GeoLog

Science Communication

MinCup: Elevating humble minerals to new heights

MinCup: Elevating humble minerals to new heights

Throughout October and November, the world of (Earth science) Twitter was taken by storm: Day after day, Eddie Dempsey (a lecturer at the University of Hull, and @Tectonictweets for those of you more familair with his Twitter handle) pitted minerals against each other, in a knock out style popular contest. The aim? To see which mineral would eventually be crowned the best of 2017.

Who knew fiery (but good natured) rows could explode among colleagues who felt, strongly, that magnetite is far superior to quartz or plagioclase? The Mineral Cup hashtag (#MinCup) was trending, it was in everyone’s mouth. Who would you vote for today?

What started as a little fun, became a true example of great science communication and how to bring a community of researchers, scattered across the globe, together.

And then Hazel Gibson (former EGU Press Assistant, @iamhazelgibson) came along. She was an active participant in the competition, but also contributed beautiful sketches of every mineral featured, and shared them for all to see by tagging them with the #MinCup hashtag. We all know that a picture is worth more than a thousand words, so when Hazel’s hand drawn sketches where paired with an already rocking contest, it’s impact and reach was truly cemented.

Between them, Eddie and Hazel had managed to elevate the humble mineral to new heights.

Why do minerals matter?

Minerals are hugely underrated. They are often upstaged by the heavy-weights of the geosciences: volcanoes, earthquakes, hurricanes, fossils and melting glaciers (to name but a few).

But they shouldn’t be.

Minerals are the building blocks of all rocks, which in turn, are the foundation of all geology.

Whether you study the processes which govern how rivers form, or ancient magnetic fields, or fossils, chances are your work will, at some stage, involve looking at, studying, or at the very least understanding (some) minerals. Mineralogy 101 (or whatever it’s precise name was at your university) is a rite of passage for any aspiring Earth scientist. I still remember hours spent painstakingly looking down a microscope, drawing and annotating sketches trying to decipher the secrets of the Earth’s ancient past, locked in minerals.

And that’s just the beginning.

Minerals are of huge economic and, therefore societal importance, too. Many minerals are vital ingredients in house-hold products and contribute to the manufacturing processes of many others. Yet, they fail to make headlines and their true significance, often, goes unnoticed.

So, in hopes to further highlight the relevance and importance of minerals, I’ve picked a few of the #MinCup minerals and explained why they (should) matter (to you).

Gypsum

Gypsum will form in lagoons, where ocean waters are high in calcium and sulfate content, and where the water evaporates slowly overtime. In rocks, it is associated with sedimentary beds which can be mined to extract the mineral, but it can also be produced by evaporating water with the right chemical composition.

Gypsum has been used in construction and decoration (in the form of alabaster) since 9000 B.C.  Today, it has a wide variety of common uses. Did you know that many fruit juice companies use gypsum to aid the extraction of the liquid? It is also used in bread and dough mixes as a raising agent. And it’s uses aren’t limited to just the food and drink industry. It is also commonly used as a modelling material for tooth restorations and helps keeps us safe when added to plastic products where it acts as a fire retardant.

Magnetite

Geologically speaking, magnetite holds the clues to understand the Earth’s ancient magnetic field. Credit: Hazel Gibson

Typically, greyish black or black, magnetite is an important iron ore mineral. It occurs in many igneous and volcanic rocks and is the most magnetic of all minerals. For it to form, magma has to cool, slowly, so that the minerals can form and settle out of the magma.

Due to its magnetic nature, it has fascinated human-kind for centuries: it paved the way for the invention of the modern compass.  The iron content in magnetite is higher than its more common cousin haematite, making it very sought after. Iron ore is the source of steel, which is used universally throughout modern infrastructure.

Geologically speaking, magnetite holds the clues to understand the Earth’s ancient magnetic field. As magnetite-bearing rocks form, the magnetite within them aligns with the Earth’s magnetic field. Since this rock magnetism does not change after the rock forms, it provides a record of what the Earth’s magnetic field was like at the time the rock formed.

Diamond

Arguably, one of the most well-known of the minerals, diamond is unique, not only for its beauty and the high prices it reaches, but also for its properties. Not only is it the hardest known mineral, it is also a great conductor of heat and has the highest refractive index of any mineral.

Though mostly sought after by the jewellery industry, only 20% of all diamonds are suitable for use as a gem. Due to it’s hardness, diamond is mined for use in industrial processes, to be used as an abrasive and in diamond tipped saws and drills. Its optical properties mean it is used in electronics and optics; while it’s conductive properties mean it is often used as an insulator too.

Diamond: perhaps the most sought after mineral of them all? Credit: Hazel Gibson

Olivine

Last, but absolutely not least, let’s talk about Olivine – the winner of #MinCup 2017.

Olivine is a pretty, commonly green mineral. Because it forms at very high temperatures, it is one of the first minerals to take shape as magma cools, and given enough time, can form specimens which are easily seen with the naked eye. Changes in the behaviour of seismic waves as they traverse the Earth indicate that Olivine is an important component of the Earth’s inner layer – the Mantle.

It’s a relatively hard mineral, but overall hasn’t got highly sought-after properties and, as result, has been used rather sparingly in industrial processes. In the past it has been used in blast furnaces to remove impurities from steel and to form a slag, as well as a refractory material, but both those uses are in decline as cheaper materials come to the market.

