Stephen E. Cox

Research Projects

Note that all published papers and most abstracts are available on the CV page. If something is missing, please email and I will happily send a reprint.

Quadrupole Ion Trap

During the last two years, I have worked with the JPL Planetary Surface Instruments group on a quadrupole ion trap mass spectrometer. This instrument has been developed for years at JPL by Stojan Madzunkov, Murray Darrach, and others. My contribution has been to add the capability of doing static vacuum measurements in a UHV chamber, and to develop the instrument for doing high resolution measurements of small quantities of noble gases. The QIT has very low background and high mass resolution in a small, efficient package that makes it ideal for spaceflight, portable terrestrial applications, and labs with limited budgets.

Cosmogenic nuclide dating

I am interested in new methods for and applications of cosmogenic nuclide dating, especially in using rare cosmogenic noble gas species (such as helium-3 and neon-21) to address problems that are challenging for other systems because of the cost of AMS analyses or the limitations of dating with radioactive nuclides. I am also interested in improving the relationships of different cosmogenic chronometers for the purposes of burial dating and creating chronologies that span many timescales.

The Nucleogenic Neon Chronometer

The (U-Th)/He chronometer has become well known in the past twenty years, but it is not the only chronometer based on production of alpha particles by uranium and thorium. While the vast majority of the energetic alpha particles emitted during uranium and thorium decay come to rest as stable helium-4, a small minority react with other isotopes to form new nucleogenic daughter products. For example, alpha particles may react with oxygen-18 to produce neon-21, which is a rare stable isotope of neon. This is the basis for the (U-Th)/Ne chronometer, and we are working to better quantify the production rate of nucleogenic neon and the diffusivity of neon in various minerals to enable this chronometer to be applied to more problems in the geological sciences.

Heavy Noble Gases

I am interested in the application of the heavier noble gases (krypton and xenon) to geochronology. These gases present analytical challenges due to their high mass and low abundance in most environments, but their many stable and long-lived isotopes and different geochemical properties also present opportunities for expanding the capabilites of noble gas dating.

Mono Lake

During the year that I continued working in the AGES Lab before coming to Caltech, I started work on a different research project that aims to improve the chronology of the Wilson Creek Formation at Mono Lake, CA. This formation consists of lake sediments from the last glacial period that are punctuated frequently by rhyolitic ashes, so we hope to date the constituents of the ashes to better constrain the records preserved in the lake sediments. I am working on applying the (U-Th)/He technique to allanite found in some of these ashes.

East Antarctica

As an undergraduate, I participated in the broad Antarctic sediment provenance research project that is ongoing at Lamont-Doherty Earth Observatory. As a member of Sidney Hemming's AGES Lab, I worked on 40Ar/39Ar thermochronology at Lamont and (U-Th)/He thermochronology in Pete Reiners' Arizona Radiogenic Helium Dating Laboratory. More information about this project can be found here: AGES -- Antarctica