Indiana University Bloomington

Laura E. Wasylenki

Assistant Professor of Geological Sciences

Biogeochemistry of Metals

Office:   MSBII-S420
Phone:   812-855-7508
Sesame Lab website

Educational Background

  • Ph.D., 1999, Geology, California Institute of Technology
  • M.S., 1995, Geology, California Institute of Technology
  • B.S., 1992, Geology and Symbolic Systems, Stanford University

Previous Positions

  • 2004-2010 Research Scientist, School of Earth and Space Exploration, Arizona State University
  • 2002-2004 Postdoctoral Scholar, Department of Geosciences, Virginia Tech
  • 1999-2002 Assistant Professor, Department of Geology, Hartwick College
  • 1999 Visiting Assistant Professor, Department of Geology, University of Illinois-Urbana

Research Interests

I am a biogeochemist investigating metal chemistry in the earth’s lithosphere, hydrosphere, and biosphere. Specifically I examine stable isotope fractionation of transition and post-transition metals in order to develop new tools for tracing chemical reactions that involve metals.

My primary focus is on fundamental, experimental investigations of metal isotope fractionation mechanisms. In the past ten years multi-collector ICP mass spectrometry has led to the discovery that stable isotopes of most metals fractionate in a wide range of environments all over the Earth. The number of published metal isotope analyses is burgeoning rapidly, and the prospect of much new understanding of metal chemistry in nature is exciting. Few investigators, however, have yet attempted to elucidate the mechanisms that drive metal isotope fractionation. Without careful investigation of molecular-scale mechanisms and systematics of metal isotope effects, we cannot hope to interpret robustly the wealth of information available in nature.

Courses Taught

  • G104 Evolution of the Earth
  • G406 Introduction to Geochemistry
  • G690 Non-traditional Stable Isotope Geochemistry

Currently Funded Projects

  • NSF Chemical Oceanography "Systematics of zinc isotopes in the oceans: assessing the roles of speciation and surfaces." (Co-investigators Ariel D. Anbar, Arizona State University and Thomas Spiro, University of Washington). The objective of this project is to investigate zinc isotope fractionation mechanisms relevant to zinc cycling within the oceans and between seawater and marine sediment. The work is experimental and involves adsorption and crystal growth experiments. Much of the work is done in a trace metal-clean laboratory, and isotope compositions of samples are measured by multi-collector ICP-MS. The grant supports a graduate student and one or more undergraduate interns.
  • NASA Exobiology "Assessing nickel isotope fractionation during abiotic processes." In this project we will determine whether low-temperature, abiotic processes can fractionate stable isotopes of nickel. Nickel isotopes in ancient rocks may be the key to understanding the decline in productivity of methanogens, which led to profound changes in the course of evolution early in Earth’s history. First we must make sure that we understand all the processes that govern Ni isotope systematics, so this project will involve experiments to determine what natural, abiotic processes can or cannot fractionate Ni. This project will support a graduate student and a postdoc, as well as summer undergraduates.
  • NSF Major Research Instrumentation "Acquisition of a multi-collector ICP-MS for Indiana University." (Co-investigators Lisa Pratt and Ed Ripley, Indiana University) This grant will support purchase of an instrument to measure very precisely the ratios of stable and radiogenic isotopes of almost any element. An ambitious, multi-disciplinary team of investigators will use the instrument for a wide range of investigations in geological, environmental, and biological contexts. The grant also provides partial support for a technician or lab manager.

Representative Publications

L.E. Wasylenki (2012) Establishing the basis for using metal isotopes as paleoproxies. In: Isotopic analysis–fundamentals and applications using ICP–MS. Eds. F. Vanhaecke and P. Degryse. Wiley–VCH.

S. Nielsen, L.E. Wasylenki, M. Rehkamper, C.L. Peacock, Z. Xue, E.M. Moon (2013). Towards an understanding of thallium isotope fractionation during adsorption to manganese oxides. Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta 117, 252-265.

A.D. Herrmann, B. Kendall, T.J. Algeo, G.W. Gordon, L.E. Wasylenki, and A.D. Anbar (2012) Anomalous molybdenum isotope trends in Upper Pennsylvanian euxinic facies: Significance for use of δMo98 as a global marine redox proxy. Chemical Geology 324, 87-98.

