Next Generation Mass Spectrometer for Noble Gas Geochronology

Lead PI: Dr. Stephen Ellis Cox

Unit Affiliation: Geochemistry, Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO)

August 2021 - August 2026
North America
Project Type: Research


The field of noble gas geochemistry faces several daunting challenges as well as exciting opportunities in the next decade. The generation of scientists who have steered the field almost since its inception have largely retired, the first boom generation of commercial mass spectrometers faces obsolescence, and the major scientific questions facing the earth sciences hold more societal relevance than ever. Noble gas species produced by radioactive decay and cosmic rays are essential to understanding timing and rates of geological processes, and noble gas mass spectrometry is the key that unlocks this information. We propose an aggressive program of technological advance and technique development coupled with open dissemination and coordination with the rest of the field in order to take full advantage of the current opportunities. Establishing an open access noble gas mass spectrometry development lab at Columbia University's Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory (LDEO) with the help of the Moore Foundation will re-establish the symbiotic relationship between commercial actors and academic researchers that drove the rapid development of geochemistry during the middle of the twentieth century. In partnership with the mass spectrometry firm Isotopx, we will plan, develop, test, and deploy the first commercial double-focusing noble gas mass spectrometry platform, a tool that will unlock a new generation of difficult measurements, resolve unsettling questions plaguing the field, and serve as a catalyst for similar developments across isotope geochemistry. The end results of this project will be a world-leading noble gas lab introducing new instruments and refined techniques to the field, a new mass spectrometer for the next generation of high-precision measurements, a marked advance in the application of noble gas measurements to earth science, and a stronger field of noble gas geochemistry. The strengths of the current LDEO noble gas lab (NGL) include an unparalleled bench of personnel (five PIs and numerous students and affiliated researchers) and instrumentation (six noble gas mass spectrometers and a diversity of extraction equipment). The lab also benefits from recent investment in the academic and research infrastructure of Columbia's earth science programs due to the 2021 founding of the Columbia Climate School. These investments include new academic programs and the Novel Isotopes in Climate, Environment and Rocks (NICER) Lab set up at LDEO by Climate School Dean Alex Halliday. A timely infusion of resources from the Moore Foundation will consolidate the resources of the NGL, the high-risk, development- and undergraduate-focused research program fostered by PIs Cox and Hemming, and the recent instrument development investments by Isotopx into a unique and outstanding research facility at a time of critical societal importance for the earth sciences.


Moore (Gordon and Betty) Foundation




earth science noble gases