Virginia Tech® home

Research Facilities

The Department of Geosciences houses a variety of laboratories, instrumentation, and computational resources. Our students, researchers, and faculty also have access to a variety research facilities located on the Virginia Tech campus.


Below you will find a listing and details of the research facilities utilized by our department, as well as contact information for those facilities.

Laser Ablation System coupled to Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometer located in the Fluids Research Laboratory.

This four room complex (see sidebar image) houses facilities to conduct kinetic and thermodynamic studies of mineral-water interactions in biogeochemical and inorganic systems. Equipment includes an AFM with capabilities for flow-through and in situ measurements of nanoscale reaction processes at mineral surfaces and examinations of membranes (microbe-mineral interactions). The computer laboratory has machines for image analysis, structural and chemical speciation modeling. Other specialized equipment includes a Spin-Caster for wafer processing and thin film nano-deposition, incubators, a -20°C freezer, a Class A Biological Safety cabinet, a high throughput modular temperature controlled ultracentrifuge, reactor systems, and standard wet laboratory facilities. We utilize other facilities across campus including access to Circular Dicroism Spectropolarimeter to study static and dynamic biomolecules and synthetic molecules liquid phase secondary structure conformations, FE-SEM with EDAX, ICP-MS, AES, NMR, in situ Ellipsometry, and (coming soon!) a state-of-art TEM and Ion Probe.

For more information, contact Dr. Patricia Dove.

Biogeochemistry Lab

Chemical hydrogeology facilities (see sidebar image) include a Shimadzu Total Organic Carbon Analyzer, an SRI Gas Chromatograph equipped with flame ionization and thermal conductivity detectors, a CEM microwave digester, a Coy anaerobic chamber, and a Dionex ion chromatograph. Field equipment includes pressure transducers, pumps, flow meters, pH, ORP, DO, and ion selective electrodes, a portable spectrophotometer, and well installation equipment.

For more information, contact Dr. Madeline Schreiber.

Chemical Hydrogeology Labortory

The Crystallography Laboratory of the Department of Geosciences is located in Virginia Tech's Corporate Research Center (CRC). It houses four four-circle diffractometers. Two Xcalibur instruments from Oxford Diffraction are used for ambient-pressure structure determination from single crystals of small molecules and proteins. They are equipped to go to temperatures below 15K. Two diffractometers are customized for high-pressure single crystal X-ray diffraction with diamond-anvil cells, one an Xcalibur system from Oxford Diffraction for high-pressure structure determination. The second is a customized Eulerian-cradle design from Huber Diffraktionstechnik GmbH, optimized for extremely precise measurements of lattice parameters of crystals. A selection of diamond-anvil cells suitable for single-crystal and powder X-ray diffraction and capable of generating pressures in excess of 10 GPa is available, together with the extensive preparation facilities necessary for their use.

For more information, contact Dr. Nancy Ross.

Electron Microprobe Lab website

The Electron Microprobe Lab is a multi-user facility for preparing and analyzing solid materials both in bulk and at the micron scale. The lab includes three electron microprobes, a scanning electron microscope (SEM), a benchtop X-ray Fluorescence Spectrometer (XRF), and a carbon evaporation coater.

Our flagship instrument, the JEOL JXA-iHP200F Electron Probe Microanalyzer (EPMA), is a fully automated five-spectrometer Wavelength-Dispersive Spectrometer (WDS) instrument with an integrated Energy Dispersive Spectrometer (SDD-EDS) system. Automation is done by a complete JEOL package of software for rapid semiquantitative and fully quantitative non-destructive chemical analysis of elements from Beryllium to Uranium in natural and synthetic materials. Electron-beam and stage scanning capability allows routine 2-D imaging of compositional variation in areas ranging from the submicron scale to the centimeter scale. This powerful capability to make compositional maps is a major component of our productivity.

For more information, contact Dr. Lowell Moore.

Electron Microprobe

Field equipment for geophysical exploration at a variety of scales is maintained by a technician. Shotgun, hammer, and explosive sources can recorded on 10 or 100 Hz geophones and cables and the Geometrics 60-channel, 24-bit seismograph. The ground-penetrating radar system has 5 sets of antennae ranging from 12.5 to 200 MHz. Potential field techniques are supported by a Lacoste micro-gravimeter, a fluxgate magnetometer, and a VLF electromagnetic system. Surveying needs are supplied by a kinematic differential GPS (cm accuracy) system and several hand-held GPS units (~5 m accuracy).

For more information, contact Dr. John Hole.

