, C. Criddle, P. M. Jardine, T. L. Marsh, D. H. Phillips, D. B. Watson, and W-M.Wu. 2008. Speciation of uranium in sediments before and after in situ bioreduction. Environmental Science and Technology. 42:1558-1564.
 
Description Fate and Transport of Uranium and Mercury in the Shallow Subsurface 
Organisation Stanford University
Department Department of Civil and Environmental Engineering
Country United States 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My role in this collaboration was conducting numerous field and laboratory analysis in relation to field properties, geochemistry and mineralogy of the soil and geological material. The thin sectioning and microscopic equipment funded by the EPSRC thin sectioning equipment grant was used greatly in this project.
Collaborator Contribution ORNL UHK, and Stanford made major contributions in the areas of microbiology, hydrogeology and geochemistry in this collaboration.
Impact A number of papers have been published in high impact journals. This collaboration is long-term and multi-disciplinary (i.e. geochemistry, hydrogeology, microbiology, soil science, geology) Miller, C.L., D.B. Watson, B. Lester, J. Howe, and D.H. Phillips, L. Liang, K. Lowe, E. Pierce. 2015. Formation of mercury oxide coatings: fate of liquid mercury beads in soils. Environmental Science and Technology. 49: 12105-12111. Phillips, D.H., and D.B. Watson. 2015. Distribution of uranium and thorium in dolomitic gravel and shale saprolite. Journal of Hazardous Material. 285: 474-482. Phillips, D.H., D.B. Watson, S.D. Kelly, D. Ravel, and K.M. Kemner. 2008. Deposition of uranium precipitates in dolomitic gravel fill. Environmental Science and Technology. 42:7104-7110. Kelly, S.D, K. M. Kemner, J. Carley, C. Criddle, P. M. Jardine, T. L. Marsh, D. H. Phillips, D. B. Watson, and W-M.Wu. 2008. Speciation of uranium in sediments before and after in situ bioreduction. Environmental Science and Technology. 42:1558-1564.
 
Description Fate and Transport of Uranium and Mercury in the Shallow Subsurface 
Organisation University of Hong Kong
Department Department of Civil Engineering
Country Hong Kong 
Sector Academic/University 
PI Contribution My role in this collaboration was conducting numerous field and laboratory analysis in relation to field properties, geochemistry and mineralogy of the soil and geological material. The thin sectioning and microscopic equipment funded by the EPSRC thin sectioning equipment grant was used greatly in this project.
Collaborator Contribution ORNL UHK, and Stanford made major contributions in the areas of microbiology, hydrogeology and geochemistry in this collaboration.
Impact A number of papers have been published in high impact journals. This collaboration is long-term and multi-disciplinary (i.e. geochemistry, hydrogeology, microbiology, soil science, geology) Miller, C.L., D.B. Watson, B. Lester, J. Howe, and D.H. Phillips, L. Liang, K. Lowe, E. Pierce. 2015. Formation of mercury oxide coatings: fate of liquid mercury beads in soils. Environmental Science and Technology. 49: 12105-12111. Phillips, D.H., and D.B. Watson. 2015. Distribution of uranium and thorium in dolomitic gravel and shale saprolite. Journal of Hazardous Material. 285: 474-482. Phillips, D.H., D.B. Watson, S.D. Kelly, D. Ravel, and K.M. Kemner. 2008. Deposition of uranium precipitates in dolomitic gravel fill. Environmental Science and Technology. 42:7104-7110. Kelly, S.D, K. M. Kemner, J. Carley, C. Criddle, P. M. Jardine, T. L. Marsh, D. H. Phillips, D. B. Watson, and W-M.Wu. 2008. Speciation of uranium in sediments before and after in situ bioreduction. Environmental Science and Technology. 42:1558-1564.
 
Description Landfill Cap Models under Simulated Climate Change Precipitation 
Organisation National Nuclear Laboratory
Country United Kingdom 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution My PhD student and I studied the crack formation in simulated landfill cap soils using field evaluations and soil thin sections. The soil thin sections were made with the equipment bought by the EPSRC thin sectioning grant.
Collaborator Contribution The collaborator from NNL is a landfill cap expert modeller and help us with the design of the cap.
Impact A couple of papers have been published. Sinnathamby, G., D.H. Phillips, V. Sivakumar, and A. Paksy. 2014. Landfill cap models under simulated climate change precipitation: impacts of desiccation cracks and root growth on hydraulic conductivity. Geotechnique. 64 :95-107. Phillips, D.H., G. Sinnathamby, M.I Russell, C. Anderson, and A. Paksy. 2011. Mineralogy of selected geological deposits from the Republic of Ireland and the United Kingdom for possible use as landfill capping materials for low-level radioactive waste facilities. Applied Clay Science. 53:395-401.
Start Year 2008
 
Description Linking Terrain and Hydrology to Soil Chemistry, Microbial Communities and Seasonal Variation in CO2 Concentrations 
Organisation Oak Ridge National Laboratory
Country United States 
Sector Public 
PI Contribution I have made major contributions to field investigations, and soii micromorphological, chemical, and mineralogical analysis. Soil thin sectioning and microscopic analysis was carried out using the equipment upgraded by the EPSRC thin sectioning grant.
Collaborator Contribution ORNL made major contributions to field investigations, chemical and microbiological analysis.
Impact A presentation has been given at an AGU meeting and a paper is being drafted. This is a muti-disciplinary study (i.e. geochemistry, soil science, geology, hydrology, microbiology) Watson, D.B., S.C. Brooks, C.W. Schadt, G. Tang, N. Collier, J.E. Earles, T. Mehlhorn, K.A. Lowe, C. Brandt, Z.K. Yang, D.H. Phillips, P. Li, and F. Yuan, 2014. Linking watershed terrain and hydrology to soil chemical properties, microbial communities and impacts on soil organic C in a humid mid-latitude forested watershed. AGU Fall Meeting San Francisco Dec 15-19, 2014.
Start Year 2013