Honours & Post-Graduate Research Projects

EGRU Research Staff are currently seeking motivated students for a variety of Honours and PhD projects. If you are interested in discussing a particular research project please contact the relevant researcher.

Honours Projects

To enquire about available Honours projects please email  the coordinator Dr Helen McCoy-West (helen.mccoywest@jcu.edu.au)  or any of our research staff.

Helen McCoy-West

Stable metal isotopes as an exploration tool (available 2023)

This project involves analysing one or more non-traditional stable isotope systems in variably altered host rock samples of a hydrothermal ore deposit to:

  1. Understand how these isotopes partition during hydrothermal alteration
  2. Determine if any of the studied isotope systems are suitable as exploration tracers for this type of hydrothermal deposit

PhD Projects

Melanie Finch


The role of ductile shear zones in the formation of skarn deposits.

Ductile shear zones are adjacent to many skarn deposits worldwide, but their role in ore formation is not understood. This PhD project will investigate the role of shear zones as ore fluid conduits and explore how metasomatism in shear zones affects fluid migration, fluid composition and ore formation. It is envisaged that the project will look at shear zones next to two skarn deposits in the Mt Isa region and employ field work, structural geology, microstructures, petrology, geochronology and geochemistry to understand the role of ductile shear zones in this setting.


Feedbacks between high pressure metasomatism and structures in subduction channels

Subduction channels are ductile shear zones at the interface between the downgoing and overriding plate. These zones experience high fluid fluxes and cycle between ductile and brittle modes of deformation. Rock packages are often layered, with rocks from different P/T conditions juxtaposed, perhaps as a result of metasomatism. Detailed work is required to understand how the different rock types formed, and how metasomatism modifies the way rocks deform in these channels. This project will examine subduction channel rocks from Port Macquarie, NSW and New Caledonia to understand metasomatism and deformation at high pressure (blueschist and eclogite facies) using a combination of field work, structural geology, microstructures, petrology, and geochemical techniques.

Espen Knutsen


Vertebrate palaeontology and sedimentary geology of the Early-Late Triassic succession in Central Queensland

This project will be a field and laboratory-based project in collaboration with the Queensland Museum investigating a series of richly fossiliferous Triassic vertebrate localities across central Queensland. The project will investigate the vertebrate faunas using 3D modelling from synchrotron microCT data, as well as the paleoenvironments and paleogeography of this region.  In addition, the project will focus on radioisotopic methods to better temporally constrain the Triassic succession in central Queensland, and geochemical analysis to understand the taphonomy and palaeoecology.

Brandon Mahan


Developing the use of metal isotopes as disease diagnostics: Methods & applications

Breakthroughs in the nascent field of Isotope Metallomics include the use of Cu and Zn isotopes as diagnostic indicators for Alzheimer’s Disease (AD), and the use of Ca isotopes as a diagnostic tool for osteoporosis. This field harnesses techniques originally developed in the geosciences to address scientific questions in the medical sciences. While such findings hold great promise, further research is required to establish the true potential of these tools and generate statistically significant datasets. This project has aims to explore the mechanistic linkages  between the important micro-nutrients Cu and Zn and neurodegenerative diseases like Alzheimer’s (AD). This will be accomplished by a multi-faceted approach combining Cu and Zn isotope characterizations from relevant experimental and animal model data, as well as from a large cohort of well-characterized human blood and/or brain samples from a neurodegenerative biobank.


Combining conventional and non-conventional stable and radiogenic isotope systems in fossil vertebrates to reconstruct ecological and dietary frameworks

Conventional stable isotope compositions, such as that for C and N, have been used extensively in reconstructing trophic levels in both modern and ancient ecosystems (marine and terrestrial). Similarly, conventional radiogenic isotope systems—namely Sr—have been used to differentiate and/or delineate spatial catchment sizes and migratory patterns. More recently, so-called non-conventional stable isotope systems, for example Ca and Zn, have shown great utility in providing complementary information with respect to constraining trophic levels and dietary patterns in particular, and with potentially fewer/less diagenetic effects than is seen for C and N, which are derived primarily from soft tissues. This project aims to combine conventional stable (C, N) and radiogenic (Sr) isotopes with novel stable isotope systems (Ca, Zn), along with trace element systematics, and apply this battery approach to dental enamel samples from a rare set of Cretaceous crocodylomorphs with mammal-like characteristics (and possible insectivorous and/or omnivorous diets), along with co-existing theropod, sauropod and “normal” crocodylomorph teeth to create a framework for interpretation, and potential evidence for a much broader trophic range in ancient crocodylomorphs relative to today.

