Use of B and Li isotopes to better understand the fate of lithium in crustal environments


Discovered in Serbia in 2006, the mineral jadarite is composed of sodium, lithium, boron silicate and hydroxide © The Trustees of the Natural History Museum, London

Developing better models for lithium behavior in the upper crust to better predict its distribution, aiding mineral exploration and extraction. 

Project rationale

Lithium is vital to the production of rechargeable batteries used in a range of products from grid backups to electric vehicles to mobile phones. In the short to the medium term lithium is the one element unlikely to be substituted due to its combination of low atomic mass and high density charge.

Lithium is currently exploited from a variety of brine (salar) and hard rock deposit types. Serendipitous discovery of the new and enigmatic Jadar Li-borate deposit in Serbia, opens up new geological environments with the potential to host significant lithium resources.

Thus it is timely to develop better models for lithium behavior in the upper crust to better predict its distribution, aiding mineral exploration and extraction. Such models will require an understanding of primary reservoirs of lithium in crustal rocks (magmas, volcanics, sediments), and mechanisms of transport and deposition into economic deposits.

Using integrated geochemistry and specifically lithium isotope systematics (coupled with that of Boron, Sr, D and O) will provide the tools by which we will deliver a significantly improved understanding and quantification of these processes.

This PhD project will also benefit from being linked to the NERC highlight topic project LiFT, partnered by both the Natural History Museum and University of Southampton as well as a range of international academic and industry partners.


The Jadar deposit shows an intimate association between lithium and boron mineralization, whereas borate deposits of similar age and geologic setting within the nearby Anatolian borate province do not contain economic levels of lithium.

The primary hypothesis to be tested in the PhD (including the use of Li, B and Sr isotopes) is that the lithium at Jadar is derived from local granite sources that are absent in Anatolia. This will involve analyses of drill core and field samples from Jadar, as well as Li isotope analyses of samples from Anatolian borate deposits.

The project will involve active fieldwork in Serbia, and possibly Turkey, to establish key geological relationships followed by extensive lab-based geochemistry and isotopic analysis.

The project will utilize the state-of-the-art geochemistry and isotope labs at UoS supported by mineralogical analytical facilities at the NHM, which are underpinned by extensive collections of Li-minerals from other continental collisional settings.


The INSPIRE DTP program provides comprehensive personal and professional development training alongside extensive opportunities for students to expand their multi-disciplinary outlook through interactions with a wide network of academic, research and industrial/policy partners.

The student will be registered at the University of Southampton and hosted at the School of Ocean and Earth Science. Specific training will include: Extensive application of the following geochemical techniques in particular XRD, XRF, SEM, ICP-MS, TIMS and application of Boron and Lithium Isotopes to geological problem.

Eligibility and how to apply

Read how to apply on the INSPIRE website.

The deadline for applications is 4 January 2021.

Apply for this project

Please check the INSPIRE website for details on how to apply.

Application deadline: 4 January 2021.


University of Southampton

Prof Stephen Roberts

Prof Martin Palmer

The Natural History Museum, London

Prof Richard Herrington


Palmer MR & Helvaci C 1997. The boron isotope geochemistry of the Neogene borate deposits of western Turkey. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, 61, 3161-3169.

Palmer MR, Helvaci C & Fallick AE 2004. Sulphur, sulphate oxygen and strontium isotopic composition of Cenozoic Turkish evaporates. Chemical Geology, 209, 341-356.

Interdisciplinary Southampton Partnership for Investigators Researching the Environment

This a joint PhD training partnership between the Natural History Museum and INSPIRE a NERC Doctoral Training Partnership (DTP) creating an innovative multi-disciplinary experience for the effective training of future leaders in environmental science, engineering, technology development, business, and policy.

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