The Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre: a central facility supporting PANGEA research

The Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre (MWAC) is a network of centralised cutting-edge facilities and expert staff that are open to the entire UNSW research community and beyond. The MWAC currently comprises the following units:

  • EMU - Electron Microscope Unit
  • BMSF - Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility
  • SSEAU - Solid State & Elemental Analysis Unit
  • SPECLAB - Spectroscopy Laboratory
  • NMR - Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility
  • Stats Central
  • BMIF - Biomedical Imaging Facility
  • BRIL - Biological Resources Imaging Laboratory
  • CCL - Commercial & Consulting
  • TAU - Transgenic Animal Unit
  • Lowy Biorepository

For more information about the MWAC or its constituent units, see

Many MWAC staff have research interests aligned with the PANGEA research centre, and some have been recognised as affiliates of PANGEA. PANGEA affiliates are currently based in the Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility (BMSF) and the Electron Microscope Unit (EMU).

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility

UNSW Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility brings together advanced mass spectrometric equipment and expertise. For the first time UNSW is using mass spectrometry capabilities to enhance and enliven paleoproteomic research at the university. This is a collaborative research project to study ancient biomolecules, essential for understanding the social, ecological and evolutionary impact of humans through time.

Paleoproteomics is the scientific study of ancient proteins. It provides a new view of the past that takes advantage of the sometimes exceptional protein preservation above and beyond the fragility of DNA, particularly in climates that quickly degrade DNA; the very regions with the greatest biodiversity near the equator!

The information stored within ancient proteomes offers huge potential. If we can account for both the effects of temporal fidelity and the geographical environment of the specimen in repose, these ancient human specimens promise to illuminate which genes were active, pathologies, dominant protein specific isoforms (including gender specific isoforms), and how protein function has changed over time.

The paleoproteomic outcomes can be combined with the results from other mass spectrometry analysis of bone to provide additional information.  In one such analysis very small amounts of acid are added to tiny amounts of bone apatite, which converts the carbon and oxygen to carbon dioxide gas. This gas is then analysed by the mass spectrometer to measure the precise amounts of the stable isotopes of carbon (12-C and 13-C) and oxygen (16O and 18-O).The study of the carbon and oxygen isotopes in the bone help determinethe environments humans or other animals lived and what they ate (diet). 


Dr Valerie Wasinger
Senior Research Scientist
Conjoint Senior Lecturer UNSW

Lewis Adler

Senior Technical Officer

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility
Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre
Room 404B, Lv4 Wallace Wurth Building C27

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility
Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre
Lab B50, Chemical Sciences Building F10

Ph:+61 2 9385 1678

+61 2 93857739


Learn Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry from the Experts.


Kiel You-Tube from UNSW TV:


Electron Microscope Unit

The facilities and expertise of the EMU are targeted toward imaging and spatially-resolved microanalysis, from the millimetre to the nanometre scale. The EMU provides PANGEA, UNSW, external and commercial researchers to high-end microscopy techniques such as:

-          Scanning Electron Microscopy (SEM): cm-to-nanoscale morphological, compositional, and qualitative & quantitative elemental characterisation

  • Associated techniques: EDS, WDS (EPMA), EBSD

-          Transmission Electron Microscopy (TEM): micro-to-nanoscale structural and compositional characterisation

  • Associated techniques: EDS, diffraction, cryo-TEM, STEM, tomography

-          Focused Ion Beam (FIB): microscale sectioning and imaging of subsurface structures; 3D sectioning and rendering of sample volumes

  • Associated techniques: TEM sample fabrication, high-speed plasma FIB (due end 2017)

-          Atomic Force Microscopy (AFM): accurate nano-scale surface topography measurement, imaging & 3D rendering

  • Associated techniques: phase imaging, magnetic force microscopy

For a comprehensive and current list of EMU microscopy and specimen preparation facilities, see

The EMU is the largest unit of the MWAC, and provides training and research support to internal researchers, as well as those from other domestic and international universities, government agencies, and commercial entities. EMU staff also collaborate on research projects, from concept development through presentation and publication.

In addition to the wide range of advanced microscopy techniques provided and supported in-house by the EMU, the EMU’s participation in the Australian Microscopy and Microanalysis Research Facility (AMMRF) provides users access to additional world-class techniques and expertise based at partner institutions around Australia, such as nano-SIMS (UWA) and Atom Probe Microscopy (University of Sydney). In partnership with other AMMRF members, the EMU has helped to develop MyScope, an online tool now used across the world to teach theory and operation of a variety of microscopy and microanalysis techniques to students and researchers.

AMMRF website:



PANGEA research at the EMU

Some recent research conducted at the EMU by PANGEA staff and affiliates:

Astrobiology/Early Life on Earth:

Tara Djokic, Martin van Kranendonk and colleauges examined ca. 3.45 Ga stromatolites using techniques including SEM-EDS to extend the known geological record of inhabited terrestrial hot springs on Earth by around 3 billion years.

Palaeoenvironmental Reconstruction:

Chris Turney, Zoë Thomas, Karen Privat and colleagues used SEM imaging to examine the morphology of sediment grains to aid reconstruction of ancient atmospheric circulation regimes over southern NZ.


Karen Privat and colleagues examined the morphology of early colonial Peruvian pottery sherds to reconstruct firing techniques and technologies employed by the indigenous population in the period immediately following the Spanish invasion.


Sue Hand used SEM facilities at the EMU to characterise the dentition of a new archaic bat from the Eocene.


EMU Contact:

Dr Karen Privat

Research Associate

Electron Microscope Unit

Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre

Chemical Sciences Building (F10), Basement

The University of New South Wales


FEI Nova NanoSEM230 FE-SEM video by UNSW TV:


Clockwise from top left:

Samples prepared for electron probe microanalysis (EPMA): tiny fragments of archaeological glass, metal pieces, a geological thin section, & bivalve shell fragment; example of Peruvian early colonial green glazed ware vessel & corresponding SEM image of potsherd fragment; backscattered electron (BSE) image of framboidal pyrites formed via pyritic fossilisation of bacterial colonies within dolomitic limestone (image: Angela Lay); BSE image of a fragment of glass vessel from the Hellenistic site of Jebel Khalid in northern Syria, overlain by a map showing lead (Pb) distribution and its correspondence to the opaque yellow-white banding in the otherwise turquoise glass.