Helen McCoy-West


Refining tephrostratigraphic approaches in deep time through glass melt inclusion and isotopic fingerprinting of heavy mineral separates in heavy minerals

Traditionally, the application of tephrostratigraphy has been restricted to the late Neogene and focused on geochemical fingerprinting of glass shards in fresh volcanic tuff. However, recent research has demonstrated the potential for utilising glass melt inclusions in resistant minerals (zircon, titanate, etc.) coupled with isotopes (Lu-Hf, Sm-Nd, etc) for not only tephrostratigraphy, but also for reconstructing tectonic and petrologic processes in deep time where original volcanics have completely devitrified. This project will focus on expanding analytical techniques and the range of minerals and isotopic fingerprinting capabilities necessary to permit the widespread application of tephrostratigraphy in deep time tuffs from Paleozoic and Mesozoic basins. This project will also include a field-based case study focused on the Paleozoic Gondwanide system or the Mesozoic Cordilleran system.

Alex McCoy-West


Integrating radiogenic and stable isotope tracers to constrain the evolution of the mantle in the southwest Pacific

The mantle is the major reservoir of the silicate Earth, therefore understanding its composition and processes through which it is modified is crucial for understanding the evolution of the Earth. However, accessing samples remains problematic and we are limited to ophiolites or xenolith localities. This project will focus on ophiolite samples from New Caledonia and New Zealand and will combine detailed petrogenic and isotopic characterisation of the samples using a range of instrumental techniques EPMA, LA-ICP-MS, MC-ICP-MS.  The primary aims are: 1) tracking mantle heterogeneity in 3 dimensions (using Os and Nd isotopes); 2) placing better constraints on the Mo isotope composition of the mantle; and 3) assessing the effects of variable mineralogy (major peridotite phase vs pyroxenites of multiply generations) on the transfer of isotopic signatures through the mantle.  Combining this knowledge will increase our understanding of mantle and tectonic evolution of the SW Pacific.

Eric Roberts


Helium prospectivity of the East African Rift System, with a focus on reservoir and seal potential, and fluid migration

Helium has rapidly become one of the most important natural gases used for multiple fields, from lifting to supercooling applications, in advanced manufacturing, technology, medical imaging, and green energy industries. However, helium exploration and discovery has lagged significantly behind other critical resources.  With increasing demand, attention has shifted to identifying geologically favourable regions with old bedrock overlain by thick sedimentary cover sequences capable of trapping and storing helium reserves.  This project will investigate helium prospectivity in a number of basins associated with the East African Rift System. A focus will be on reservoir and seal characteristics of these basins, as well as modelling fluid migration pathways.

Ioan Sanislav


Magmatic-hydrothermal processes and critical mineral (Sn-W-In-Sb) genesis in the Herberton Mineral Field

The Herberton Mineral Field and the surrounding area contains a large number of mineral occurrences enriched in highly sought after critical minerals (Sn-W-In-Sb). These mineral occurrences are spatially and temporarily related to intrusive and extrusive rocks of the Kennedy Igneous Province. However, the genetic link between igneous activity and mineralization is unclear whereas the processes leading to economic concentration of these metals are poorly understood. The main objective of this project will be to link igneous activity to metal enrichment and develop exploration criteria that can be used to discover new deposits. The project will involve field work in the tropical NE QLD coupled with extensive laboratory analyses involving a wide spectrum on analytical techniques.

Assessing alkaline magmatism in Mount Isa Inlier – the link to REE mineralization, the potential to host REE mineralization and tectonic significance

Syenite intrusive complexes are known to host economic REE mineralization and they are commonly enriched in REEs. The Mount Isa Inlier contains numerous mineral occurrence that are enriched in REEs but so far no major deposits have been found. Moreover, there are no satisfactory genetic models to explain the REE enrichment in the region.  Recent field mapping in the Mount Isa Inlier indicated that syenite intrusions are more widespread than currently shown on geological maps. Many of these intrusions occur as small gabbro-syenite complexes but some of them are volumetrically extensive. Field relationships indicate that they intruded at different times related to the tectonic activity. This project will involve field mapping in the Mount Isa Inlier, detailed petrology and mineralogy studies, age dating, geochemical modelling and the use of isotopes to understand the petrogenesis, tectonic setting and mineralization potential of these alkaline intrusive systems.

Lauren Waszek


Exploring Earth's interior structure and dynamics beneath the Australian tectonic plate

While Australia is relatively seismically inactive, the plate boundaries display a range of stages of slab stagnation, making it an ideal natural laboratory. The aim is to combine observations from seismic waves which interact with mantle discontinuities with mineral physics modelling, in order to map the structures, thermochemistry, and dynamics beneath the region. The output will improve our understanding of the link between seismic discontinuities and deflection of convecting material.

Multiple projects are available. Students with a computational background are encouraged to contact Lauren to discuss the projects in more detail.

Links to information regarding PhD opportunities, project details and how to apply:

Other Project Details -  College of Science & Engineering

Graduate Research School

College of Science & Engineering