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Earth and Environmental Sciences

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Prof Ben Williamson

Associate Professor in Applied Mineralogy

 01326 371856


Ben Williamson is an Associate Professor in Applied Mineralogy, a lecturer in mineral deposits geology, metamorphic petrology and environmental geology, and a researcher in porphyry copper, tin-tungsten and pegmatite-hosted deposits and environmental mineralogy. 


PhD Geology (Granite petrology), 1991 (University of London)
BSc (Hons) Geology, 1988 (University of London)

Member of the Mineralogical Society
Member of the Mineral Deposits Studies Group


  • 2007 - present: University of Exeter - Camborne School of Mines - Lecturer, Senior Lecturer then Associate Professor in Applied Mineralogy.
  • 2004 - 2007: The Natural History Museum, London - Electron Microscopist/Researcher.
  • 2000 - 2004: The Natural History Museum, London - Head of Environmental Assessment Programme of the EU-FP5 MinUrals Contract.
  • 1998 - 2000: University of Bristol - Scientific Coordinator of the European Union Geochemical Facility.
  • 1994 - 1998: The Natural History Museum, London - Researcher/IT Manager for the Department of Mineralogy.
  • 1991 - 1993: Service company Geologist for Amoco (Mauritania), Hunt (Yemen) and Agip/Elf (Congo).

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Copyright Notice: Any articles made available for download are for personal use only. Any other use requires prior permission of the author and the copyright holder.

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  • Hutchens E, Williamson BJ, Anand M, Ryan MP, Herrington RJ. (2007) Discriminating bacterial from electrochemical corrosion using Fe isotopes, Corrosion Science, volume 49, pages 3759-3764.






  • Williamson BJ, Wilkinson JJ, Luckham PF, Stanley CJ. (2002) Formation of coagulated colloidal silica in high-temperature mineralizing fluids, Mineralogical Magazine, volume 66, no. 4, pages 547-553, DOI:10.1180/0026461026640048.
  • Purvis OW, Erotokritou L, Wolseley PA, Williamson BJ, Read H. (2002) A photographic quadrat recording method employing image analysis of lichens as an indicator of environmental change, Monitoring with Lichens, Klewer, 337-341.








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Further information


Modules I contribute to:

  • CSM1030 - Geology
  • CSM1036 - Field Geology and Geological Maps
  • CSM2312 - Igneous and Metamorphic Petrology
  • CSM3046 - Mineral Deposit Geology
  • CSM3048 - Applied Field Geology
  • CSM3049 - Contaminated Land Management and Remediation
  • CSMM109 - Ore Deposit Geology
  • CSMM127 - Advanced Techniques for Mineral Analysis
  • CSMM177 - Discovery
  • CSMM185 - Soil and Water Contamination


I am a mineralogist and geochemist with 30 years’ experience in granite genesis, ore deposits geology and environmental impacts of mining-related activities. My mineral deposits research has focussed on the role of colloids in high temperature hydrothermal fluids, the source and partitioning of tin and boron in granite magmas, and the potential of tourmaline and plagioclase as exploration tools for granite-related tin and porphyry copper deposits, respectively. I have 3 PhD students currently working on porphyry deposit formation, one studying porphyry-breccia systems at El Teniente, Chile, another on classic porphyry deposits in the Yerington District of Nevada, and a third on porphyry-skarn deposits in the Daye District, China. 

My environmental research has involved determining the nature, toxicity and dispersion of copper smelter emissions, the development of new low cost and discrete biomonitoring methodologies for environmental forensics, characterisation and potential toxicity of the silica polymorph cristobalite in ash from the Soufrière Hills volcano, Montserrat, ash and smokes from the burning of sugarcane waste and reducing occupational exposure to coal dust.


