Project highlights

  • Develop new techniques in ore analysis for research and industry
  • Work within a collaborative team to identify key minerals and ore types for the future supply of vital materials
  • Grow your skills and experience working with state-of-the-art analytical facilities.



Advances in instrumentation and software have dramatically improved our ability to rapidly analyse geological samples, obtaining detailed chemical, textural and mineralogical data. Such data are transforming both academic research and applied geoscience, particularly in mineral resources. This project will help to advance the application of scanning-electron microscopy (SEM)-based and semi-automated technologies to the analysis of ores, with a particular focus on trace elements in ore minerals. Such modernised characterisation of compositional and mineralogical relationships will facilitate better understanding of the formation and location of economic ore-minerals, in addition to more efficient and environmentally-friendly ways of processing them. This represents an important growth area in the near future of mineral resources; a global drive for cleaner growth and more renewable energy is increasing the amount of exotic metals that we need. Often, these are only found as by-products in ores of copper, iron or gold. Our ability to rapidly and confidently analyse potential by-products in ore minerals has never been so important.

The University of Leicester has state-of-the-art mineral analysis facilities, offering an “integrated workflow” of analyses from optical light microscopy, to SEM-based automated mineralogy, on to high-resolution micro-beam trace element analysis via micro – x-ray fluorescence (µXRF) and/or laser-ablation inductively-coupled-plasma mass spectrometry (LA ICP-MS). The application of some of these techniques – particularly µXRF – to by-product analysis of ore minerals are largely untested, yet there is a pressing need for industry and policymakers to have ready access to data and information on the rare metals that ores contain.

Within this project, you will work within the Centre for Sustainable Resource Extraction, alongside geologists and chemists, to quantify the capabilities of novel techniques in ore analysis, establish new methods for sample analysis, and establish key targets for the future supply of by-product metals.


University of Leicester


  • Climate and Environmental Sustainability
  • Dynamic Earth


Project investigator

  • Dan Smith (University of Leicester)



  • Eva Marquis
  •  Tom Knott
  • Dr Andrew Menzies (Bruker Nano GmbH)
  • Dr Eddy Hill (Zeiss)

How to apply


Automated mineral analysis systems in academia and research have transformed our ability to rapidly collect data at the micron scale for large samples, providing us with unprecedented levels of detail and insight into chemistry, mineralogy, and texture. Various techniques have now been integrated into scanning electron microscope instruments, making them a potential “one stop shop” for analysts.

Trace element analysis remains challenging, often being slower, and at a different scale and resolution to the major elements. Micro-XRF analysers offer an opportunity to increase the speed and spatial resolution of trace element analysis, though the application of this technique to geo-materials is still relatively juvenile. This project will explore and resolve knowledge gaps in rapid trace element analysis, working with our SEM, XRF and LA ICP-MS facilities to design and carry out experiments to further develop analytical techniques and enhance their application to by-product analysis of ore minerals.

Training and skills

You will become proficient in the use of analytical equipment including quantitative evaluation of minerals, SEM and micro-XRF, and high-resolution mass spectrometry. This combination of state-of-the-art analytical methods will provide you with a unique set of skills that will be attractive to industrial and academic employers. You will join a thriving community of igneous and applied researchers, and work closely with members of two major NERC-funded projects (FAMOS – From Arc Magmas to Ore Systems, and TeaSe – Te and Se Cycling and Supply), as well as chemists and material scientists within the Centre for Sustainable Resource Extraction.

Partners and collaboration

Dan Smith is a lead researcher on various projects using mineral geochemistry in economic geology, including by-product potential in ore deposits. He leads the University of Leicester contributions to the NERC FAMOS and TeaSe projects.

Eva Marquis is a research fellow with a background in using whole-rock and mineral geochemistry to investigate how critical metals are concentrated in natural systems. Her focus has been on the mobilisation of rare earth elements in the magmatic through to supergene environment.

Tom Knott is a senior analyst with specialised expertise in the operation and application of micro-beam analyses and automated mineralogy to geological materials. His research background includes the use of whole-rock and mineral geochemistry in the investigation of large-scale magmatic systems.

Andrew Menzies is Senior Application Scientist in Geology and Mining at Bruker Nano Analytics, with 20 years’ experience in mineralogy and petrology, and innovation in microscale analysis.

Eddy Hill is Senior Applications Development Engineer in Natural Resources and Metals at ZEISS Research Microscopy Solutions.  He has 20 years’ experience as a geologist, mineralogist and analyst.

Further details

Please contact Dan Smith ( for further information or to discuss the project in more detail.

Possible timeline

Year 1

Training in SEM-based analytical techniques. Experiment design for establishing fundamental controls on beam-specimen interactions. Identify case studies.

Year 2

Optimisation of techniques. Publication of technique fundamentals. Case study analysis. Presentation at international conferences. Internship opportunities.

Year 3

Additional optimisation of techniques. Publication of case study results. Write up. International conference presentations.

Further reading

Holwell, D.A., Adeyemi, Z., Ward, L.A., Smith, D.J., Graham, S.D., McDonald, I. and Smith, J.W., 2017. Low temperature alteration of magmatic Ni-Cu-PGE sulfides as a source for hydrothermal Ni and PGE ores: A quantitative approach using automated mineralogy. Ore Geology Reviews, 91, pp.718-740.

Haschke, M., Rossek, U., Tagle, R. and Waldschläger, U., 2012. Fast elemental mapping with micro-XRF. Adv X Ray Anal, 55, pp.286-298.


The essential laboratory work within this project can be carried out within University of Leicester’s covid-secure facilities. Automated and remote analytical routines mean that analytical facilities can be run even with minimal presence on campus.