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July-August 2010

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Word to the Wise: Materials Mineralogy

Synthetic analogues of long-known minerals, and in some cases, the natural materials themselves, are quickly establishing a place of importance in today's high-tech world.

In what contexts is the study of minerals noteworthy? Many people are aware that minerals are the constituents of most rocks and thus are the building blocks of our Earth as well as other solid celestial bodies. As such, mineralogy has historically been a study of Earth materials, and traditionally it has been framed by the context of the Earth's composition and dynamics. This is of great and enduring significance, but the other contexts in which mineralogy is of relevance are stunningly broad. Human health, water quality, life on Mars, art history and media, the origin of life, quality of the environment, and technological materials are but the tip of the mineralogical iceberg. Of course, icebergs are made of the mineral ice, making this metaphor more of a pun than a simile. In a previous Word to the Wise column, “Environmental Mineralogy” (Rakovan 2008), we looked at the relevance of minerals and mineralogy in sustaining the environment in which we live. In this column, we focus on another area where minerals profoundly affect our everyday lives.

Dr. John Rakovan, an executive editor of Rocks & Minerals, is a professor of mineralogy and geochemistry at Miami University in Oxford, Ohio.

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