Stories tagged minerals

This isn't today's Science Friday video, but it's a recent Science Friday video that I missed, OK? You'll like it, anyway. Science Friday
Science FridayCourtesy Science Friday
This time,
"In 1968, the New Jersey Senate decreed the town of Franklin a geological wonder: "The Fluorescent Mineral Capital of the World." Over 350 different minerals have been found in the area, ninety of which glow brilliantly under ultraviolet light. There are two mineral museums devoted to fluorescing rocks, the region's unusual geology and its zinc mining history."

A bright future: We will all be armed skeletons, sitting on big piles of minerals. That's how I like to see it, anyway.
A bright future: We will all be armed skeletons, sitting on big piles of minerals. That's how I like to see it, anyway.Courtesy bredgur
According to a report in the journal Mineralium Deposita, there’s really no need for people to fight over mineral resources, because there are lots and lots of them left.

The report comes hot on the heals of a political snafu, in which a Chinese fisherman ran afoul of the Japanese coastguard, and China cut off shipments of rare earth metals to Japan, after the fisherman was arrested. Rare earth metals are vital for building electronics and hybrid electric cars, and China pretty much has most of the rare earth metals in town, so China was all, “You want your cars? Give us our fisherman.” Then Japan was like, “Oh, well, actually we can make hybrid cars without your stupid rare earth metals, so whatever.”

And everybody else started smacking their lunch trays on the tables and shouting, “Fight! Fight! Fight!”

But then Japan was like, “Fine. Just take your stupid fisherman. He’s a jerk anyway.” And China was like, “Fine, then!” And everything went back to normal. But it left the world thinking, are we going to have to tussle over stuff like this eventually? Everyone wants minerals, and we might be running out…

Not so, says Lawrence Cathles of Cornell University. We have lots of minerals, more than we could use in thousands of years, even with the whole world living at Western European material standards.

Aw, man. What can we fight about now? I suppose there’s always country and rock ‘n roll. Or we could all split up into Sharks and Jets. We could maybe start randomly accusing each other of cheating at Monopoly, regardless of whether or not we’ve been playing Monopoly.

But… I just can’t get worked up over that stuff. If I can’t throw down over a chunk of copper, or a pocketful of palladium, I don’t know that I even want to fight. Oh well. I might as well just finish reading that article…

So let’s see. The minerals Cathles is talking about come from the ocean floor. At points where the Earth’s crust is pulling apart, molten rock meets ocean water, infusing it with minerals and heating it. The hot seawater rises through the crust, and deposits precipitating minerals on the ocean floor. Lots and lots of copper, uranium, lithium, phosphate, potash, and on and on… all waiting for us in deposits on the ocean floor. A small percentage of the minerals that should be hiding out down there could keep humanity going for “50 centuries or more.”

Sweet! But… wait a second. Didn’t it just say that the minerals are sitting on the bottom of the oceans? Where the tectonic plates are pulling apart from each other, areas one might refer to as “ocean spreading centers.” Sooooo… the minerals are under the middle of the oceans.

Yes! We’re going to have something to fight over after all!

See, I think y’all remember what can happen when you’re trying to get at something on the bottom of the ocean… this sort of thing. And the depths of mid-ocean ridges are nothing to sneeze at. But deep sea oil drilling operations might be a good junior-league analogy for mid-ocean mining—it’s expensive and potentially extremely dangerous, but once we want that resource enough, we’re going to give it a shot. And once we do, that (fortunately!!!) won’t be the end of conflict over the resource. Drilling or mining areas will be disputed, as will environmental liabilities.

I mean, what do I know about it. But when has having enough of something for everybody ever kept people from being upset about it?

I find this to be a very hopeful report. Someday—maybe not soon, but someday—we’ll engage in high-tech, high risk, deepwater mining in international waters. And there will be fighting! Lots of fighting!


No one could ever bust this grill: Try as you might.
No one could ever bust this grill: Try as you might.Courtesy Bradley G.
Here’s a little bit more diamond news for y’all. Scientists have discovered not one, but two substances harder than diamonds.

The first material is called “wurtzite boron nitride,” and the other, even harder substance (58% harder than diamonds) is called “lonsdaleite.” Lonsdaleite, as it happens, is made of… diamond.

Or, if you want to be a nerd about it, lonsdaleite is made of carbon, like diamonds are, but it has a slightly different molecular structure. It’s often called “hexagonal diamond.”

Nobody had realized that these materials could be harder than diamonds before, because no one had considered subjecting them to “normal compressive pressures under indenters.” When you do expose wurtzite boron nitride or lonsdaleite to normal compressive pressures under indenters, they go through a phase transformation—that is, something changes in the bonds between their atoms, making them stronger. The atomic bonds in regular diamonds can’t undergo this change.

What’s that? You don’t know what “normal compressive pressures under indenters” is? Seriously? Whatever. Everybody who’s anybody knows what that is. But… um, I don’t know exactly what it means either. I’m pretty sure that it means that the materials undergo this bond-strengthening transformation only when it’s squeezed really hard.

So there you go. Throw out your diamonds, and get yourself some… better diamonds.


Things That Nature Does Not Fully Understand

  1. Dippin’ Dots
  2. Anime
  3. Nuclear Power Plants
  4. Internet Dating
  5. Stephen Baldwin

Things That Science Does Not Fully Understand

  1. Fireflies
  2. Photons
  3. Stephen Baldwin
  4. The Slinky
  5. Abalone Shells

Science is working on this last item, though (while Nature doesn’t even know where to begin with “Dippin’ Dots”).

Abalone shells, it just so happens, are very, very strong. They are made up of aragonite (which itself is composed of calcium carbonate, the stuff in all seashells), but the shells are 3000 times more fracture-resistant that aragonite alone. This article gives points out that you could run over an abalone shell with a truck, and it wouldn’t break; “you will crumble the outside [of the shell] but not the [nacre] inside.” Exactly how this “nacre” forms is something that has been puzzling scientists.
The Mighty Abalone: Will we ever learn your secrets?    (photo by rachaelwrite)
The Mighty Abalone: Will we ever learn your secrets? (photo by rachaelwrite)

It had been thought that the microscopic structure of nacre was something like a wall bricks or tiles stacked regularly on top of each other – aragonite bricks, with organic mortar between them. However, after having examined nacre using synchrotron radiation, or “light emitted by electrons speeding around a curved track,” scientists think that the bricks and mortar analogy might not be quite accurate.

It seems now that the “wall” is largely composed of “distinct clumps of bricks, each an irregular column of crystals with identical composition but a crystal orientation different than neighboring columns.” Scientists think the reason for this irregular structure has to do with eliminating natural planes of cleavage. “A poly-crystal,” the researchers say, “is mechanically stronger than a single crystal, so perhaps that is an advantage for the animal."

What’s more, the process for constructing the nacre is extremely efficient. The aragonite crystals, composing 95% of the structure, are self-assembled, so the organism has to manufacture only the organic mortar between them.

If we could find a synthetic way of copying biominerals like this, they could be applied in all sorts of places. “We could, for example, produce cars that absorb all the energy at the impact point but do not fracture,” says one University of Wisconsin-Madison scientist. Neat.

Check out the US Geological Survey (USGS) webpage for Minnesota, with news releases of interest, real-time data, and highlighted links. (Other states available, too.) Today, for example, would be an interesting day to check out real-time water data, or the MN draught watch.