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4.85 million euro for new multidisciplinary lab

21 May 2021
The subdepartment of Geology and Geochemistry led by VU Professor Gareth Davies, will receive a €4.85 million NWO Large grant to set up and equip a modern new laboratory for isotope geochemistry analysis. This ambitious and multidisciplinary research programme will help maintain the VU’s leading international position.

This new infrastructure will be located in the brand new VU Research Building at the De Boelelaan. The ‘Netherlands state-of-the-art Isotope GEochemistry Laboratory’, in short NIGEL, will be established for use by national and international research groups from Earth and planetary sciences, archaeology, forensic research, and cultural heritage.

Plate tectonics and volcanism
Earth science research at the new NIGEL focuses primarily on terrestrial element cycles (e.g., carbon/CO2) resulting from plate tectonics and volcanism and their influence on climate. In addition, research will be conducted on the origin of our habitable planet and other planets within and outside our solar system. From an archaeological perspective, research will take place into the diet and mobility of animals and humans, for example within ‘Constructing the Limes’ project, and the production and origin of metal objects to gain insight into trade and social networks.

From a cultural heritage perspective, detailed biographies of artworks will be studied to investigate the development of artistic methods and thus to support the development of optimal preservation strategies. Within forensics, NIGEL will allow the research group to analyse more and smaller types of material that may open up new lines of research related to forensic ‘cold cases’.

Smaller samples
VU Professor Gareth Davies is the project leader of NIGEL. VU Earth scientists Dr Pieter Vroon and Dr Janne Koornneef and geo/bioarchaeologist Dr Lisette Kootker are also involved. The other partners in the research are the University of Groningen, Utrecht University, Leiden University, the Rijksmuseum, and the Netherlands Forensic Institute (NFI).

Within the brand-new laboratory, new mass spectrometry methods will be introduced to enable analysis of extremely small samples (<10 ng) and in-situ measurements, both essential for research where sample size is a limiting factor, but high precision is required. Microscopic samples can be analysed; for example dating mineral inclusions in diamonds or provenance determinations of museum quality artefacts or materials (gold, silver, paintings, human remains) that cannot be destructively sampled.

About NWO Large
In total, NWO is investing 20 million euros in seven projects for innovative scientific infrastructure. These ‘NWO Large Investments’ will be used to purchase high-quality equipment, data collections and software. In this way NWO strengthens the scientific infrastructure that Dutch knowledge institutions make available to the Dutch research community.

Figure: Examples of the materials studied by NIGEL users: a) high pressure experimental charge simulating exoplanet interiors; b) melt inclusion in olivine phenocryst; c) cathodoluminescent image of diamond showing growth zones and dated silicate inclusions; d) knife handle (5 cm across) from 'citizen science' PAN project; e) silver platter presented to Piet Hein purported to be manufactured from silver he “appropriated” from the Spanish in 1628; e) Vermeer’s “Girl with the pearl earring”. All images supplied by project collaborators.