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Scholarship details

2019 - PhD Scholarship in Isotope Geology/ Sedimentology/ Geo-computing

Status: Closed

Applications open: 21/06/2019
Applications close: 30/07/2019

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About this scholarship

We are seeking four PhD students to join the Timescales team, Centre for Exploration Targeting –Curtin University, School of Earth and Planetary Sciences, to work on the following two major industry-partnered research themes. The positions will involve engaging with fellow students, senior collaborators and industry associates both locally and internationally, and is generously financially supported. 


Theme one: First cycle provenance information for Western Australia 

The aims of this research are to enhance stratigraphic understanding of sedimentary sequences in Western Australia through application of novel provenance fingerprinting tools in K-feldspar (Pb isotopes) & apatite (U-Pb, Sr isotopes and grain chemistry). In this work K-feldspar & apatite provenance investigation will be undertaken on a state wide basis and include case studies in the Yilgarn Craton and Canning & Northern Carnarvon Basins. 


PhD 1: New detrital provenance tools applied to the late basins and Black Flag Group of the Yilgarn Craton. 

The felsic volcano-sedimentary sequences forming the stratigraphy of the Kalgoorlie Terrane, in the Eastern Goldfields Superterrane, Yilgarn Craton, Western Australia developed between c. 2690 and 2640 Ma, coincident with gold mineralisation. The stratigraphy of the Kalgoorlie Terrane is complex with multiple depositional cycles. We seek to fingerprint specific horizons within these units in order to determine if mineralization is restricted to, or favours, a given lithology. Fingerprinting these stratigraphic horizons using a new isotope based provenance tool-kit will clearly aid stratigraphic correlations in poorly outcropping areas and in drill core intersections. Specifically, the research will help address a range of issues pertinent to industry (Northern Star) and Government (Geological Survey - GSWA partners) in the Yilgarn Craton, by using provenance signatures to track fertile stratigraphy. 

PhD 2: Provenance of the Northern Carnarvon and Canning Basins using non-conventional provenance tools

This project will explore two sedimentary systems: 
1) The Ordovician–Cretaceous Canning Basin, a significant hydrocarbon-producing province, onshore Western Australia, which remains poorly explored. The provenance of some sandstone units in the Canning Basin has been explored using U-Pb detrital zircon dating, but the story is complex due to lateral and vertical variation within this large basin, and evidence for extensive recycling of detrital zircon in most samples. Geoscience Australia and GSWA are planning to acquire a deep cored stratigraphic drill hole in 2019. This work will obtain a suite of sandstone samples from this well, which will allow a unique case study of changing provenance through time at a single location within the basin. 

2) The Northern Carnarvon Basin contains two important reservoirs in this prolific hydrocarbon province. Existing conventional provenance studies of zircon grains from this basin reveal significant Mesoproterozoic and Neoproterozoic sources, some of which may ultimately be derived from as far away as Antarctica. These studies reveal zircon populations that are similar to those of older sedimentary sequences elsewhere in Australia, which could either imply a long-lived supercontinent-scale fluvial system, or extensive sediment reworking. Analysis of the provenance of first cycle feldspar grains will enable these different contributions to be assessed.


Theme two: Integrated 3G - geochronology-geochemistry-grain shape: a new toolkit for mineral sands understanding

The aims of this research are to establish the effectiveness of new integrated approaches to characterise enigmatic aspects of grain and basin histories and ultimately, define significant controls on heavy mineral sand systems. Fundamentally, the basic understanding of mineral sand deposit genesis has remained largely unchanged for several decades, and while the geological logic remains sound, most accepted primary controls/considerations (e.g., source-transport-upgrading-trap-preservation) remain untested or unquantified in terms of their relative significance for deposit magnitude.


PhD 3: To see the world in a grain of sand: integrating techniques and phases to reconstruct more complete geological histories

This project will apply integrated single-grain geochronology-thermochronology-geochemistry of targeted detrital heavy mineral phases (e.g., zircon, rutile, apatite, etc.) in heavy mineral deposits, recent sands, and source basement from key Australian and global sites. The different closure temperatures targeted by the planned dating techniques, as well as dissimilar source fertility and robustness of the various target minerals will allow a detailed picture of their origin and transport history. The work will: (i) fingerprint specific fertile source rocks, (ii) understand the crystallisation/metamorphic and exhumation histories of source regions, (iii) reveal cryptic aspects of intermediate detrital mineral grain histories between erosion and ultimate incorporation into a final sedimentary package and (ii) quantify multi-cycle burial-lithification-erosion. Ultimately, this project will provide improved understanding of fundamental aspects of regional geological histories and contextualise world class heavy mineral deposit genesis.


