The Collaborative Organization for Rock Deformation (CORD) currently comprises of the rock deformation laboratories at both Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our primary goal is to increase availability of these laboratory resources to geoscientists from the US geosciences community in general, including a large number in the Boston-Providence area.

Motivation for Collaborative Efforts

Experimental rock deformation studies provide fundamental insights into the natural phenomena that shape our Earth and other planets, including earthquake generation and viscous flow of rocks and ices. Data from rock deformation studies provide fundamental input parameters for geodynamic models, for geophysical interpretations, and for the development and refinement of theoretical frameworks. Increasing knowledge of rock properties is also important in meeting societal needs, e.g., exploiting natural resources and enabling CO2 sequestration to mitigate climate change. The need to understand the physical principles of rock deformation based on laboratory experiments is widely acknowledged by the broad Earth science community; yet, owing to technical complexity, only a handful of laboratories in the US have the capability to perform such work.  

One critical challenge to obtaining high-quality, reliable data is the operation and maintenance of unique, complex deformation apparatus [Tullis, et al., 2013]. Currently, this task is accomplished by students and post-docs with the help of faculty or research scientists supported on soft money. Despite the best efforts of all involved, the state of affairs is unsatisfactory. Given the significant investment in time and money needed to acquire and install the equipment, it is important to assure its efficient operation and to provide for seamless transfer of knowledge to others. Dedicated technical personnel can also facilitate access to this sophisticated equipment for broader section of the Earth science community.        

We propose to employ two full-time laboratory technicians to jointly support the rock deformation laboratories at Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Our primary goal is to increase availability of these resources to the US geosciences community in general, including geophysicists within the Boston-Providence area, whose numbers are themselves quite substantial. Ten scientists from the NE region have provided letters of interest (see Appendix). We would build on common research interests at Brown and MIT, and leverage success of our previous interactions to provide a robust, effective, and welcoming research opportunity. Both institutions have hosted numerous visitors in the past, and we are all committed to establishing more frequent participation by students and scientists from other organizations. Owing to the proximity of Brown and MIT and to the similarity in several aspects of the equipment, we believe that the two laboratories can effectively share technical support staff, thus maximizing benefits while reducing costs. We seek to hire a technician at each institution and share each equally. Our workload fully warrants two technicians. We could also find individuals with complementary skill sets; it is hard to find a single person who is expert in all the skills needed. Each technician will become an expert operator of equipment in both laboratories and would provide training to new users in close collaboration with the PI’s. In addition, the technicians would assist in maintaining the equipment in dependable working order and help with future upgrades. The increased collaboration between Brown and MIT would, by itself, create a beneficial synergy.  

We briefly outline the scientific questions currently being tackled in our laboratories and describe the existing experimental equipment and capabilities. We present the current users of the equipment, and provide a brief history of visitors and collaborations, to illustrate how employing laboratory technicians would benefit a broad range of the community and increase access to the deformation laboratories. Finally, we outline the expected skills and responsibilities of the laboratory technician together with a time plan and a management plan to ensure smooth collaboration between both institutions.

Complimentary equipment

Together, the groups at MIT and Brown operate 12 deformation apparatus. Although there are common design features, the equipment also have unique and complementary capabilities. For example, both MIT and Brown have Paterson machines; but MIT’s is optimized for high-resolution axial-deformation tests with controlled pore-fluid pressure, while Brown’s is optimized for rotary shear experiments at high temperature. Similarly, Brown has operated three Griggs solid-medium apparatus for decades (all have been updated), while MIT has recently constructed a Sanchez solid-medium apparatus. The former are optimized for long-duration, constant strain-rate experiments, while the latter is optimized for creep tests and the novel ability to measure acoustic emissions and velocities is being implemented. For experiments in the brittle/frictional regime, the capabilities of the two labs are also complementary.  MIT houses a new NER Autolab 3000 fluid-medium deformation apparatus, used to investigate a wide range of geomechanical properties in fluid-rock systems. Brown maintains a unique high-pressure rotary shear friction apparatus, recently updated with a high-velocity rotary actuator capable of achieving seismic slip rates at high pressure. Despite their differences, the machines have common design principles that increase the ease of operation and maintenance for users and technicians, and provides obvious avenues for collaboration. Having open access to this equipment will allow visiting scientists and those at Brown and MIT, alike, to push the boundaries of experimental geophysics.

Research goals and prior collaborations

The complementary expertise of the PIs will also foster a strong collaborative ethos. Between and among them, all five investigators have a substantial history of research collaboration. (Evans and Hirth have been Co-PIs on 5 NSF grants, resulting in 12 peer-reviewed publications and have co-advised students and post-doctoral associates.) We are all building new cooperative projects with our regional colleagues. All five investigators have had extensive personal interactions through participating in (and in several cases helping to found) professional organizations including the PPEM group at AGU, the AGU Mineral and Rock Physics Section, the Gordon Conference in Rock Deformation, and multiple workshops, seminars, and lectures. All five are committed to promoting open access in research and interactions among field geologists, geophysicists, mineralogists, and laboratory experimentalists. All five of the PIs (Pec, Evans, Hirth, Cooper, Tullis) are committed to this new collaboration - and to sharing the expertise of the proposed technicians equally between the institutions. Thus, we maintain that the Brown-MIT//MIT-Brown CORD proposals provide logical cost-effective support for two venerable, but still evolving, rock physics lab groups that will leverage both strong overlaps in scientific expertise and technical capabilities. We also recognize that only one of these proposals might be recommended for funding. In this case, we have agreed to share one technician equally. We describe a framework for this collaboration in section 5.2. However, we stress that we can effectively utilize two technicians with complementary expertise in this large coalition of PIs and numerous visitors (as described in Section 4), using 12 deformation apparatus, to study a broad range geophysical, geochemical and geotechnical problems.

Broader Impacts

The primary goal of this proposal is to encourage collaborations between a broader spectrum of scientists within the Earth science community and workers studying rock deformation at Brown University and Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Thus, in essence, our entire proposal is focused on broader impacts. The technician support that we are requesting will increase the availability and efficiency of use of the equipment in those labs to colleagues from other organizations, who are interested in rock deformation, but without current access to laboratory facilities. It is likely that many of these will be graduate students or post-doctoral scientists. Thus, these visitors have the opportunity to become acquainted with faculty, staff, and students at MIT and Brown, as well as others within the Boston-Providence area. In addition to the extensive suite of rock deformation equipment, visiting scientists will have access to other resources at our universities, including libraries, seminars, and technical facilities which offer the use of electron microscopes, nano-mechanical testing machines, and micro-fabrication on a fee for use basis. By involving a larger group of scientists, we believe that the Earth science community in general will gain a finer appreciation of both the strengths and limitations of laboratory studies of rock deformation. The converse is also true: Scientists working in rock deformation at MIT and Brown will also gain immeasurably from increased collaboration with specialists from other disciplines.

In addition to improving outreach to other universities and organizations, we have structured the MIT-Brown CORD project so that it will promote coordination between the two partner laboratories. By leveraging our current COLLABORATION, we hope to expand both educational and research interactions among the faculty, staff and students at both universities. We plan to hold regular meetings, lectures and workshops that can be attended by all those interested. These activities will be both face-to-face, and, to minimize travel time and maximize exposure, web-based meetings. Because the two technicians will spend equal time at both universities, we expect that each group may benefit from insights and best practices gained at the other location.