Department of Geology, Northwest University
The Department of Geology at Northwest University is located in Xi'an, China, the capital city of Shaanxi province and the largest city in Northwest China. Situated on a fertile plain between the Qinling Mountains to the south and the Loess Plateau to the north, Xi'an was the capital of China for over 1,000 years and the starting point for the Silk Road connecting Asia with other cradles of ancient civilization such as Rome, Greece and Egypt. Today, Xi'an can justly be called an "Open Air Historical Museum" with numerous exceptionally preserved cultural sites including the Terracotta Army, Giant Wild Goose Pagoda, and more than 120 other museums.
Founded in 1939, the Department of Geology at Northwest University is one of the oldest in China. For over 80 years, the department has gathered together top professors in their fields, including Yang Zhongjian, one of the founders of Chinese paleontology; Zhang Bosheng, academician and founder of “the hypothesis of crustal- wave mosaic structure”, one of the five geological structure theories in China; as well as renowned geologists Wang Hengsheng and Xie Jiarong. To date, the school has produced over 10,000 geoscience graduates. These include China’s first petroleum geologists, and the department has become known as the “cradle of China’s oil industry pioneers”. Eight academicians of the Chinese Academy of Sciences and one academician of the Chinese Academy of Engineering have emerged from the graduates of the Department of Geology.
The Department spans science and engineering with its own distinctive features. As a key discipline of the national 211 project, geology was selected to be developed into a world-class discipline after national review and accreditation in September 2017. Relying on the existing first-level national key disciplines and the State Key Laboratory of Continental Dynamics, the Department has established three core disciplinary directions: continental geology, tectonics and early Earth evolution; early life and environment; and basin-mountain systems and their influence on resources and environment.
In recent years, our researchers have made a series of major scientific discoveries and original achievements with international significance.
Research on the formation of the tripartite phylogenetic trees of early animals (TPTEA) won recognition at the National Natural Science Awards, for the development of a compelling new hypothesis to explain the Cambrian explosion of life. Discovery of the exceptionally-preserved “Qingjiang Biota” showed that soft-bodied fossils could be preserved within the black shales formed in stagnant and anoxic deep-water environments, something that was previously thought impossible. The findings, published in the journal Science, received wide attention from global popular media, and were hailed as a milestone in the field of evolutionary paleontology. The research was selected as the greatest advance of Chinese paleontology in 2019 and won the Outstanding Achievement Award for Research in Institutes of Higher Education from the Ministry of Education of China.
The department is at the forefront of research into the tectonic processes that have shaped Chinese geology over billions of years. The “Reconstructions of East Asian blocks in Pangea” project established a new model for the evolution of the Central Asian Orogenic Belt including the collision, burial, and exhumation of rocks across a complex collage of mountains and basins running across China and into central Asia. Our researchers have defined China’s geological history within the framework of global supercontinent cycles and the onset of modern-style plate tectonics, the formation and evolution of the North China Craton, the nature of metallogenic processes, and the mechanisms by which stable cratons can be destroyed.
Our geological research is oriented to major national strategic needs, serving the main areas of China’s economic development. Work by our researchers in the Ordos Basin has revealed the coexistence mechanism of multiple energy sources, knowledge that is utilized by oilfield companies including PetroChina, Sinopec, and Yanchang, and underpins innovation within production, education, and research. Addressing challenges in the construction of high-speed and heavy-haul railways in the loess area of China, as well as railways within Europe and Southeast Asia as part of the “Belt and Road” initiative, our researchers have proposed effective countermeasures against potential geological disasters, winning recognition in both the the National Science and Technology Progress Awards and the FIDIC Awards. Towards the national pledge of achieving carbon peak by 2030 and carbon neutrality by 2060, the Carbon Capture, Utilization and Storage (CCUS) team conduct extensive cooperation with government agencies on technological advancements to target green and low-carbon development and climate and environmental change. CCUS team members, as representatives of the Chinese government, have attended many important international conferences to exchange research and development progress, and share governance experience.
Within the State Key Laboratory of Continental Dynamics, the Department independently developed an in-situ micro-analysis platform for material components based on ultrafast laser mass spectrometry, achieving a world-first with the simultaneous measurement of sulfur and lead isotopes. Another key piece of infrastructure is the advanced platform for general analysis of forms, structures and components of early life fossils. The early life and environment discipline is listed in the Program of Discipline Innovation and Talent Introduction of Universities (111 Project). The two national platforms of the Collaborative Innovation Center on Continental Structure co-sponsored by the Province and Ministry, and National & Local Joint Engineering Research Center of Carbon, Capture and Storage Technology, provide strong support for national and regional development and discipline development, greatly increasing the social influence of the Department.
The Department of Geology is a unique department built on a solid foundation of long-term development. It is our consistent guideline and goal to “build a geology department according to international standards, reach world-class levels, and enhance international reputation”. In recent years, the department has successively established long-term cooperative relationships with prestigious universities and research institutions across the globe, including the United States, Canada, Australia, the United Kingdom, Austria, and Hong Kong. International academic exchanges have promoted the learning of advanced overseas experience to cultivate excellent teaching and research teams, train outstanding students, and improve scientific research and infrastructure.