Campus: CSU Long Beach -- October 11, 2002

CSU Campuses Share $170,000 National Science Foundation Grant

The fluid evolution of the earth’s crust and origins of valuable deposits are just a few of the areas that geological sciences faculty members at the California State University, Long Beach and Fullerton campuses will be able to study with a new mass spectrometer funded by a $170,000 grant from the National Science Foundation (NSF).

Samples of materials such as rocks, minerals or water are placed into the gas-source isotope-ratio mass spectrometer, which will be located at a new laboratory at CSULB, said Gregory J. Holk, grant team leader. Other faculty members on the team are James C. Sample and Richard J. Behl, as well as Diane Clemens-Knott of Cal State Fullerton.

Scientists can learn a great deal about an area’s geological history by examining the chemical signatures of tested materials.

“My area of expertise is stable isotope geochemistry and the type of research I do involves understanding the role of aqueous fluids in the evolution of the earth’s crust,” explained Holk. “One aspect of these studies is the investigation of the movement of water through faults and its effect on their behavior, so there are some implications with regard to the earthquake process—how earthquakes happen and what sorts of conditions are necessary for an earthquake to happen.”

He also studies where such water comes from in the first place—from underground or percolating from above. The new mass spectrometer will enable him to examine not only ground water but also water encased in rocks and minerals.

“Much of my research deals with mapping hydrothermal systems associated with ore deposits,” Holk added. “The mining companies have to drill a lot of holes to look for the ore and drilling costs are about $50,000 per hole. This stable isotope technique removes one step from that guessing game in that a stable isotope survey of an area that has high potential for mineralization can delineate the areas of highest potential. The cost of such a survey is about the same as one drill hole.” Furthermore, reducing the amount of drilling has environmental benefits.

Holk and Clemens-Knott of Fullerton were doctoral classmates at Cal Tech and she will play an integral role in the new lab. “She has gas extraction facilities at Fullerton. These facilities supplement those recently built at CSULB. Before a sample is ready for mass spectrometry, rigorous chemical separation work is done in the laboratory,” said Holk. “Dr. Clemens-Knott will be bringing her samples over here for analysis. She’s done a lot of work with ground water in Orange County. She works primarily on magmatic systems, how magmas and fluids interact with each other.”

“We would like to open up the instrument for collaboration with faculty from other CSU universities,” said Holk. CSULB has or is acquiring a variety of research instruments, including a new NSF-funded scanning electron microscope. “If we pool our resources together, we have the potential on a university scale to have instrumentation comparable to the big research universities. Our goal is to coordinate our efforts to have a center for analysis that scientists can utilize,” he explained.

Furthermore, much of the equipment may be available for use by undergraduate as well as graduate science students. The NSF recognizes CSULB as a significant provider of hands-on research opportunities for undergraduate students and rates Long Beach one of the top master’s level universities whose students go on to earn doctoral degrees in science and engineering.

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