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Staff information


John Cliff

Environmental Dynamics & Simulations
Pacific Northwest National Laboratory
PO Box 999
MSIN: K8-93
Richland, WA 99352


Dr. Cliff leads the NanoSIMS capability for biology and biogeochemistry at EMSL. When not helping EMSL users with their research, Dr. Cliff is busy developing techniques that help us understand nutrient fluxes at small spatial scales in terrestrial ecosystems, guard against nuclear proliferation and other weapons of mass destruction, and understand the factors that control greenhouse gas emissions. Ongoing projects include developing mass tags for antibodies and nucleic acid probes for imaging mass spectrometry and developing isotope ratio methods for determining reactor fuel burn up.

Research Interests

  • Dr. Cliff has a wide variety of research interests. He has a strong background in microbial and nuclear forensics, and biogeochemistry. Dr. Cliff has a strong interest in developing capabilities to analyze and understand our world at micron length scales. Dr. Cliff also has a strong record of collaboration with researchers studying early life on our planet and is strongly attracted to understanding sulfur metabolizing microorganisms from the Archean Eon to today.

Education and Credentials

  • Ph.D. Soil Science, Minor in Environmental Engineering, June 2001, Oregon State University, Corvallis, Oregon
  • M.S. Environmental Microbiology, December 1996, West Virginia University, Morgantown, West Virginia
  • B.S. Biology, with honors, minor in chemistry, May 1989, Shepherd College, Shepherdstown, West Virginia

Awards and Recognitions

  • Technical leader for the first International Atomic Energy Network Laboratory to be housed in a University
  • Outstanding Achievement Award 2008. Subgroup on Safeguards Technical Support and International Safeguards Project Office
  • Outstanding Achievement Award 2005. National Security Division, United States Department of Energy

PNNL Publications


  • Bone SE, J Dynes, JB Cliff, III, and J Barger. 2017. "Uranium(IV) adsorption by natural organic matter in anoxic sediments." Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences of the United States of America 114(4):711-716.  doi:10.1073/pnas.1611918114
  • Dunn JR, RS Renslow, JB Cliff, III, and CR Anderton. 2017. "NanoSIMS for Biological Applications: Current Practices and Analyses." Biointerphases 13(3):Article No. 03B301.  doi:10.1116/1.4993628
  • Fehrenbacher JS, AD Russell, CV Davis, AC Gagnon, HJ Spero, JB Cliff, III, Z Zhu, and P Martin. 2017. "Link between light-triggered Mg-banding and chamber formation in the planktic foraminifera Neogloboquadrina dutertrei." Nature Communications 8:Article No. 15441.  doi:10.1038/ncomms15441
  • Johnson SP, F Korhonen, C Kirkland, JB Cliff, III, E Belousova, and S Sheppard. 2017. "An isotopic perspective on growth and differentiation of Proterozoic orogenic crust: from subduction magmatism to cratonization." Lithos 268-271:76-86.  doi:10.1016/j.lithos.2016.11.003
  • McGrail BP, HT Schaef, FA Spane, JB Cliff, III, O Qafoku, JA Horner, CJ Thompson, AT Owen, and EC Sullivan. 2017. "Field Validation of Supercritical CO2 Reactivity with Basalts." Environmental Science & Technology Letters 4(1):6-10.  doi:10.1021/acs.estlett.6b00387
  • McGrail BP, HT Schaef, FA Spane, JA Horner, AT Owen, JB Cliff, III, O Qafoku, CJ Thompson, and EC Sullivan. 2017. "Wallula Basalt Pilot Demonstration Project: Post-Injection Results and Conclusions." Energy Procedia 114:5783-5790.  doi:10.1016/j.egypro.2017.03.1716
  • Roelofs B, M Barham, JB Cliff, III, M Joachimski, L Martin, and K Trinajstic. 2017. "Assessing the fidelity of fossil marine microvertebrate d18O signatures and their potential for palaeo-ecological and -climatic reconstructions." Palaeogeography, Palaeoclimatology, Palaeoecology 465(A):79-92.  doi:10.1016/j.palaeo.2016.10.018


  • Cliff JB, HW Kreuzer, CJ Ehrhardt, and DS Wunschel. 2012. Chemical and Physical Signatures for Microbial Forensics.  Humana Press, New York, NY. 