The Fluids Research Laboratory is equipped with a range of experimental and analytical facilities to study the properties and role of fluids in the earth's crust and upper mantle. The FRL is composed of the Fluid Inclusion Laboratory, the Vibrational Spectroscopy Laboratory, the Laser Ablation ICP-MS laboratory and the Hydrothermal Laboratory. The Fluid Inclusion Laboratory contains state of the art equipment for studying melt and fluid inclusions in natural and synthetic materials. The Lab contains a USGS-type gas-flow heating and cooling stage, two Linkam THMSG 600 programmable heating/cooling stages, a Linkam XY 1500 degree stage, a Linkam TS1400XY heating stage, a Chaixmeca heating stage, a Leitz 1350 heating stage, and a hydrothermal diamond anvil cell that can be used as a pressurized heating stage. Five research-grade petrographic microscopes and complete still and video photography equipment are available for use with any of the microscopes and stages.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Bodnar.

Field deployment laboratory and geodetic equipment storage comprised of dual frequency GNSS/GPS receivers, geodetic II Trimble Zephyr antennas, solar panels, and a suite of digital and hard-copy geologic maps for geodetic field planning. Roof-top geodetic antenna with laboratory access for equipment testing. Hand-held GPS and a range of pertinent equipment for geodetic campaigns. TZVOLCANO, the first volcano observatory in Tanzania comprised of telemetered GNSS/GPS data and real-time streaming positions. Software codes for Haines and Holt strain rate modeling, GAMIT-GLOBK GNSS/GPS processing, and ASPECT plug-ins for 3D regional modeling.

For more information, contact Dr. Sarah Stamps.

The Hydrothermal Laboratories contains 12 cold-seal pressure vessels capable of operating to 800 degrees Celsius and 3000 bars, and 10 cold-seals capable of reaching 700 degrees Celsius and 6000 bars.

Two TZM cold-seal pressure vessels for operation to 1200 degrees Celsius and 2000 bars are also available.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Bodnar.

Hydrothermal Lab

The facility supports modeling, processing and interpretation of reflection and refraction seismic and ground penetrating radar (GPR) data for subsurface imaging for petroleum exploration, deep crustal scale geophysical and geological studies, and shallow subsurface investigations for engineering and environmental purposes. Software includes industry-standard packages for 2-D and 3-D seismic data processing, interpretation, modeling, log processing, and interpretation running on Linux PCs. The computer network and hardware are supported by full-time technicians and contain facilities such as large-scale plotting and multiple terabytes of disk storage. Software includes:

  • ProMAX VSP, 2-D, and 3-D seismic data processing packages
  • Paradigm's VoxelGeo and Focus
  • Multiple licenses of Landmark's complete interpretation package
  • Seismic Micro-Technology's KINGDOM interpretation package
  • Seismic Unix

In addition to these state-of-the art packages, special purpose modules developed at Virginia Tech are also available. The laboratory is supported by grants, the petroleum industry, and alumni donations.

For more information, contact Dr. John Hole.

The laser ablation ICP-MS laboratory contains an Agilent 7500ce ICP-MS coupled with a GeoLas 193 nm ArF excimer laser. The laser is focused through an Olympus polarizing microscope that is equipped with oculars for viewing samples in both transmitted and reflected light. The system is used only for micro-sampling by laser, resulting in very low background and excellent limits of detection for most elements.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Bodnar.

Laser Ablation ICP-MS

Maceration hood handling acetic and hydrochloric acids; Logitech lapping machine and trim saw (1 mm serial section capability); Vacuum embedding system; Olympus BX51 epifluorescence microscope and SZ1145 stereoscope with digital imaging capabilities; three-headed Olympus BX51 petrographic microscope; Servo 7150 press driller; Merchantek micromilling system; Mettler Toledo microbalance; Hitachi TM3000 tabletop SEM.

For more information, contact Dr. Shuhai Xiao.

Benchtop SEM and computer

The Hydrogeosciences group has a wide range of borehole and surface tools for characterizing aquifer systems in fractured and porous media environments. Borehole logging to depths of 500 m can be accomplished using Mt. Sopris MX II logging system. Wireline probes include: Heat pulse flow meter; Natural gamma; Neutron and thermal neutron; SP and resistivity; Short and long-normal resistivity; Fluid temperature and conductivity; Optical televiewer and camera; 3-arm caliper.

Other tools and instrumentation include:

  • Surface electrical resistivity surveying equipment including a 25 channel Campus Geopulse Resistivity system with RES2DINV and RES3DINV inversion software for 2D profiling and 3D characterization.
  • Various pumps, packers, transducers, and water-level monitoring equipment and aquifer-testing software for aquifer characterization.
  • Guelph Permeameter for soil permeability and hydraulic conductivity
  • Modeling software capabilities include: Groundwater Vistas; GMS integrated with Modflow and MTD3DMS; Argus One integrated with Modflow; Visual Modflow; GDM (Granular Displacement Model); Aquifer Test and AQTESOLV aquifer testing software.

For more information, contact Dr. Thomas Burbey.

