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Current research

Crackle pyrrhotite The IIC/AIF project provided seed money for the development of the MicroAnalysis Facility (MAF-IIC) in order to carry out the following research programs.

Geochemical-Mineralogical Characterization of Voisey’s Bay Ores

The Voisey's Bay ore deposit of northern Labrador begins production in late 2005. Understanding the mineralogy of the deposit is of utmost importance for optimal mineral processing and ore resource definition.

To address these needs, Memorial and VBNC/Inco Ltd geologists have undertaken detailed ore characterization studies before mining has begun. Ongoing work involves systematic detailed petrography, electron probe microanalysis, laser ablation microprobe ICP-MS, and X-ray fluorescence analysis of the ores.

The study will be extended using new instrumentation in MAF-IIC. Representative samples from each of the mineral deposits at Voisey’s Bay have been collected and examined to determine the mineralogy, crystal chemistry of the minerals and their trace element contents.

The data show that there are various mineralogical domains within the deposit reflecting a variety of formation conditions.  A genetic model of the mineralizing process will be developed from these results for applications to exploration and mineral resource evaluations. Definition of mineral domains is also useful for mine planning and improved metal recoveries during processing.
 
“Geometallurgy” is increasingly recognized as a distinct research area in the mining industry and the IIC will be one of only a few academic institutions worldwide with this expertise.
 
This is a pioneering project in terms of close collaboration between university and industry researchers and will be a hallmark of the INCO Innovation Centre. The long term goal is to apply the methods developed in the Voisey’s study to the evaluation of other ores – in particular to assess the genetic processes that concentrate the metals of interest within a mineral deposit.

Development of In Situ Methods for Chemical and Mineralogical MicroAnalyses at Memorial

New instrumentation for imaging and in situ analysis of minerals, particularly accessory phases, is revolutionizing petrology and ore geology. The SEM/MLA, LA-ICPMS and SIMS instruments in MAF-IIC will be combined to provide a unique capability for determining quantitative mineral associations, parent magma compositions and crystallization and deformational ages in rocks and ores.
 
Both elemental and isotopic compositions may be determined on scales of 10 to 100 micrometres within individual mineral grains. Accessory minerals such as zircon, baddeleyite, apatite, sphene and monazite record rich histories of the age and conditions of crystallization and deformation in rocks, particularly where their spatial relationships to major minerals can be documented.
 
Several initial student research projects in MAF-IIC will use accessory mineral composition and age to address the origin of ore-associated and barren troctolites, anorthosites and metasedimentary rocks in Newfoundland and Labrador.
 
Other work will involve study of some of the world’s oldest known materials, zircon crystals from Greenland and Western Australia. The same tools may be used to analyze non-mineral objects of research interest such as metal alloys for engineering and surface science studies, the hard parts of calcareous shells for environmental investigations and archaeological artefacts.
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