PhD 4: Harnessing computing to resolve industry and academic geological problems; grain shape analysis as a new provenance tool

The generation of increasingly large datasets in the geosciences presents significant potential for innovative data-mining approaches to establish new tools for both academic and industrial application. One area that shows promise is the use of grain shape to cheaply and rapidly determine the source and transport history of eroded particles. This project will utilise the resources of the world’s largest mineral sand company and state survey repositories to develop a new analytical tool that can be integrated with standard geological approaches for basin analysis and heavy mineral sand exploration. Furthermore, this project will be involved in developing rigorous statistical analysis of large geochronological and sedimentological datasets by the broader geological community.

  • Future Students
  • Faculty of Science & Engineering
    • Science courses
  • Higher Degree by Research
  • Australian Citizen
  • Australian Permanent Resident
  • New Zealand Citizen
  • Permanent Humanitarian Visa
  • International Student
  • Merit Based

Successful candidate will receive a living stipend of AUD$27,596 per annum for the duration of 3 years.  

In addition, the Scholarship will include the Tuition Fee-Offset for successful international student for the duration of 3 years.

Scholarship Details


  • A BSc Hons (first class) or Masters (preferably by research) in Geoscience by the time of appointment
  • Ability to work with a broad range of people from varying research backgrounds and evidence of strong oral and written communication skills 
  • Demonstrated ability to work independently while contributing to overall team performance and proven ability to meet performance deadlines during the course of a project 
  • Demonstrated commitment to publish the results of research in scientific journals
  • High competency in relevant scientific disciplines as required by project (e.g. sedimentology/basin analysis/geochronology/thermochronology/geocomputing/statistics/programming desirable)
  • Demonstrated experience in a research environment/laboratory or research team would be beneficial
  • Evidence of academic awards and academic publications/presentations at conferences desirable

Application process

The deadline for applications is 30 July 2019, but candidates will be considered after this date if suitable applications are not received by the deadline. Preferably applicants would start as soon as practically possible after this date. 

To apply for any of these projects please send an email (with subject heading “Detrital Mineral PhD”) including:

-  CV

-  One page summary explaining why you are a good fit for the project and your research interests

Theme one: PhD 1 and PhD 2

Contact: Prof Chris Kirkland, email:

Theme two: PhD 3 and PhD 4

Contact: Dr Milo Barham, email:

Selection of candidates will be a competitive process. 

Shortlisted candidates will be required to provide further academic transcripts and contact information for two academic references. 

Enrolment Requirements

Must enrol full-time.


Further details regarding the projects, please contact:

Theme one: PhD 1 and PhD 2

Prof Chris Kirkland, email:

Theme two: PhD 3 and PhD 4

Dr Milo Barham, email:

Further Information

About Curtin University and the School of Earth and Planetary Sciences 
Curtin is a dynamic, research-intensive University ranked in the top 1% of universities worldwide (ARWU 2018 and QS World University Rankings 2019), and is placed 20th in the world for universities less than 50 years old (QS Top 50 Under 50 2019). In both the recent 2012 and 2019 rounds, the disciplines of Geology and Geochemistry were awarded the maximum ranking of 5 in the federal government's "Excellence in Research for Australia" assessment. These factors, coupled with excellent analytical facilities and ongoing successes in funding rounds, ensures that candidates will be hosted within a vibrant and dynamic research environment and will receive exceptional research training. The university boasts outstanding geoscience research facilities that successful candidates will be able to access and gain training in, including; two Sensitive High Resolution Ion Microprobes (SHRIMP), two Laser Ablation Split Stream Inductively Coupled Plasma Mass Spectrometers, various qualitative and quantitative petrographic and electron microscopes, sample preparation aids, as well as access to a wide range of other investigative instruments and the Pawsey Supercomputing Centre. 

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