Geosciences Research

The USU Geoscience Department is committed to a broad spectrum of research emphases. With top of the line tools and facilities, both faculty and students are able to make new discoveries about the world around us.

Major Research Emphases

Analytical Labs

USU Luminescence Lab

The Luminescence Geochronology Laboratory is unique in the state of Utah and is one of only six in the western US. The Luminescence Lab is equipped with two automated TL/OSL dating systems (Risø TL/OSL-DA-20A/B), the latest generation luminescence reader, with a laser-driven single-grain attachment that allows for the dating of individual sand grains. The lab has all the facilities needed for OSL analysis including a dedicated sample preparation lab under constant amber safe-light conditions, which includes a HF-certified fume hood, centrifuge, drying oven, de-ionized water system, full set of sieves, and the required acids and heavy liquids for sample processing. The Luminescence lab is also equipped with a field portable gamma spectrometer for in-situ dose-rate measurements and an AMS hand auger system for core sample collection. The Luminescence Laboratory is directed by Geology Professor Tammy Rittenour.

Optically Stimulated Luminesence

Mineral Microscopy and Raman Lab

Micro-Raman spectroscopy is a useful analytical tool for studying minerals in thin section. The advantages of this technique as a structural probe for analysis of micron-size minerals are demonstrated with a study of polymorphism of SiO2 and MgSiO3.

Three polymorphs of silica, 𝝰-quartz, coesite, and glass, in a thin section of Coconino sandstone were identified in situ with a Raman microprobe. The Raman spectra of these phases were compared to that measured for stishovite obtained from the same rock. Spectra of protoenstatite, orthoenstatite, and clinoenstatite, three polymorphs of MgSiO3, are consistent with their similar pyroxene chain structures but different space groups. The characteristic Raman spectra in each instance could be used for "finger-printing" identification of the phases and their orientations.

Stable-Isotope Lab

Light stable isotopes are analyzed via two instruments – a ThermoFisher Scientific Delta V Advantage Isotope Ratio Mass Spectrometer (IRMS) with a Gasbench II Interface and Costech 4010 Elemental Analyzer and a Picarro G110-I Cavity Ring-Down Spectrometer with AutoMate Sampler. The former is for research-grade analyses of stable isotopes of C, H, O and N. The Picarro is configured for stable carbon isotope analyses and is capable of real-time analyses of carbon isotopes in the laboratory or field.  For more information, please contact the Dennis Newell Stable Isotope Laboratory.


The Agilent 8900 Triple-Quadrupole ICP-MS is an instrument that can analyze elemental abundances and ratios, and some isotope systems at extremely high precision and low detection limits. Samples are introduced either dissolved in acidic solutions or via a laser ablation system. The 8900's QQQ tandem mass spectrometer architecture uses two sequential quadrupole mass analyzers with a collision/reaction cell in between. This ground-breaking technology allows unprecedented avoidance of tricky isobaric and polyatomic interferences by reacting either analytes or interfering ions with reactive gases (e.g. hydrogen, oxygen). The 8900 is mostly used to measure trace elements in microfossils (e.g. foraminifera) and whole-rock digests.

X-ray Lab

The X-Ray Analysis Laboratory is equipped with a Panalytical PW2400 XRF Spectrometer with 60 KV Rh tube, 3.0 KW power rating, 3 detectors, and complete sample preparation facilities for major and trace element analyses, as well as software for data reduction and a range of USGS and international rock standards. The lab also includes a Panalytical X’Pert Pro X-ray Diffraction Spectrometer with monochromatic Cu K-alpha radiation, using the High Score software program to index peaks and identify minerals.