Paper No. 187-3
Presentation Time: 4:00 PM

MSA PRESIDENTIAL ADDRESS - MINERALOGY FOR THE 21ST CENTURY, AND THE SCIENCE OF CONNECTIONS


HOCHELLA, Michael F. Jr, Department of Geosciences, Virginia Tech, 4044 Derring Hall, Blacksburg, VA 24061, hochella@vt.edu
Mineralogists are the keepers of the core science that underlies nearly all areas of the Earth and planetary sciences. The earliest mineral science, in deep antiquity, involved the ability to make and utilize fire on demand by early humans, including in all likelihood Homo erectus as early as several hundred thousand years ago, using a very hard mineral and an iron sulfide, most likely quartz and pyrite. This resulted in one of the most important early inventions of mankind allowing for new methods of protection and warmth, for expanding livable geographic range, and for the development of cooking. Yet it was only half of a millennium ago that modern mineralogical science began due to the genius of German physician Georg Bauer (Georgius Agricola). From this point on, the systematic study of the physics and chemistry of minerals began. This formed the very foundation of the whole of the Earth sciences, as well as some of the cornerstones of environmental science. Today, Earth system science is so rich that linking specific aspects of recently discovered mineral behavior to global consequences is readily within reach. For example, iron, a critical limiting nutrient of Earth’s great photosynthesizers, phytoplankton of the world’s oceans, can be provided by iron oxide nanominerals in seawater supplied by the weathering of continents. This nutrient plays a big role in the populations of these organisms. In turn, these populations play a critical role in global temperatures due to their dramatic influence on the amount of atmospheric CO2. The conclusion: nanominerals in the oceans help dictate global temperatures. Going to the other end of the spectrum (in terms of temperature and pressure), even the source of deep-focus earthquakes in the mantle must depend, at least in part, on enigmatic mineral properties (e.g., compressibility and molar volume as a function of grain size in the nano-range) and phase transitions. Presently, details of the mineralogy of Mars, as determined via the Mars Science Laboratory on the Curiosity rover, will provide vital clues about the geology, past climates, and habitability of the red planet. The bottom line is that the future of our science, and its extraordinary relevance, depends on our ability to make connections, often between seemingly unrelated items, that can and do provide profound breakthroughs.