END OF TERM - Geochemistry at the Atomic Level
Secondary ion mass spectroscopy (SIMS) is a technique that uses a focused ion beam to remove ions from a sample of material. These secondary ions are then accelerated into a mass spectrometer for analysis. Canada Research Chair Dr. Mostafa Fayek uses this technique to study fluid-solid interactions, including the mass transport of chemicals, elements, and nutrients near the Earth's surface. In his research, Fayek studies fluid-solid interactions at the atomic level. He uses stable and radiogenic isotope systems, along with nano-scale and micro-scale structures of minerals, to link specific isotopic signals to mechanistic signatures and textures. He combines microscale SIMS isotope analysis with higher spacial resolution imaging techniques in order to study both natural and experimental systems. His purpose is to understand the mass transport of elements in near-surface environments, with an emphasis on radionuclides and heavy elements. Radionuclides are atoms that emit radiation and, like heavy metals, are naturally present in rocks and soils, but can also be manmade. Fayek's research into fluid-solid interactions has direct application in everything from environmental contamination and the safe disposal of nuclear waste to mineral exploration and material characterization. For example, one important application of his research is the evaluation of fluid-solid interaction on the disposal of high-level radioactive waste in geological repositories. Understanding how radionuclides migrate, and how heavy metals are transported in a variety geological environments is very difficult, since different natural systems encompass a wide range of diverse conditions. Through hard work and perseverance, Fayek is working to overcome these challenges; in time the results of his research are likely to wield significant influence on government and public policy regarding the disposal of radioactive waste.