Experimental determination of the Si isotope fractionation factor between liquid metal and liquid silicate

Remco C. Hin*, Caroline Fitoussi, Max W. Schmidt, Bernard Bourdon

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Contribution to journalArticle (Academic Journal)peer-review

48 Citations (Scopus)


The conditions of core formation and the abundances of the light elements in Earth's core remain debated. Silicon isotope fractionation provides a tool contributing to this subject. We present experimentally determined Si isotope fractionation factors between liquid metal and liquid silicate at 1450 °C and 1750 °C, which allow calibrating the temperature dependence of Si isotope fractionation. Experiments were performed in a centrifuging piston cylinder at 1 GPa, employing both graphite and MgO capsules. Tin was used to lower the melting temperature of the metal alloys for experiments performed at 1450 °C. Tests reveal that neither Sn nor C significantly affects Si isotope fractionation. An alkaline fusion technique was employed to dissolve silicate as well as metal phases prior to ion exchange chemistry and mass spectrometric analysis. The results show that metal is consistently enriched in light isotopes relative to the silicate, yielding average metal-silicate fractionation factors of -1.48 ± 0.08‰ and -1.11 ± 0.14‰ at 1450 °C and 1750 °C, respectively. The temperature dependence of equilibrium Si isotope fractionation between metal and silicate can thus be described as δ30 SiMetal-Silicate = - 4.42( ± 0.05) × 106/T2. The Si isotope equilibrium fractionation is thus about 1.7 times smaller than previously proposed on the basis of experiments. A consequence of this smaller fractionation is that the calculated difference between the Si isotope composition of the bulk Earth and that of the bulk silicate Earth generated by core formation is smaller than previously thought. It is therefore increasingly difficult to match the Si isotope composition of the bulk silicate Earth with that of chondrites for metal-silicate equilibration temperatures above ~2500 K. This suggests that Si isotopes were more sensitive to the early stages of core formation when low oxygen fugacities allowed significant incorporation of Si into metal.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)55-66
Number of pages12
JournalEarth and Planetary Science Letters
Publication statusPublished - 1 Feb 2014


  • Core formation
  • Metal-silicate experiments
  • Si isotope fractionation


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