The Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre: a central facility supporting ESSRC research

The Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre (MWAC) is a network of centralised cutting-edge facilities and expert staff that are open to the entire UNSW research community and beyond. The MWAC currently comprises the following units:

  • EMU - Electron Microscope Unit
  • BMSF - Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility
  • SSEAU - Solid State & Elemental Analysis Unit
  • SPECLAB - Spectroscopy Laboratory
  • NMR - Nuclear Magnetic Resonance Facility
  • Stats Central
  • BMIF - Biomedical Imaging Facility
  • BRIL - Biological Resources Imaging Laboratory
  • CCL - Commercial & Consulting
  • TAU - Transgenic Animal Unit
  • Lowy Biorepository

For more information about the MWAC or its constituent units, see

Many MWAC staff have research interests aligned with the ESSRC research centre, and some have been recognised as affiliates of ESSRC. ESSRC affiliates are currently based in the Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility (BMSF) and the Electron Microscope Unit (EMU).

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility UNSW brings together advanced mass spectrometric equipment and allied technologies, software, bioinformatics, and staff expertise in all aspects of protein, metabolite and lipid, macro and micro molecule analysis. Analytical applications focus on the identification and characterisation of molecules from biological and archaeological contexts. The BMSF can provides students, researchers, and academics the guidance, training and method development specific to each ESSRC project. Collaboration or fee-for-service is invited.

ESSR research projects undertaken by BMSF staff highlight the specialised capabilities possible

Paleo proteomics / lipidomics / metabolomics is the scientific study of ancient molecules. This area of research is gaining interest to support the various theories of human migration through ‘deep-time’. It provides a new view of the past that takes advantage of the sometimes exceptional preservation above and beyond the fragility of DNA, particularly in climates that quickly degrade DNA; the very regions with the greatest biodiversity.

  • Developing novel methods for the identification of ancient proteins from the Iron-age (~2000 years before present) revealed the conservation of the sex-determining protein amelogenin within the taphonomically resistant crystalline tooth matrix. This enabled the identification of both X and Y chromosome linked amelogenin peptides for sex determination of individuals from prehistory. A novel multiple reaction monitoring method has been developed.

  • The study of proteins related to cellular death holds promise in furthering our understanding of proteomics through ‘deep-time’ of individuals with no historically recorded cause of death. This can be useful to understand cause of death in prehistory

  • Characterisation of protein, metabolite and lipid content in the archaeological pottery record of the mid-late Holocene (~6000-4000 years before present) can reveal dietary practices and support the migration of cultures and food practices through time and geographical regions. Speciation of food grains (eg Oryza sativa species of rice) is also possible. (Paper is in prep)

Stable isotope analysis (SIA) measures the ratios of the stable isotopes of Carbon (12/13C), Oxygen (16/18O) and Nitrogen (14/15N) as a gas, which is compared to standard reference gases. The BMSF assays both inorganic and organic samples for paleoclimate, paleontological, environmental, and ecosystem studies. 

Inorganic SIA applies very small amounts of phosphoric acid to calcite (speleothem, bone apatite, coral, shells, or sediment) samples. This liberates CO2, which is then analysed by the mass spectrometer to give δ13C and δ18O. The study of the carbon and oxygen isotopes in speleothems and coral provide a past climate proxy, and in bone help determine the environments humans or other animals lived and what they ate (diet).  In shells they can provide a proxy of ocean temperature for marine forensic science.

Organic SIA samples undergo combustion in an oxygen atmosphere and are converted into simple gases (such as CO2 and N2). The evolved gases are ionised and separated before being detected by the mass spectrometer. Measurement of the ratio of the ions can provide information about the biological, chemical or physical processes the material has undergone. This has a wide range of applications such as predation, food webs, migration patterns and ecosystem management.

  • Tracking of the hydroclimate through the speleothem record is an archive of past changes in recharge rather than precipitation amount or surface temperature.

  •  Implications of multi-modal age distributions in Pleistocene cave deposits: A case study of Maludong palaeoathropological locality, southern China.

  • The ecology of Lepas-based biofouling communities on moored and drifting objects, with applications for marine forensic science.


Dr Valerie Wasinger
Senior Research Scientist
Conjoint Senior Lecturer UNSW

Lewis Adler
Senior Technical Officer

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility
Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre
Room 404B, Lv4 Wallace Wurth Building C27

Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry Facility
Mark Wainwright Analytical Centre
Lab B50, Chemical Sciences Building F10

Ph: +61 2 9385 1678

Ph: +61 2 9385 7739




Learn Bioanalytical Mass Spectrometry from the Experts.


Kiel You-Tube from UNSW TV:


Work Involving ESSRC Researchers

Stalagmites and stalactites are a type of speleothem, a calcium carbonate deposit formed in limestone caves. These deposits form from drip water that is supersaturated with respect to calcite or aragonite due to the dissolution of carbonate bedrock between the surface and the cave. It is well known that trace elements (e.g., Mg, S, P, Sr, Ba, Fe, Zn) incorporated into the calcareous stalagmites and stalactites provides information on past environmental change.

Helen Wang, Micheline Campbell, Andy Baker and ANSTO colleagues examined the annual variations of trace elements e.g., Mg, P, S and Sr along stalactite laminae using M4 Tornado micro-XRF to understand the past climate change in Yanchep, Western Australia over the last few hundred years. Use of the micro-XRF enabled the research team to non-destructively measure annual variations in strontium concentration in this very fragile sample. The strontium data was used to build a chronology for the stalactite deposition – high strontium occurs in the calcite deposited in the dry season, and low strontium in the wet season. The team will use this chronology, and analysis other trace elements, to reconstruct past fire history and climate variability, funded by an ARC Discovery Project.

Strontium 20 mm line scan and mapping analysis of a ‘soda-straw stalactite’ sample (top). Mapping area of 20 mm x 0.3 mm is boxed in green. Bottom figure shows Sr/Ca five point centred moving average. Red star shows Sr/Ca peaks used to build a chronology for the stalactite depositionn.


Chronos 14Carbon-Cycle Facility