Each year we ask a graduate to write an article on his/her past and current activities since leaving Acadia. This year we invited Jason MacKenzie, who studied at Acadia from 1992-96.

I didn't see that coming! 

My time at Acadia and in the geology department included some of the greatest times of my life. I have fond memories of countless hours in Optical Mineralogy with Dr. Raeside searching for a low birefringence grain in a dunite with which I could determine the 2V so I could indeed say, with the utmost confidence, that this rock is almost entirely composed of olivine (+/-) an aluminous phase and should be classified as such. I also remember making pizzas for Dr. Barr with hot peppers on half and, of course, have her to thank for my fondness for granites (even though I have never done research on them as the kinetics are way too slow).

            It is hard to believe that it has been almost 10 years since I left Acadia with a BSc. in geology and a chip on my shoulder to succeed in graduate school at the University of Victoria. When I came to UVic, it was very much a case of unknown commodities. The department was new and had only two "geologists", I was my supervisor's first graduate student and very green as a researcher. However, the fit could not have been better. The experience showed me the value that graduate students from other schools bring into departments. I also received much attention from my advisor as we shared an office, which I feel allowed me to flourish in my research and education at UVIC.

            My MSc. work focused on kimberlite-hosted mantle xenoliths from the Slave Craton. It was novel research at the time because diamond exploration companies had just started to release drill core for university research (and there were no diamond mines yet). Lithoprobe funded the research, which was an integrated program that brought together researchers from all areas of geosciences to investigate the Slave-Northern Cordillera lithospheric evolution (SNORCLE) spanning billions of years of lithosphere evolution. What I found so great about this program was the level of integration. I ended up comparing my geochemical data to magneto-telluric, seismic, and heat flow data. Even the kimberlite eruption date was bracketed using pollen spores!

            I graduated from UVic in 1998 with an MSc in Earth and Ocean Sciences. I went to work in diamond exploration in the Arctic as an assistant geologist for 2 years then worked in Finland where I headed up a geophysical and drilling crew. Only in Finland does one get BMW's as field vehicles. I will remember all my experiences in exploration and field camps with great fondness but I simply wanted more out of a career than I was getting.

            In 2001, I started working for Redlen Technologies. Two of us were hired initially, charged with the task of growing large area (>50 mm diameter), single crystal CdxZn1-xTe using a travelling heater method. Now, I had never heard of anything like this before but I did certainly understand the CdTe-ZnTe phase diagram and why other companies could not grow crystals with a constant Zn content. Of course not, look at the slope in T‑X space and separation between liquidus and solidus! I saw three CEO's and many employees come and go but I remain with the company and we are still conducting research with the intention of taking it to production. I learned so much at Redlen (and continue to learn) but three things really stuck out: 1) venture-capital financed, private research is conducted in a world of secrecy and patent laws where information is not shared, 2) geoscience is the material science of the Earth, and 3) private sector research is much better funded than traditional university based research and Canada should invest more in basic research.

            Conducting research for Redlen ultimately led me back to UVic to pursue a PhD in experimental petrology. Having amassed a wealth of experience doing experiments, I thought I should use it to my advantage and embark on my own research. I also wanted to work in a cooperative environment, where information was shared to advance the science as a whole. Towards this end, I have been conducting research involving understanding and quantifying volatile element mobility in an effort to use these measurements to address volcanic contributions to global metal cycles. I have also started looking at redox-sensitive partitioning of transition metals between zircon and silicate liquids. If indeed I can identify and calibrate such a relationship, it could potentially address the redox state of the mantle spanning almost all of Earth history as zircons are ubiquitous, contain age data, and are the only record we have of the early Hadean Earth.

            I see a real push in Geosciences towards a more integrated education and approach at all levels. Few traditional "Geology" departments remain in Canada and many have changed their name and emphasis to reflect a broader spectrum incorporating more aspects of geosciences from Earth to Space and everything in between. Personally, I welcome this shift in paradigm and am trying to tailor my research to accommodate it. For example, addressing the redox state of the mantle throughout Earth history could provide important constraints for the rise of atmospheric oxygen, global climate, the emergence of continents, and, perhaps, early life on Earth.

            With great pride, I must confess that I have not done any of this alone. I have been blessed with a terrific support cast.   At every stage, I have had strong influences in my life and many people who have shepherded and believed in me. To them, I give my heartfelt thank you. To conclude, there is a passage from Emerson on the door of our lab that reads, "Do not go where the path may lead. Go instead where there is no path and leave a trail". I wish everyone the best as they forge their own trail.


Jason MacKenzie, PhD candidate
School of Earth and Ocean Sciences
University of Victoria