Experimental Petrology Laboratory

The Experimental Petrology Laboratory at ANU has been a leader in high-pressure experimental geochemistry for over 50 years. It features one of the world's largest collections of piston-cylinder apparatus, supporting a wide range of pressure and temperature conditions for research.

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Jeremy Wykes

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The Research School of Earth Sciences has an extensive history in high pressure experimental geochemistry, maintaining a high pressure laboratory in some form for more than 50 years. At present, RSES possess a fully-equipped high pressure experimental laboratory boasting one of the largest collections of piston-cylinder apparatus in the world.



High-pressure apparatus

150 ton & 200 ton end-loaded piston cylinder apparatus

Our 150 ton and 200 ton presses are an in-house design developed primarily by Bill Hibberson over the last 40+ years. The presses have 7.5” end load rams housed in the lower platen, a 3” Boyd ram, making a compact press capable of a wide range of pressure, temperature and sample volumes. Maximum attainable pressure is dependent on assembly diameter: 4.0 GPa for ½”; 2.5 GPa for ⅝”; 1.8 GPa for ¾”. Maximum attainable temperature is ~1800°C for a ½” assembly.

200t twin press (Press C, Press D)

Originally built at ANU in 1968 as three-post 150 ton presses, they were relocated to University of Tasmania in Hobart with David Green in late 1976, where they were refurbished. The presses returned to RSES in the 1994 when David Green was appointed Director of RSES. After 41 years of service, cracking of the posts was identified in 2009, and new 200t four post frames were built in the RSES Workshop in 2010-2011. The presses await recommission.

200t twin press (Press U, Press V)

These are a four-post design, built at ANU in the early 1970s. The lower platens were replaced with thicker and wider platens in 1996 to correct a design deficiency leading to leaking end load rams. Almost 1500 experiments have been conducted on these two presses since the year 2000.

200t twin press (Press A, Press B)

Four post, 200 ton design that were originally built for Ian Nicholls at Monash, though presses were never fully completed. They were relocated and commissioned at RSES in 1995. The end-load rams and lower platens were replaced with upgraded parts in 1998.

200t twin press (Press E, Press F)

Four post, 200 ton design built at the University of Tasmania, Hobart in 1977. Relocated to RSES and recommissioned with new lower platens in June 2004.

200t twin press (Press W, Press X)

Four post, 200 ton design by Bill Hibberson, constructed in the RSPhysE workshop in the early 1990s for David Ellis’ laboratory in the former ANU Geology Department in Building 47. Following the merger of RSES and the Department of Earth and Marine Sciences the presses were relocated to RSES, and are awaiting installation.

500t Harwood Engineering Presses (Press Y, Press Z)

Two presses acquired by Ted Ringwood in the 1980s for large volume experiments for Synroc and Advanced Diamond Composite research. Beginning in the late 1990s Press Z was been converted to an Ultra-High Pressures Piston Cylinder apparatus capable of reliably reaching 6.5 GPa with a half-inch assembly. The press was upgraded to automated pressure and temperature control and computer logging of pressure, temperature and piston travel in 2004. The press is controlled by an in-house Lab View application developed by Peter Lanc. Press Y is primarily used for large-volume applications with a 30 mm assembly capable of 2.5 GPa and 1400°C.

1200 ton Harwood Engineering Press with MA8 multi-anvil MSS device

The 2000 ton Harwood Engineering press is the oldest extant press at RSES, obtained by Ted Ringwood some time before 1962. During the construction of the Jaeger 1 building a reinforced beam was installed to accommodate the weight of the press. Historically the 1200 ton press had been configured with a Bridgeman anvil device, a belt-and-girdle apparatus and finally a belt apparatus. In the early-1980s Ringwood post-doc Eiji Ohtani lead the development of an MA8-type multi-anvil device with an MSS (modified split-sphere) guide block system that remains in use today. The belt apparatus was subsequently relocated to Gerhard Brey’s laboratory in Mainz. In 2004 the multi-anvil was upgraded to computer monitored and controlled temperature and pressure.

We currently run three assemblies with MgO pressure media: a 14-8 assembly with a graphite heater capable of running 2.5 mm OD capsules up to 11 GPa, 1600°C; a 10-5 assembly with a rhenium heater capable of running 1.8 mm OD capsules up to 16 GPa, 2000°C; an 8-3 assembly capable of running 1.2 mm OD capsules up to 26 GPa, 2000°C.

Cold-seal laboratory

Constructed by John Mavrogenes and Bill Hibberson in Building 47 (former Geology Department) in the late 1990s from a range of equipment obtained from RSES, the University of Newcastle and various "garbage picked" pieces.

We have eight horizontal apparatus equipped with Rene41 bombs with 6, 8 and 10 mm bores, oil-water pressure media, Kanthal wound tube furnaces and Eurotherm temperature controllers capable of operating at temperatures up to 800°C, and pressures up to 500 MPa (5.0 kbar).

We are currently developing a pressure system employing argon-hydrogen mixtures for precise control of hydrogen fugacity, and new furnaces with multiple windings to generate custom temperature profiles for high temperature magmatic vapour experiments.

High-temperature apparatus

Gero gas-mixing tube furnaces

With the arrival of Hugh O’Neill in 1994 a 1-atmosphere gas mixing furnace capability was established at RSES. We currently have four Gero vertical alumina muffle tube furnaces, equipped with MoSi2 elements. The furnaces are water-cooled to permit gas mixing, and we have the capability to run CO, CO2, SO2, H2S, Ar, O2, N2, Cl2, H2 and air gas mixtures via mass flow controllers. Other capabilities include oxygen monitoring via Y-doped zirconia oxygen sensors.

Swedish Furnace box furnaces

Obtained by Ringwood in the 1980s, and experiencing several subsequent rebuilds, our three Swedish Furnace AG MoSi2 box furnaces are laboratory workhorses for sintering and calcining of experimental reagents, fusing rock samples, annealing and heat-treating small metal parts and numerous other high temperature applications. The furnaces are equipped with Eurotherm temperature controllers and nitrogen gas plumbing to produce an inert atmosphere.

Kanthal Elevator furnaces

These two furnaces have a small sample chamber with a high density of MoSi2 elements permitting rapid heating and relatively small temperature gradients. Equipped with Eurotherm temperature controllers, these furnaces are used for sintering and calcining of experimental reagents, long-duration diffusion experiments, metal alloy synthesis and preparation of glass beads on wire loops for gas mixing experiments.

Radyne RF generator

Capable of generating extremely high temperatures, the RF generator is used when MoSi2 elements will not suffice. Applications include high melting point alloy synthesis (eg. FeIr) and hot pressing of ceramic materials.

Other laboratory equipment

Experimental sample preparation

We have all the relevant equipment to support experimental petrology sample preparation, including a very well stocked store of laboratory chemicals representing the entire periodic table, carbon arc welders, a Lampert PUK 3s TIG welder, acetylene/hydrogen torches and a dedicated vacuum pump for evacuated silica tube work, numerous precision balances, ultrasonic baths, laboratory presses and drying ovens.

Petrographic sample preparation

The experimental petrology sample preparation facilities include four Kent 3 automatic lapping machines equipped with cloth, ceramic and tin laps for polishing with diamond, alumina and colloidal silica, as well as precision sectioning saws, a diamond-blade rock saw, and numerous binocular and petrographic microscopes. Experimental samples may be analysed using our Cameca SX100 electron microprobe, Laser Ablation ICP-MS, FTIR spectrometer, SHRIMP or the scanning electron microscopes of the ANU Center for Advanced Microscopy.s