Geochemical Reference Materials Development Laboratory


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6th Avenue, Kipling Blvd
Building 20
Denver, CO 80225
United States

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Development of geochemical reference materials (GRMs) for traditional whole rock analysis. Established in 1951, the USGS was the first organization focused on the development of GRMs using natural resources. The USGS developed state of the art technology which allows for the production of large quantities of materials and serves as a major international supplier of GRMs. Recent efforts have focused on the development of micro-analytical reference materials (MRMs) which support the analysis of geologic materials at the micro sample size. The ability to produce both glass (high temperature) and powder (low temperature) materials allows the USGS to provide appropriate calibrations materials for a wide variety of geochemical studies

Specifications/Capabilities: Ability to collect and produce large volumes of homogeneous well characterized reference materials customized to meet specific customer needs.  USGS procedures allow for development of 1000+ units production runs with exceptional consistency and stability of final product. 

Scientific Opportunities/Applications:  The USGS reference materials task identifies the need for specific material types which support internal investigations associated with mineral and environmental investigations.  Experience has shown that internal needs and requirements for specific GRMs/MRMs transcend to the scientific community resulting in the distribution of our materials to academic, industrial, and government institutions.

Examples of Past Work with Partners:

  • Development of Lunar simulant material for NASA’s Constellation program.  Produced multiple simulant types designed to support NASA plans to develop a lunar outpost at the south pole of the moon.  USGS identified terrestrial analogs for lunar materials, led material collection, and glass development efforts to meet project objectives.
  • Development of quality control materials for Newmont Gold Inc.    Starting materials (500-1000 kg) from selected domestic and international mining operations were sent to the USGS where they were ground, blended, and bottled.   Randomly selected bottles from across the botting process were selected, analyzed for their total element content and the information used to develop recommended element concentrations.
  • Development of Standard Reference Materials for the National Institute for Standards and Technology (NIST).  As the national metrology institute for the United States NIST requires the highest possible quality for any materials they distribute.  Since 1985 the USSG is the primary supplier (25 SRMs) of geochemical reference materials to NIST. These collaborative efforts focus on identification of appropriate material types, sample collection opportunities, and special processing requirements that meet or exceed NIST requirements.
  • Development of customized micro-analytical reference material, University of Mainz, Germany:  Paleoclimate studies involving the analysis of Manganese Oxide coating on geologic materials was hampered by the lack of suitable instrument calibration materials.  The USGS developed a process which produced a matrix matched material (FeMnOX-1) containing a select group of elements at concentrations mimicking natural abundances.  The timely development of this material (200 g) provided a calibration used throughout the study.

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