This lab (Derring Hall 1089) features a Micromeritics SediGraph 5120 particle size analyzer, which uses x-ray monitored settling of mixtures of sediment and water to determine suspended sediment concentration and, using Stoke's Law, quantitative grain size distribution. The SediGraph achieves best results for samples with particle sizes <100 µm and thus is the instrument of choice for fine-grained (clay- and silt-dominated) sediment. This lab also includes equipment for wet-sieving, freeze-drying, and other processing of fine sediment.

Please contact Dr. Brian Romans for more information.

The radiogenic helium laboratory is a new facility capable of measuring (U-Th)/He ages for constraining the low-temperature cooling history of rocks. This facility is one of only several in the US and was custom designed and built. Helium ages are determined based on measurements of radiogenic helium and parent nuclides (U and Th) on aliquots of 10-20 mineral grains. Helium is measured using a high-vacuum extraction line and quadrupole mass spectrometer. Parent nuclides are measured by isotope dilution using an off-campus ICP-MS. This facility has been applied to studies in California, Alaska, and the Appalachians, and provides valuable constraints for the history of uplift and erosion in mountain belts.

For more information, contact Dr. James Spotila.

This lab (Derring Hall 1089) features a Leica DM2700P polarizing microscope and MC170 HD digital camera for petrographic (transmitted light) characterization of sedimentary rock thin sections. In addition, a Leica S8 APO high-resolution stereo-zoom microscope and MC120 HD digital camera are available for reflected light characterization of sediment samples. Both microscopes include image-analysis and interactive measurement software for quantification of grain size and sedimentary fabric.

Please contact Dr. Brian Romans for more information.

The Virginia Tech Seismological Observatory is maintained by several research and technical personnel under the direction of Dr. Martin Chapman. Observatory activities include the location of local and regional earthquakes, community response to such earthquakes, research on intraplate earthquakes, strong motion seismology, seismic hazard assessment, and theoretical and observational seismology. Observatory personnel have conducted several community outreach and education seminars in recent years.

The Observatory operates and maintains a network of four short-period seismic stations and one broadband seismic station located in southwest Virginia and southern West Virginia. The current network coverage is being expanded toward central and eastern Virginia with new stations under construction in Roanoke, Virginia, and Richmond, Virginia. VTSO also owns several portable seismographs and responds regularly to reported seismic events in the region.

For more information, contact Dr. Martin Chapman.

VTSO Graphic Element

The centerpieces of this laboratory are two Isoprime 100 gas source isotope ratio mass spectrometers that can determine the stable isotope compositions of carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and sulfur in a variety of materials. Both instruments are configured for continuous flow. One of the mass spectrometers is interfaced with an Elementar vario ISOTOPE cube elemental analyzer and the other is interfaced with a MultiFlow-Geo headspace sampler.

For more information, visit the facilities section of the Sedimentary Geochemistry Group website or contact Dr. Benjamin Gill.

Mass Spectrometer

The structural geology lab is equipped with a full range of optical microscopes (Leitz and Nikon) plus universal stages, and both IBM and Macintosh PCs and computer software for petrofabric work.

For more information, contact Dr. Richard Law.

The Vibrational Spectroscopy Laboratory contains a JY Horiba HR800 Raman microprobe equipped with green (514 nm) and red (633 & 785 nm) laser sources, and a second JY Horiba HR800 Raman microprobe equipped with a UV (244 nm) laser. A variety of high pressure optical cells, a Linkam heating and cooling stage for studies of fluid inclusions, and a Joule-Thompson cooling stage that operates to -180°C are available for use on any of the Raman microprobes.

For more information, contact Dr. Robert Bodnar.

Raman Spectrometer

The mission of NanoEarth (see is to fully support users at Virginia Tech and around the world who work with nanoscience- and nanotechnology-related aspects of the geological and environmental sciences/engineering, including the biological components of these areas.  Further, our focus areas will cover analytical, synthesis, experimental, and field work, as well as local, regional, and global aspects of these areas of study.   Areas of study represented include geology, geochemistry, biogeochemistry, civil and environmental engineering, environmental/ecological sciences, hydrology, atmospheric science, ocean science, soil science, and related fields, including the subfields of the biological sciences as they relate to these disciplines.  NanoEarth has over 20,000 sq ft of space and well in excess of $10M in instrumentation.  We are part of the National Nanotechnology Coordinated Infrastructure (NNCI), an NSF-funded network of 16 centers spread throughout the United States serving as user facilities for cutting edge nanotechnology research.  NanoEarth is the only NNCI site in the country that is dedicated to the Earth and environmental sciences.   NanoEarth is considered a national user facility on this field of science.

For more information, contact Dr. Michael Hochella, NanoEarth Site Director

NanoEarth Laboratories
Titan Transmission electron microscope

The experimental petrology lab includes a piston cylinder press and a multi-anvil press, which are used to conduct high temperature (1000–2000 °C) and pressure (1–20 GPa) experiments to study the interiors of planets. Additionally, there is a Deltech controlled atmosphere furnace that can be used up to 1700 °C at 1 bar.
For more information, contact Dr. Megan Duncan.