NanoGeoScience – University of Copenhagen

English > Research > NanoGeoScience


Nanotechniques let us “see” at the nanometre scale, where all the action is. We use them to learn nature’s secrets, to understand the fundamental physical and chemical processes that take place at the interface between natural materials and fluids (water, oil, CO2, O2, anything that flows). Then we use our new knowledge to find solutions to society’s challenges.

The challenges we tackle include finding ways i) to ensure safe drinking water, ii) to store waste responsibly, iii) to convert CO2 back to rock form where it will be stable for thousands of years, iv) to understand how organisms make biominerals, such as bones, teeth and shells and v) to squeeze a bit more oil from reservoirs that are reaching the end of their lifetime. Our research on how organic compounds interact with mineral surfaces also provides better insight into how to remediate contaminated drinking water aquifers, and offers clues for how fluids flow in other porous media such as catalysts, filtration systems, soils and sediments. Our approach is well suited for characterising natural nanoparticles in general, such as the volcanic ash that closed Europe’s airspace. Occasionally we contribute information and data interpretation for the Mars mission.

The NanoGeoScience group works closely with X-ray physics in the Nano-Science Center and has tight partnerships with the Danish Technical University and universities in Toulouse, F; Leeds, Warwick, University College London, York, Sheffield and Cambridge, UK; Oslo, N; Reykjavik, I; Karlsruhe, Münster, Potsdam and Max Planck Göttingen, D; Twente, NL; Waterloo, Canada; Berkeley and PNNL, USA as well as with several companies, including Maersk Oil, BP, DONG, Reykjavik Energy, Rockwool, Haldor Topsøe, Níras, COWI, GEO as well as AMPHOS21, a consulting engineering firm in Spain.

We have collected expertise and instrument facilities that are unique in the world for characterising natural materials at nanometre scale, for example, X-ray photoelectron spectroscopy (XPS), focused ion beam scanning electron microscopy (FIB-SEM) and atomic force microscopy (AFM) with chemical force mapping (CFM). We are frequent users of a range of techniques at synchrotron radiation (SR) facilities around the world, such as X-ray tomography (XCT) and we make good use of computational approaches, including molecular dynamics (MD) and density functional theory (DFT).

This year, we commissioned a new instrument, a NanoIR2. It is based on atomic force microscopy (AFM), which maps topography on surfaces with nanometre resolution laterally and sub-nanometre resolution perpendicular to the surface. Coupled to the AFM is a pulsed, tuneable infrared (IR) laser. Material on the surface can be detected by the tip when the wavelength of the laser matches its absorption energy. We can record IR spectra at chosen surface sites, for fingerprinting, or we can select a wavelength and map material that absorbs at that specific wavelength, e.g. 1,400 cm-1, representing C-O stretching and O-H bending (see figure below). We are excited about the possibilities for applying this capability in several current and future projects.

X-ray tomography (XCT) provides 3D images of the micro and nanostructure of materials without destroying the sample. This is useful for time-dependent studies, when the material is fragile or when analysis with several techniques is required. One of our large projects, Predicting Petrophysical Parameters (P3), funded by Maersk Oil and the Danish Innovation Foundation, aims to derive information from drill cuttings, about pore networks and flow of oil and water, to optimise production strategies. Microstructural characterisation of soil and aquifer material can contribute to groundwater protection or remediation of contaminated sites. There are also other interesting applications. For example, we worked with the Smithsonian Institute, USA to study biodegradation of handmade paper from the 17th century. XCT had not previously been applied on cultural heritage materials suffering fungal deterioration. This was a challenge because both paper fibres and fungal cells are made of organic compounds so X-ray attenuation for these materials is quite similar.

We developed a method to screen for shape, size and texture of the subspherical fungi to differentiate them from the cellulose fibres, which were larger and mostly linear. The 3D images showed that fungus permeated the paper, meaning that surface fungicide treatment can never be effective.

Some organisms use minerals for protection or support. They engineer organic molecules to enhance crystal growth with a form that fits their purpose. Understanding how CaCO3 transforms from the precursor, amorphous calcium carbonate ,ACC, to calcite or aragonite, in the presence of biomolecules, provides clues about the controls that organisms exert on their environment. Citrate is thought to modify local atomic structure in ACC, directing its transformation. Our analyses with microscopy, spectroscopy and advanced synchrotron X-ray scattering demonstrated that citrate dramatically enhanced ACC lifetime, thermal stability and changed calcite morphology but regardless of the concentration, the interatomic distances were minimally affected.


With our state of the art, custom-made nanotechniques, and skilled and dedicated staff, we can help you with analyses that:
- characterize the surface of your materials (composition, structure, presence of contamination)
- determine the processes at play at the solid-fluid interface (corrosion, catalysis, adhesion, scaling)
- assess the efficiency and quality of surface treatment procedures

The techniques are divided as follows:
- Surface spectroscopy
- Atomic force measurements
- Electron microscopy
- Surface area (BET)

Depending on the complexity of the task and the desired degree of characterization, we can draw conclusions from either the use of a single instrument or from the synergetic combination of several techniques. For example, this was done when we characterized the ash particles that troubled Europe’s airspace in 2010 ( read more here ).


