MBMG Mineral Separation Laboratory

The MBMG maintains the Mineral Separation Laboratory located in the Natural Resources Building on the Montana Technological University campus. This facility houses laboratory equipment in four separate rooms including the dry, wet, clean, and microscope laboratories. The Mineral Separation Laboratory is generally used to prepare specimens for a wide range of research projects, including petrographic thin-section investigations, geochronology work, whole-rock geochemical analyses, mineralogy research, economic geology research, and fluid inclusion studies. When not in active use, the labs are also utilized for specimen layout and examination related to geohydrology research. Most of the analytical work conducted on specimens prepared by the Mineral Separation Laboratory is performed at other research institutions including the University of California, Santa Barbara; Washington State University, Pullman; University of Arizona, Tucson; New Mexico Institute of Mining and Technology, Socorro; and the University of Oregon, Eugene.

The in-house preparation of research specimens by MBMG scientists serves as a quality assurance measure and affords the flexibility to experiment and develop new laboratory methods that greatly increase productivity and foster successful research outcomes. The bulk of laboratory work conducted at the MBMG Mineral Separation Laboratory is focused on prepping rock specimens for geochemical analyses and radiometric age dating. Samples are typically chipped by a jaw crusher and a small split is sent to a reputable laboratory for whole-rock major and trace element analyses. Samples designated for geochronology studies are further pulverized with a disc mill and target minerals are isolated using a combination of standard density and magnetic separation techniques in addition to hand selection under the microscope. Common target minerals include zircon, monazite, K-feldspar, plagioclase, hornblende, biotite, and quartz. The mineral separates are then analyzed at an external geochronology center.

The MBMG Mineral Separation Laboratory does not provide services to the general public, but does participate in collaborative research projects and works closely with the Engineering Geology department at Montana Technological University to support both graduate and undergraduate research. The Mineral Separation Laboratory also hires and mentors students working as laboratory assistants.

For more information, please contact the Manager of the Mineral Separation Laboratory, Connie Thomson (cthomson@mtech.edu; 406-496-4156).

Available instrumentation in the MBMG Mineral Separation Laboratory includes:

  • MK-101 tile saw with diamond-tipped blade
  • Hillquist thin section machine
  • Custom fabricated stainless steel mortar and pestle
  • Two jaw crushers: Fritsch Pulverisette I and Bico Badger
  • Two disc mills: Retsch DM 400 and Bico disc mill
  • Two sieve shakers: Retsch AS 200 vibratory shaker and Ro-Tap shaker
  • Assortment of sieves
  • Holman-Wilfley 800 Laboratory shaking table equipped with an Eriez vibratory feed
  • L-1 Frantz magnetic separator upgraded to the LB-1 model
  • Small and large ultra-sonicating baths
  • Drying oven
  • Centrifuge, pressure pot, and polisher
  • Oversized chemical hood and glassware for density separations with heavy liquids
  • Two petrographic microscopes: Leica DM2700P and Leitz Ortholux
  • Two stereomicroscopes: Leica M165C and M125C
  • Digital cameras and analytical software for microscopes