Detrital mineral records of magmatism and fertility in porphyry copper districts

Copper ore within the rock in a mine.

Copper ore within the rock in a mine.Image © Tchoupis/Shutterstock

This research will provide new insights into the multi-million year and district-scale evolution of igneous complexes that produce economic porphyry-copper deposits.

Background and aims

The aim of the project is to examine and understand the mineral chemistry of igneous and alteration minerals from the mineralized centres of a major porphyry copper ore district and their transport, dilution and survival in drainage samples in order to develop effective exploration screening tools for porphyry ore systems.

Key questions to be addressed in this research include:

1. Can district-scale detrital sampling give us deeper insights into the long-term temporal evolution of arc magmatic systems that generate fertile porphyry ore systems?

2. What are the characteristics of drainage minerals downstream of superior value mineralisation as opposed to smaller and less economic occurrences?

3. Can the effects of anthropogenic and mining related disturbances be compensated for during down-stream sampling?

4. What is an optimised workflow for drainage sampling, preparation and analysis to ensure that representative populations for key indicator minerals are obtained?


An initial literature review of igneous accessory mineral and propylitic mineral chemistry in porphyry systems will compile data on the scale, mineralogical zonation, geochronology and spatio-temporal mineral chemistry patterns.

Fieldwork will involve mapping and sampling of igneous units and propylitically altered rocks in the selected case study district, and sampling of key drainage catchments. Where necessary, intrusions will be dated using zircon U-Pb LAICP-MS in order to pin key geological events. Both in situ and drainage samples collected from across the district will form the basis of subsequent mineralogical, geochemical and geochronological analysis.

Samples will be studied using conventional microscopy, hot cathode cathodoluminescence (CL) and electron beam instruments housed at the Natural History Museum (NHM) in order to establish mineral relationships, textures and chemistry. Analysis of minerals by automated (TESCAN TIMA) SEM, analytical SEM, microprobe and LA-ICP-MS methods (including LA-ICP-MS mapping) will determine the residence of major and trace elements. Dating of rock-hosted and detrital zircon, apatite, titanite and epidote will be done using U-Pb geochronology by LA-ICP-MS.

How to apply

Apply for the project on the NHM careers website by sending your CV, covering letter outlining your interest in the PhD position, relevant skills training, experience and qualifications for the research and a statement of how this PhD project fits your career development plans. Please also include two academic references.

We suggest you read our helpful document about applying for a PhD as well as the SSCP application top tips.

In your CV (2 pages maximum), we ask that you do not include information such as age and gender. If you are successful in the next stage, your CV will need to be submitted with your name extracted or replaced with initials/unique identifier number. When you ask for references (required later in the process), please ask your referee to use initials instead of your name and ensure the language is gender-neutral. 

Apply for this project

Apply for this project through the NHM careers website

Application deadline: Friday 6 January 2023 at 12 pm GMT

SSCP application top tips

Please note, the successful applicant will be registered at Imperial College London for this project.


Find out about meeting the terms and conditions for funding.

Lead supervisor

Prof Jamie Wilkinson

Natural History Museum & Imperial College London

University supervisor

Prof Pieter Vermeesch

University College London

Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP)

This is a joint project between the Science and Solutions for a Changing Planet (SSCP) Doctoral Training Partnership at Imperial College London and The Natural History Museum.