Potential postgraduate projects

If you are interested in one of the projects below, please contact the responsible supervisor to discuss the project further. Not all staff members are represented here with projects at all times. You should therefore also browse though the Department's Research page and academic staff page to contact other supervisors whose research sounds interesting to you. 


René Heyn​

Available MSc research project for 2020:  X-ray micro-computed tomography (μCT) approach to the characterization of gemstones

Project description:  During the last three decades, the disclosure of gemstone treatment, such as fracture filling to improve clarity or heat treatment to enhance colour, has been a topic of controversy in the gemstone industry. This is further driven by the lack of an accepted classification code for coloured gemstones (any gemstone other than diamonds). Fracture filling for example, has the ability to significantly increase the value of essentially poor quality gems and is difficult to visually detect and quantify without resorting to destructive and time consuming methods. When such enhancing treatments are not disclosed it poses a threat to consumer confidence of an industry valued at US$10–$15 billion. This project will investigate the potential of X-ray micro computed tomography (micro-CT or μCT) as a routine and non-destructive method to aid the detection and quantification of clarity enhancement within gemstones as well as providing a fingerprint unique for every gemstone. The project will be well suited to a student with interests in mineralogy.



Ryan Tucker

(1) Shark Tooth Forensics: Biodiversity survey of Miocene sediment from North Carolina, USA

(2) Radiometric age dating and analysis of the Jehol Group, Liaoning Province, China; Implications for the rise and radiation of Pygostylia (Theropod, Dinosauria)

(3) U-Pb province and basin analysis of detrital zircons recovered from the Adamantina Formation, Bauru Basin, Brazil


M Klausen

[1] "Were the Wolkberg Group lavas, underlying basement sills and a coinciding Rykoppies feeder dyke swarm emplaced during the same igneous event?": This project uses field relationships, petrography and bulk rock geochemistry to compare and investigate links between what appears to be coeval igneous units (outcrop across the Limpopo-Mpumalanga Provincial border), emplaced during a major tectonic and stratigraphical shift from the highly volcanic Ventersdorp (predominantly erupted along a SW-NE trending rift) to the more clastic-dominated Transvaal Supergroup (predominantly deposited with an E-W trending basin).

[2] "The distribution, petrography and geochemistry of ESE-trending mafic dykes across the KZN basement inlier": This project entails a standard igneous petrology study on dykes that have already been sampled and analysed for bulk rock geochemistry. Additional field work is possible, but not prerequisite. As some of these Precambrian dykes have also been dated, it might be possible to compare and correlate these to any coeval igneous rocks on other cratons. 

[3] An MSc- and ongoing Honours project have already studied a remarkably variable set of dyke swarms across southern Angola (mainly sampled in 2016 and 2018). In order to wrap up this area, some more 2018 samples need to be properly described and interpreted, and brought into context of the other two studies. These samples were collected from (1) more gabbronoritic, SSE-NNE trending and likely Umkondo-aged (1.1 Ga) dykes, (2) possible 1.5 Ga SW-NE trending dykes and sills, as well as (3) more locally distributed rhyolites and more Si-undersaturated alkaline dykes. Thus, another classical study that includes field relationships (from Google Earth as well as the supervisor’s field notes and photographs), thin section petrography and bulk rock geochemistry. 

[4] A national heritage site of spectacular orbicular granites is located a few kilometers NE of Springbok, within the Bushmanland subprovince. An additional two sites within the Goegap Nature Reserve (one being the copper-enriched Bloumyn) have recently been discovered by Mr Louis Jonk, and this has spurred our interest in getting (1) all three known sites (drone-)mapped, (2) their orbicules – and any variations amongst these – described, and (3) mineral compositions determined by SEM, in as much detail as possible. A zircon age or two may also be acquired. The aim is to better understand the formation of these orbicules. A search for more orbicular granites sites across the subprovince may also be implemented, but will then become more of an MSc-project.