  • Cliff JB, DP Frank, DC Gerlach, CJ Gesh, WW Little, Jr, BD Reid, GV Tsiklauri, S Abramidze, Z Rostomashvili, G Kiknadze, O Dzhavakhishvily, and G Nabakhtiani. 2010. "Independent Verification of Research Reactor Operation (Analysis of the Georgian IRT-M Reactor by the Isotope Ratio Method) ." In Proceedings of the 51st Annual Meeting of the Institute of Nuclear Materials Management, July 11-15, 2010, Baltimore, Maryland.  INMM, Deerfield, IL. 
  • Gaspar DJ, and JB Cliff. 2010. "Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry of Environmental Aerosols." In Encyclopedia of Mass Spectrometry, vol. 5, pp. 506-514.  Elsevier, Oxford, United Kingdom. 


  • Jarman KH, HW Kreuzer-Martin, DS Wunschel, NB Valentine, JB Cliff, CE Petersen, HA Colburn, and KL Wahl. 2008. "Bayesian Integrated Microbial Forensics." Applied and Environmental Microbiology 74(11):3573-3582.  doi:10.1128/AEM.02526-07


  • Bliss M, DC Gerlach, JB Cliff, MB Toloczko, DS Barnett, G Ciampi, KA Jones, and KG Lynn. 2007. "Pb Quantification of CdZnTe microheterogeneities complimented by SEM, IR microscopy, EDX, and TOF-SIMS." In Proceedings of the 11th Symposium on Radiation Measurements and Applications, published in Nuclear Instruments and Methods in Physics Research, Part A, vol. 579, no. 1, pp. 138-140.  Elsevier, Amsterdam, Netherlands.  doi:10.1016/j.nima.2007.04.018
  • Heasler PG, DC Gerlach, JB Cliff, and SL Petersen. 2007. GUM Analysis for TIMS and SIMS Isotopic Ratios in GraphitePNNL-17036, Pacific Northwest National Laboratory, Richland, WA. 


  • Cliff JB, PJ Bottomley, DJ Gaspar, and DD Myrold. 2006. "Nitrogen Mineralization and Assimilation at Millimeter Scales." Soil Biology and Biochemistry 39(3):823-826.  doi:10.1016/j.soilbio.2006.10.005
  • Gerlach DC, JB Cliff, DE Hurley, BD Reid, WW Little, Jr, GH Meriwether, AJ Wickham, and TA Simmons. 2006. "Secondary Ionization Mass Spectrometric Analysis of Impurity Element Isotope Ratios in Nuclear Reactor Materials." In SIMS XV 2005, 15th International Conference on Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry 12-16 September 2005 Manchester, UK. Published in Applied Surface Science, vol. 252, no. 19, pp. 7041-7044.  Elsevier Science BV, Amsterdam, Netherlands. 


  • Cliff JB, KH Jarman, NB Valentine, S Golledge, DJ Gaspar, DS Wunschel, and KL Wahl. 2005. "Differentiation of Spores of Bacillus Subtilis Grown in Different Media by Elemental Characterization using Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry." Applied and Environmental Microbiology 71(11):6524-6530. 


  • Cliff JB, DJ Gaspar, PJ Bottomley, and DD Myrold. 2004. "Peak Fitting to Resolve CN-Isotope Ratios in Biological and Environmental Samples using TOF-SIMS." Applied Surface Science 231-232(Sp. Iss. SI):912-916. 
  • Cliff JB, DJ Gaspar, PJ Bottomley, and DD Myrold. 2004. "Peak Fitting to Resolve CN- isotope Ratios in Biological and Environmental Samples Using TOF-SIMS. ." In SIMS XIV, proceedings of the fourteenth international conference on secondary ion mass spectrometry and related topics, San Diego, CA, ed. Alfred Benninghoven, pp. 912-916.  Elsevier Science BV, Amsterdam, Netherlands. 


  • Cliff JB, DJ Gaspar, PJ Bottomley, and DD Myrold. 2002. "Exploration of Inorganic C and N Assimilation by Soil Microbes with Time-of-Flight Secondary Ion Mass Spectrometry." Applied and Environmental Microbiology 68(8):4067-4073. 

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