...Coal dust

Reducing risks from Occupational exposure to Coal Dust (ROCD) (EC - RFCS: #754205)

Project duration: 07/2017 – 06/2020

Despite international efforts to limit worker exposure, coal mine dusts continue to impact the health of thousands of miners across Europe. Modern, practicable assessment tools and devices are urgently needed to improve risk models, control dusts and protect workers, particularly from the fine fraction (PM2.5) which is increasingly implicated in human disease. These issues will be addressed through 5 integrated work packages (WPs) by a world-leading interdisciplinary consortium of 10 institutions from UK, Poland, Slovenia, Germany and Spain. Global dissemination of developed protocols and training modules, and improved monitoring and suppression devices will reduce incidences of coal mining-related disease.This study addresses three critical issues relating to dusts in underground mine workings:

  • The urgent need to develop ATEX certifiable, well calibrated continuous dust concentration monitoring systems, quantitative physicochemical assessment protocols for coal mine dusts, including PM2.5, and predictive tools to assess dust hazards in different coal mines and mining scenarios. The predictive tools will improve risk management and targeting of mitigation measures;
  • The need for more efficient ATEX certifiable dust suppression systems, with reduced energy and water consumption, to increase operational efficiency and reduce the risk of costly and potentially hazardous over-wetting or flooding of underground mine workings.
  • Whether suppression technologies and RPE adequately mitigate PM2.5.  

Left: ROCD team at Velenje Mine, Slovenia; Right: SEM photomicrograph of coal/rock dust mixture from the Velenje Mine (field of view ~60 microns).

...Porphyry Cu deposits

Porphyry deposits provide most of the world's copper and large proportion of its molybdenum, gold and other important metals and are therefore vital to the global economy. Large porphyries, however, are extremely rare and because most near surface deposits have been discovered, are increasingly difficult to find. The main aims of my research are to gain a better understanding of how porphyry deposits form and to develop new approaches for finding them. 

From Arc Magmas to Ores - FAMOS project

Five year (May 2017-April 2022), multi-partner NERC-funded research project, led by the Natural History Museum, London, to develop new exploration tools that will help locate metal resources in volcanic arcs by understanding the fundamental processes involved in cycling magmas, fluids and metals in these zones.

I am contributing to the following work packages:

  • Extracting and focussing fluids - Working with PhD student Lawrence Carter on porphyry deposits in the Yerington District of Nevada
  • The barren comparator: The Japan Arc - Working with colleagues at the Natural History Museum, London and Kyushu University, Japan, on samples collected during a field campaign in 2017, funded by the Daiwa Foundation. The main aim is to test the plagioclase discriminator for porphyry-fertile systems developed by Williamson et al. (2016)

The plagioclase discriminator - This was developed by comparing the chemical compositions of minerals from magmatic systems hosting porphyry deposits with those which are barren, and then by undertaking a case study of a major new porphyry discovery in Chile. The project has shown that the mineral plagioclase from magmatic systems hosting porphyry deposits has distinctive chemical characteristics which can be used as one of a suite of indicators to target porphyry deposits. Unravelling the causes of the distinctive chemical signatures has also brought new insights into porphyry deposit formation, and, more generally, mechanisms of calc-alkaline magmatism which is an important contributor to crustal growth.

False colour image of magmatic rock which formed a large porphyry copper deposit in Chile.  The blue areas are the

mineral plagioclase which was the focus of the study (field of view 2 mm).

...GREENPEG - New exploration tools for European pegmatite deposits

A new 4 year project ‘GREENPEG’ has received a grant of €8.3 million from the European Union’s Horizon 2020 research and innovation programme to develop new techniques to explore for pegmatite rocks containing lithium and other green technology metals. The consortium consists of 13 partners from 8 European countries, including universities and exploration and mining companies. The University of Exeter team, which will receive nearly €780k, is led by Ben Williamson and Frances Wall from Camborne School of Mines, and Xiaoyu Yan, from Engineering, supported by post-doctoral researchers Kate Smith, Lawrence Carter and Rob Pell.