[5] The 795 Ma Gannakouriep dyke swarm is currently being mapped in Google Earth and has recently been sampled from its most easterly outcrop, east of Grunau, to its presumed most westerly outcrop, near Luderitz. The >400-wide swarm of up to km-thick dykes formed during Rodinia breakup and is remarkably Fe-rich, compared to many other giant dyke swarms. The project will (1) attempt to complete the Google Earth mapping of Gannakouriep dykes, (2) describe how the petrography changes from almost pristine dolerites in the east to amphibolites in the west, as well as (3) constrain any geochemical variations that may relate to both petrogenetic and differentiation processes.
[6] In addition to the dominant Gannakouriep dyke swarm in project [5], the Richtersveld subprovince is also blessed with a number of minor dyke swarms of different trends and/or compositions. Most of these intrusions are presumed related to a row of ring-complexes (i.e., the predominantly alkaline Kuboos-Bremen Igneous Province; Smithies & Marsh, 1996), which were emplaced across the province very shortly after the Pan-African Gariep orogeny. The aim of the project is to test this inference and maybe even link sub-swarms to individual ring-complexes. Evidence for this would be sought through field relationships (i.e., mapping dykes in Google Earth), thin section petrography and bulk rock geochemistry. If need be, additional field work may be done.

You are also welcome to propose your own igneous research project, preferably supported by, e.g., a mining/exploration company or government survey, or use my co-supervision on a project that links to igneous processes.

G Stevens

Gary Stevens has a diverse range of honours projects available to students interested in igneous and/or metamorphic petrology. Almost any type of project is possible including field- and/or petrography-based, experimental, modelling, analytical etc. In all cases a bursary to cover tuition costs and contribute to living costs is included in the project. Such projects will be awarded to students who are interested in continuing with an expanded version of the project as an MSc study and who have achieved good marks in the parts of the BSc course that are relevant to the study. If you are interested please contact Gary gs@sun.ac.za to discuss possible projects.


Environmental Geochemistry

A number of funded projects are available in the general field of Biogeochemistry of Trace metals in the Southern Ocean.  The projects require a strong interest in Chemistry and Analytical Chemistry as applied to biological processes in the oceans. Superior laboratory skills and careful, forward thinking personality is a must. Although, your performance in tests and exams is important, it is not the sole parameter to work on the research projects. Students who intend to go on to MSc are preferred.

  1. A suite of projects are available related to the distribution of a) nutrient-type trace metals in the  Southern Ocean, such as Fe, Cd, Cu, Zn, Mn ..  as well as b) trace metals derived from anthropogenic emissions, such as lead (Pb)
  2. Related to the above topic is a study on methylmercury in the Southern Ocean. This project is only available to students wishing to pursue at least into M.Sc. A strong interest in interdisciplinary and international work is requested for these projects as it is a collaborative work with Mediterranean Institute of Oceanography, Marseille, France.
  3. Another project is offered in 2017 related to improve understanding of the re-dissolution of trace metals (some toxic and some fertilising) from re-suspended surface sediments in the Benguela Upwelling system. Such re-suspension of surface sediment can happen naturally due to turbulences or artificially due to dredging, for instance.
  4. Furthermore, we seek students to support our study on southern hemisphere aerosols sources and trajectories, their general geochemistry and trace metal composition, and their dissolution kinetics, which leads to study their potential fertilisation and/or inhibitory effects after deposition. A student with an interest in atmospheric sciences is required for this project.
  5. Linked to project #1d is a study on aluminium (Al) distribution in the Southern Ocean as tracer of dust deposition
  6. A fourth current related topic is to support our study on algae community composition and adaptation, driving factors and the impact on biogeochemical cycles (including carbon and its impact on the global climate), and/or on marine sediment formation (siliceous ooze, vs. calcareous ooze, for instance). A strong interest in interdisciplinary work, including biological sciences, is requested for this project.

Projects can also be designed in the field of hydrogeochemistry and Mine related pollution issues if they align with student interest, particularly looking at chemical characterization of groundwater, mineral dissolution kinetics and/or transport.

Another field of studies relates to paleo-geochemistry and climate reconstructions and establishing or improving tools for paleo-reconstructions. We use organic molecules to reconstruct the climate of the past, understand natural variability to disentangle the current anthropogenic impact. This, in turn, helps to improve the projections of the future. Climate reconstructions in the marine realm (Benguela system) and in eastern South Africa (St. Lucia) are currently available.

We also seek support for our study on river pollution and the impact of rainfall events on Western Cape's river water quality. A study conducted in 2016-2018 has revealed interesting trends in the Eerste River and Lourens River and we will extend this study to other rivers of the Western Cape in 2019. 

 Students are also welcome to approach us should they have their own ideas of a project.