• Studies of the composition and structure of green rust
• Studies of the abilities of green rust to remove toxic chemicals from the groundwater
• Basic studies of the calcite surface
• Biomineralisation control on mineral growth
• Structural studies of coccoliths and chalk
• Studies of the surface chemistry of chalk
• Strategy development for cleaning groundwater and ensuring safe storage of waste


Selected publications

Stipp S.L.S and Eggleston C.M. (1995)  Understanding surface chemical processes in environmental contamination:  New applications for AFM.  In: Forces in Scanning Probe Methods.  (H-J. Güntherodt, D. Anselmetti and E. Meyer, eds) NATO Advanced Study Institute, Series E, Applied Science 286, Kluwer, 483-488.

Stipp S.L.S. (1996)  Calcite Surface Composition and Structure.  ECASIA '95,  365-368.

Stipp S.L.S., Gutmannsbauer W. and Lehmann T. (1996) The dynamic nature of calcite surfaces in air. American Mineralogist,  81, 1-8.

Stipp S.L.S (1996)  In Situ, Real-Time Observations of the Adsorption and Self-Assembly of Macromolecules from Aqueous Solution onto an Untreated, Natural Surface. Langmuir  12, 1884-1891.

Stipp Susan L.S. (1997) (invited)  Calcite.  1998 McGraw-Hill Yearbook of Science and Technology.  McGraw-Hill, 42-45.

Stipp S.L.S., Kulik A.J., Franzreb K., Benoit W., and Mathieu H-J. (1997)  A Combination of SFM and TOF-SIMS Imaging for Observing Local Inhomogenieties in Morphology and Composition:  Aged Calcite Surfaces.  Surface and Interface Analysis 25, 959-965.

Stipp S.L.S. (1998)  Surface analysis as a geochemical tool for the investigation of  solid/water interfaces:  Trace element movement in calcite.  Palæogeography, Palæoclimatology and Palæoecology  140, 441-457.

Stipp S.L.S., Konnerup-Madsen J., Franzreb, K., Kulik A. and Mathieu H-J. (1998) Spontaneous movement of ions through calcite at standard temperature and pressure. Nature 396,  356-359.

Stipp S.L.S. (1999)  Toward a conceptual model of the calcite surface: Hydration, hydrolysis and surface potential.  Geochimica et Cosmochimica Acta  63, 3121-3131.

Astrup T., Stipp S.L.S. and Christensen T.H. (2000) Immobilization of Chromate from Coal Fly Ash Leachate using an Attenuating Barrier Containing Zero-valent Iron. Environmental Science and Technology, 34, 4163-4168.


More publications from:

Susan Stipp  


Latest funding

  • European Commission for Science
  • Innovationsfonden
  • Danish Research Council
  • Maersk Oil
  • BP
  • The Engineering and Physical Sciences Research Council (EPSRC) of the UK
  • Rockwool and the Capital Region of Denmark (Region Hovedstaden).

EU - Network of Excellence ACTINET
100.000 DKK

EU Integrated Project FUNMIG
1 million DKK

EU - Marie Curie Early Stage Training MIR
3.7 million DKK

EU - Marie Curie Research Training Network MINGRO
3.5 million DKK

EU - Marie Curie Post Doc RECRYST
1.2 million DKK

SKB (Svensk Kerne Brændselshåndtering)
4 million DKK

FNU - Controlling Crystal Reactivity
1.26 million DKK

Danish National Advanced Technology Foundation 
25.68 million DKK

Maersk Oil and Gas
17.1 million DKK


  • Profs S. Stipp (Section Leader) 
  • Assoc. Profs T. Hassenkam, H.O. Sørensen, N. Bovet, M.P. Andersson, K.N. Dalby, D.J. Tobler, L. Lakshtanov
  • 7 assistant professors
  • 7 research, technical and admin. associates and assistants
  • 14 postdocs
  • 15 PhD students
  • 9 master’s and 3 bachelor students
  • 2 guest researchers.



Danish Research Institutes

Institut for geologi
Geocenter, Danmark 
Geologisk Museum 
Biologisk institut, KU 
Det biovidenskabelige Fakultet (LIFE), KU 
Institut for Miljø og Ressourcer, DTU

Foreign Research Institutes

Stanford University, USA 
University of Sheffield, UK 
Washington State University, USA 
École Nationale Supérieure de Chimie de Paris, Frankrig 
University of Waterloo, Canada 
Forschungszentrum Karlsruhe 
University of Toulouse

Public Institutions

Forskningsrådet for natur og univers

Danish Societies

Dansk geologisk forening

Private companies

Haldor Topsøe A/S

Foreign origanisations

SKB, Sverige 
Goldschmidt Conference 
Geochemical Society

European Association of Geochemistry 
American Geophysical Union 
European Federation of Geologists 
Mineralogical Society of America

Elements - Magazine for Geochemistry, Mineralogy and Petrology 
European Commission