Pegmatite-hosted deposits can be particularly rich in technology metals, such as lithium, but are often small and difficult to find using conventional exploration methods. Europe contains an abundance of pegmatites but very few are currently economic to mine. The GREENPEG project will develop exploration toolsets for European pegmatite ore deposits. These will be specific to either lithium-caesium-tantalum-, or niobium-yttrium-fluorine-bearing pegmatites which may also carry high-purity quartz. These raw materials are used in the manufacture of a wide range of green energy devices such as Li-ion batteries for electric cars, solar panels and wind turbines. It is critical that Europe can source its own supplies of these commodities to meet ambitious 2030 energy and climate targets. The toolsets will be developed at three green and brownfield exploration and mining case study sites at Wolfsberg (Austria), South Leinster (Ireland) and Tysfjord (Norway) where industry partners can immediately benefit from the research.

GREENPEG will integrate its new products and services into associated businesses, attract investment into the European raw materials sector and increase the competitiveness of European green technology metals exploration companies.

For more information see

Spodumene pegmatite dyke in the Wolfsberg underground exploration working, Austria

PhD students

Current and past PhD students include:

  • Ed Hill - PhD student - GeoNetZero CDT - Developing new mineralogical and geochemical assessment tools for stream sediments and soils to support exploration for Li, Sn and W in SW England (First supervisor - full time - commenced September 2022).
  • Louis Penfound-Marks - PhD student - Implications of the transcrustal magma-mush concept for genetic models and exploration for LCT pegmatites in Leinster, SE Ireland (First supervisor - full time - commenced September 2022).
  • Alison Cox – MSc by Research – self-funded. Effects of acid and Fe concentration on reaction rates in enargite-bearing wastes (Second supervisor, full-time, commenced June 2016, completed September 2018).
  • Evangelos Mouchos – MSc by Research, self-funded. REE potential of bauxites from Greece (Second supervisor, full-time, commenced November 2013, completed January 2016).
  • Ben Snook – PhD student - co-funded by the CSM Trust and Norwegian Geological Survey. Geology and mineral chemistry of barren and rare metal pegmatites in the south Norwegian Bamble-Evje pegmatite cluster (First supervisor, full-time, commenced October 2010, completed May 2014).
  • Daniel Parvaz - NERC CASE studentship. Development of geochemical and mineralogical methods for targeting lower environmental impact secondary copper deposits in the Troodos Massif, Cyprus. (First supervisor, full-time, commenced October 2009, completed February 2015).
  • Vistorina Do Cabo – PhD student - Funded by the Africa-America Foundation. The Geology, Mineralogy and Geochemical features of the primary HREE-enriched Carbonatite Complex at Lofdal, Namibia. (Second supervisor, part-time, commenced 2008, completed June 2014).
  • Liaqat Ali – PhD student - Funded by Government of Pakistan (transferred after 1 year from Manchester University 2008). Genetic models for gold and base metal mineralisation associated with the Shyok Suture Zone and Kohistan Arc, north Pakistan; based on mineralogical and geochemical studies of stream sediments (First supervisor, full-time, commenced March 2008, completed October 2010).
  • Alison Turner – PhD student - Funded via University of Plymouth. Sustainable management of mine water pollution from headwaters to estuaries (Second supervisor, full-time, commenced October 2007, completed November 2010).
  • Jennifer Le Blond – PhD student - University of Cambridge – NERC CASE studentship (2007, obtained as CASE partner at Natural History Museum, London). The production and toxicity of respirable silica particles from biomass burning (CASE supervisor, full time, commenced October 2006, completed May 2010).

Available PhD projects

These are non-funded projects available to those who can self-fund or win support from industry or a government or private funding body.

Current project titles are:

  • Developing the plagioclase discriminator for porphyry Cu deposits
  • The lack of porphyry-type copper deposits in Japan
  • Developing new exploration tools for European pegmatite deposits

Other project ideas are welcome.

Details on fees for PhD and Masters by Research programmes

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