Perhaps better known is its gemstone counterpart: peridot, a magnesium rich form of Olivine. It has been coveted for centuries, with some arguing that Cleopatra’s famous ‘emeralds’, where in fact peridote. Until the mid-90s the US was the major exporter of the gem stones, but deposits in Pakistan and China now challenge the claim.

So, do you think Olivine was the rightful winner of #MinCup 2017? With a new edition of the popular contest set to return in 2018, perhaps it’s time to shout about the properties and uses of your favourite mineral from the roof tops? Not only might it ensure it is crowned winner next year, but you’ll also be contributing to making the value of minerals known to the wider public. Heck! If you’d like to tell us all about the mineral you think should be the next champion, why not submit a guest post to GeoLog?

In the meantime, if you haven’t already got your hands on one, Hazel tells me there are a few of her charity #MinCup 2017 calendars up for grabs, so make sure to secure your copy – and contribute to a good cause at the same time.

By Laura Roberts Artal, EGU Communications Officer

Arts and culture at EGU 2018

Arts and culture at EGU 2018

As well as a stimulating scientific programme (remember the call-for-abstracts is currently open!), the upcoming General Assembly will also feature exciting cultural activities. Read on for a whistle-stop tour of what to expect, and of course, stay tuned to our social media channels, and follow the official hashtag (#EGU18) for more information on the run-up to the conference.

A poet in residence

You might ask: what on Earth does poetry have to do with science?

Sam Illingworth – Science Communication Lecturer at Manchester Metropolitan University – is a firm believer that “poetry can be a very effective tool in communicating science to a broader audience, and can even help to enhance the long-term retention of scientific content.”

Since the 2016 edition of the meeting, along with a team of collaborators, Sam has organised the ever-popular ‘Rhyme Your Research’ short course, as well as poetry clinics at the Early Career Scientist Lounge and hosted the EGU Poetry slam (which takes place at the Conveners Reception).

Sam’s efforts to inspire others to take up poetry as a means of communicating their research, as well as his back catalogue of, frankly, brilliant science poems, mean he’ll be the poet in residence at EGU 2018. In this new role, as well as the activities he’s run in the past, Sam will turn some of the research presented during the conference into science poems.

“I am looking forward to the GA, because it is the scientific highlight of every year for me, and because this year I will be able to write even more poetry about the science that I love!” says Sam.

Read on for a taste of what to expect from Sam at EGU 2018:

What is a geoscientist?

We listen to the sounds of hidden lines,

And use them to look back to distant times.

We weigh the Earth to every grain of sand,

And use them to define where we now stand.

We model waves across the air and sea,

And use them to infer what might then be.

We search for answers to how we exist,

That is what makes a geoscientist.

 

Cartoons, cartoons everywhere

Words aren’t for everyone; some, have a much more visual memory, and, if you throw in a little humour in the mix too, then understanding complex science can become so much easier! That is precisely what Matthew Partridge (aka. ErrantScience) is an expert at.

At EGU 2017, Matthew set himself the challenge of keeping a daily diary of his time at the conference. As if that weren’t a tall enough order, the posts featured not only a witty take on his time in Vienna, but also cartoons!

In 2018 we’ve invited Matthew back, but this time, not to document his own conference experience, but rather to bring some of the science presented in the poster halls and presentation rooms to life.

The art (and science) of sound

When conducting research, Earth scientists rely most on what they see and can touch in the environment around them. Less often, sound might come into play too. But what if it could play a bigger part?

Antonio Menghini, a geophysicitst and Stefano Pontani, founders of EMusic (ElectroMagnetic Music) have taken that thought one step further. What if sound could not only play a part in research but turn complex, difficult to grasp electromagnetic data, into beautiful music which brings the science closer to all, not just researchers? What if we could capture the sound of Earth?

Well, at EGU 2018 you’ll be able to find out! Antonio and Stefano are due to perform “Sounds from the Geology of Italy”, during which they’ll play EMusic drawn from electromagnetic data collected in 4 beautiful scenarios: the Phlegrean Fields, Venice Lagoon, Selinunte Temple and Castelluccio Plain. Stefano will be on guitar and loops, while Riccardo Marini will focus on electronics and Marco Guidolotti will play the saxophone.

It promises to be a musical bonanza – absolutely not to be missed!

This is an excerpt of an EMusic show performed in an Ancient Roman Theater the last summer, with a similar musical format:.

Arts and culture in the scientific programme

As well as these Union-wide initiatives, the proposed conference programme of is packed with sessions and short courses which explore the relationship between art and science. If this is a topic which you feel passionately about, or would like to contribute more to, consider submitting an abstract to these sessions or attend the workshops:

·       EOS8: Scientists, artists and the Earth: co-operating for a better planet sustainability

·       EOS9: A pilot-platform for performing your Earth&Art work

·       SC2.5: How to cartoon science

·       While not strictly art, this session seeks contributions on how make large data sets visually appealing, ESSI4.1: State of the Art in Earth Science Data Visualization

This list is not comprehensive, please explore the programme for other similar sessions.

EGU 2018 will take place from 08 to 13 April 2017 in Vienna, Austria. For more information on the General Assembly, see the EGU 2018 website and follow us on Twitter (#EGU18 is the official conference hashtag) and Facebook.