GSA Connects 2021 in Portland, Oregon

Paper No. 13-10
Presentation Time: 10:55 AM


FARFAN, Gabriela, Department of Mineral Sciences, Smithsonian Institution, 10th St. & Constitution Ave. NW, Washington, DC 20560

From coral biomineralization, to pearl farming, to global elemental cycling by mineral dissolution, biominerals often play a starring role in environmental science and climate science. These multidisciplinary topics require experts from an array of fields to tackle the complex questions that arise. Yet, relatively few mineralogists have been called upon on to help understand the mineralogy and crystallography of these mineral-based systems.

One of the biggest questions in environmental biomineralogy is: how will skeletons and shells be impacted by shifting environmental conditions, such as ocean acidification and rising temperatures? On an organism-scale, biologists are essential collaborators when answering this question, however on an atomic to micron-scale, the material properties of shells and skeletons are primarily driven by mineral chemistry and crystal structure. My research group capitalizes on traditional mineralogical approaches such as X-ray powder diffraction, Raman spectroscopy, and scanning electron microscopy, combined with state-of-the-art synchrotron-based techniques, to characterize the crystallography and chemistry of the end-products of biomineralization: the minerals. This mineralogical approach also benefits greatly from natural history collections (both geological analogs and biological collections) and collaborations with environmental geochemists and biologists.

While it is considered one of the earliest disciplines in all of science, understanding mineralogy and crystallography is still critical to helping us to unravel the mysteries of the most basic mineral building blocks that so many systems are built on. Thus, there is a lot of potential for future mineralogists and crystallographers to help advance this field of environmental biomineralogy. For students and postdocs interested in exploring this field further, the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History offers fellowships for undergraduate to postdoctoral researchers who may be interested in working with our biomineralogists and mineralogists in the Department of Mineral Sciences.