Associate Professor Rachel Popelka-Filcoff

Associate Professor

College of Science and Engineering

place Physical Sciences Building (312)
GPO Box 2100, Adelaide 5001, South Australia

My research program investigates how humans influence, and in turn, are influenced by the landscape around them. My lab uses radioanalytical and spectroscopic methods for the application to cultural, environmental and forensic questions. I have contributed to research in a number of ways, primarily with the first comprehensive characterisation of Australian Aboriginal natural mineral pigments on cultural heritage materials, including ochre, by several advanced analytical methods. I also analyse uranium materials by a variety of methods for international nuclear forensics projects. Recent projects include the improvement of the understanding of international radioecological risk assessment tools to arid Australian environments surrounding uranium mining sites, through comprehensive radioanalytical and analytical approaches to flora and fauna.

A significant portion of my research is based at the Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation (ANSTO), as well as collaborations with other forensic and cultural heritage institutes and universities. I hold a BA in Archaeology and Classics from Washington University in St Louis (USA), a PhD in Chemistry from the University of Missouri (USA) as an NSF Research Fellow, and completed a National Research Council postdoc at the National Institute of Standards and Technology (NIST, USA). I was an AINSE Research Fellow from 2010-2016.

I have received awards including the South Australian Tall Poppy of the Year in 2012, which recognises the top early career researcher in the state. In 2015 I was recognised in the League of Remarkable Women in Science. I have also had my research profiled in several scientific and general media outlets such as Cosmos Magazine, Chemistry in Australia, and Chemistry World, and radio and television interviews.

I am the President of the Society for Archaeological Sciences, and is on the editorial board of Journal of Archaeological Science, among others.

B.A. Archaeology and Classics, Washington University in St. Louis (USA) 1999
Ph.D. Chemistry, University of Missouri (USA) 2006
Honours, awards and grants

Flinders University Re-Entry Fellowship (2014)

South Australian Tall Poppy of the Year (2012)

Australian Institute of Nuclear Science and Engineering (AINSE), Research Fellow
Vice Chancellor's Awards for Early Career Researchers (Flinders University)
Modern Trends in Activation Analysis Young Scientist Travel Award
National Research Council, Research Associate Fellowship (USA)
National Science Foundation Graduate Research Fellowship (USA)
University of Missouri-Columbia Preparing Future Faculty Fellow
Society for Archaeological Sciences-R.E. Taylor Student Poster Award
American Nuclear Society James Vogt Graduate Fellowship in Nuclear Science
University of Missouri-Columbia Stevens Graduate Fellowship

Major Grants:

2019-2021: Ochre archaeomicrobiology: a new tool for undertaking Aboriginal exchange. DP190102219

2018-2020 Improving the Relevance of International Radiological Risk Assessment Tools to Australian Arid Environments. National Energy Resources Australia

2016-2019 Assessing Radionuclides and Developing Frameworks for South Australia’s Environment Surrounding Uranium Mining Sites. Department of State Development Mining and Petroleum Centre of Excellence.

2016-2020 ARC Research Hub for Australian Copper-Uranium.

2017-2020 A national framework for managing malignant plastics in museum collections Australian Research Council LP160100160

2013 Confocal microscope for high-resolution microtopographic analysis of surfaces in historical, forensic and polymer sciences. ARC Linkage Infrastructure, Equipment and Facilities Grant.

2011-2016 AINSE Research Fellowship

Key responsibilities

Radiation Safety Officer, Molecular Sciences, College of Science and Engineering

President, Society for Archaeological Sciences (2016-present)

Executive Committee, Australian Academy of Science Early and Mid Career Research Forum, 2014- 2016

Committee Member, Royal Australian Chemical Institute Radiochemistry Division (December 2014-present)

Secretary, Royal Australian Chemical Institute Analytical and Environmental Division (2016- 2018)

Organizer of the Early Career Group for the Faculty of Science and Engineering and School of Medicine at Flinders University (December 2009-2016)

Research expertise
Analytical chemistry
Other chemical sciences
Research interests

The focus of my research is in radioanalytical chemistry, or the application of nuclear and radiochemical analytical methodologies. My primary research interests are in archaeological science, forensics and environmental studies.

Archaeometry is a multidisciplinary field that centres on analysing the chemical and physical characteristics of ancient materials and artifacts to answer archaeological questions. Such research studies include questions concerning ancient material technologies, elucidating ancient economies and trade routes, and discovering artefact provenance and technologies. One of our primary projects in the group focuses on the characterisation and analysis of Australian ochre to understand its composition and exchange.

My projects are in partnership with colleagues at Flinders University, ANSTO (Australian Nuclear Science and Technology Organisation), South Australian Museum, Artlab, PIRSA and others.

Analytical methods in my laboratory are applied to research questions in the areas of:

  • archaeology and cultural heritage
  • environmental and geological studies
  • fundamental radioanalytical methods
  • nuclear analytical methods
  • analytical and spectroscopic instrumentation
  • forensic studies
  • nuclear forensics

The techniques used in my group include:

  • neutron activation analysis (NAA)
  • particle induced X-ray emission (PIXE)
  • X-ray fluorescence (XRF)
  • IR spectroscopy
Teaching interests

Analytical Chemistry

Nuclear Chemistry



X-ray methods

Nuclear Methods

Forensic Chemistry

Environmental Chemistry

Environmental Radiation



Archaeological Science


Topic coordinator
CHEM2711 Spectroscopy and Data Analysis
Topic lecturer
FACH3701 Chemical Analysis of Physical Evidence
CHEM2711 Spectroscopy and Data Analysis
CHEM3701 Applied Spectroscopy and Electrochemistry
CHEM1101 Chemical Structure and Bonding
SERC2700 Research Project
CHEM1102 Modern Chemistry
Supervisory interests
Analytical chemistry
Analytical chemistry sampling, analysis and interpretation
Archaeological chemistry
Archaeological science
Elemental analysis
Environmental chemistry
Forensic and analytical chemistry
Inorganic electronic structure and spectroscopy
Ionising radiation
Mass spectrometry
Neutron activation analysis
Nuclear non-proliferation
X-ray spectrometry
Higher degree by research supervision
Principal supervisor: Forensic Chemistry (1), Radiation Chemistry (2)
Associate supervisor: Analytical Chemistry (2), Cultural Heritage Analysis and Chemistry (Curtin Uni) (1), Forensic Chemistry (1)
Associate supervisor: Anaytical Chemistry (1), Archaeology, Archaeometry, Ceramics (1)
Higher degree by research student achievements
Tiffany Reeves

Playford Scholarship -

Tim Ditcham

AINSE Travel Scholarship - MAR 2016

Tim Ditcham

Gerald Laurence Memorial Award - NOV 2015

Tim Ditcham

United Uranium Scholarship -

Samantha Pandelus


Samantha Pandelus

American Chemical Society Coryell Award - JAN 2018

Tiffany Reeves

University 3 Minute Thesis Winner - JUL 2014

Expert for media contact
Education - Science
History - Australian
Analytical Chemistry
Archaeological Chemistry
Elemental Analysis
Environmental Radiation
Neutron Activation Analysis
X-ray Spectrometry
Available for contact via
Or contact the media team
+61 8 82012092
0427 398 713
Media expertise
  • Archaeology
  • Chemistry
  • Education - Science
  • History - Australian
  • Radiation
  • X-rays
  • Analytical Chemistry
  • Archaeological Chemistry
  • Archaeology
  • Archaeometry
  • Elemental Analysis
  • Environmental Radiation
  • Neutron Activation Analysis
  • Nuclear
  • Spectrometry
  • X-ray Spectrometry

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