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What are isotopes and what can they tell us?

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Curtin’s John de Laeter Centre houses advanced instrumentation for high quality chemical, mineralogical and microstructural analysis, and high resolution imaging. This video shows the SHRIMP B, one of two high resolution ion micro probes located at the centre.


An isotope is an atom that has a differing number of neutrons to another atom from the same element. Most elements have several naturally occurring isotopes. The word isotope is from Greek origins meaning ‘the same place’, because different isotopes of the same element occupy the same position on the periodic table.

Measuring the abundance of different isotopes within a rock, meteorite or fossil can help narrow down its age and origins. Curtin’s sensitive high-resolution ion microprobes, or SHRIMP, is used for this purpose. Researchers have used it to reveal previously unknown detail on the evolution of the early Earth, the age of the earliest mega-fossils and the timeframe of major geographical events.

Find out more at Curtin Open Day!

If you are interested in a career in this field, come along to Curtin Open Day on 29 July 2018 and take a tour of our laboratories, find out more about molecular fossils and watch scanning probe microscopy in action.

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