L.E. Wasylenki (2012) Establishing the basis for using metal isotopes as paleoproxies. In: Isotopic analysis-fundamentals and applications using ICP–MS. Eds. F. Vanhaecke and P. Degryse. Wiley-VCH.

L.E. Wasylenki, C.L. Weeks, J.R. Bargar, T.G. Spiro, J. Hein, A.D. Anbar (2011) The molecular mechanism of Mo isotope fractionation during adsorption to birnessite. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta. 75:5019-5031.

G.A. Brennecka, L.E. Wasylenki, J.R. Bargar, S. Weyer, A.D. Anbar (2011) Uranium isotope fractionation during adsorption to Mn–oxyhydroxides. Environ. Sci &Tech. 45:1370-1375.

J.L.L. Morgan, L.E. Wasylenki, J. Nuester, A.D. Anbar (2010) Fe isotope fractionation during equilibration of Fe–organic complexes. Environ. Sci.& Tech. 44(16):6095-6101.

J.J. De Yoreo, L.A. Zepeda-Ruiz LA, R.W. Friddle, S.R. Qiu, L.E. Wasylenki, A. A. Chernov, G.H. Gilmer, P.M. Dove (2009) Rethinking classical crystal growth models through molecular scale insights: consequences of kink-limited kinetics. Crystal Growth and Design 9(12):5135-5144.

L.E. Wasylenki, B.A. Rolfe, C.L. Weeks, T.G. Spiro, A.D. Anbar (2008). Experimental investigation of the effects of temperature and ionic strength on Mo isotope fractionation during adsorption to manganese oxides. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta. 72(24):5997-6005.

L.E. Wasylenki, A.D. Anbar, L.J. Liermann, R. Mathur, G.W. Gordon, and S.L. Brantley (2007) Isotope fractionation during microbial metal uptake measured by MC–ICP–MS. J. Analyt. Atomic Spectr. 22:905-910.

L.E. Wasylenki, G. Montañez, A.D. Anbar (2009) Cadmium isotope fractionation during adsorption varies with salinity. AGU Fall Meeting abstract, Dec. 2009.

C.L. Weeks, A.D. Anbar, L.E. Wasylenki, and T.G. Spiro (2007) Density functional theory analysis of molybdenum isotope fractionation. J. Phys. Chem. A 111:12434-12438. See also correction in 112: 10703 (2008).

L.E. Wasylenki, P.M. Dove, D.S. Wilson, and J.J. De Yoreo (2005) Nanoscale effects of strontium on calcite growth: an in situ AFM study in the absence of vital effects. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 69:3017-3027.

L.E. Wasylenki, P.M. Dove, and J.J. De Yoreo (2005) Effects of temperature and transport conditions on calcite growth in the presence of Mg2+: implications for paleothermometry. Geochim. Cosmochim. Acta 69:4227-4236.

K.J. Davis, P.M. Dove, L.E. Wasylenki, and J.J. De Yoreo (2004) Morphological consequences of differential Mg2+ incorporation at structurally distinct steps on calcite. Amer. Mineral. 89:714-720.

Laboratory and Analytical Facilities

Construction of a clean lab facility is scheduled for completion in December, 2011. A multi-collector ICP-MS and quadrupole ICP-MS will be installed in 2012 with support from the National Science Foundation and from Indiana University’s Office of the Vice Provost for Research, College of Arts and Sciences, Department of Geological Sciences, and School of Public and Environmental Affairs. These instruments will enable measurement of metal isotope ratios and metal concentrations at the parts-per-billion level.

Synergistic Activities

  • Keynote speaker, Indiana Junior Academy of Sciences, November, 2011.
  • Mentor for postdoctoral, graduate, and undergraduate advisees of Professor Ariel Anbar, ASU, 2005-2010.
  • Reviewer of publications and proposals for Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta, Chemical Geology, Earth and Planetary Science Letters, Journal of Crystal Growth, Journal of Geoscience Education, National Science Foundation, NASA, Department of Energy.
  • Initiator, planner, and/or presenting participant in many public education and outreach events for adults and children, including judging at Intel Science and Engineering Fair in multiple years and classroom visits.