The mineral world is ever-expanding. More than 5,200 minerals have already been discovered, 100-150 new minerals are registered every year, and scientists estimate there are at least 1,500 more to be found. The latest addition is Nataliyamalikite, discovered in far-east Russia by scientists from Monash University. Professor Joël Brugger explains the significance of this discovery:
“The discovery of this new mineral means we will be able to better understand how metals are extracted from deep-seated sources within our planet, and concentrated at shallow levels to form economic ore deposits. This will give us a unique insight into the processes responsible for the geochemical evolution of our planet. And this understanding is required to sustain mining – a key to Australia’s ongoing economic prosperity.”
The findings were published in American Mineralogist.
Mineral of the Year
Of all the new minerals found each year, the International Mineralogical Association awards one especially distinctive mineral the title of Mineral of the Year. The 2016 winner was Merelaniite. According to an article on Inside Science, under magnification Merelaniite appears to have tiny black hairs inside its crevices. Merelaniite was discovered by a high school student interning at the Smithsonian Natural History Museum and after five years of research, an international team was able to definitively categorize those “hairs” as a new mineral. Merelaniite is made primarily of alternating layers of molybdenum disulfide and lead sulfide.
Math and Minerals
New technologies are helping to uncover more new minerals. The Inside Science article, How Math Can Help Geologists Discover New Minerals, explains how mineralogist Robert Hazen and his colleagues are using “big data” statistical methods to locate them:
The “big data” approach would have been impossible until recently. A team at the University of Arizona has spent the last few years combing through thousands of publications describing mineral structures and properties, combining their findings into a single database called the RUFF Project. And since 2001, a nonprofit group called the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy has been gathering data on where people find particular minerals. Its MINDAT.org database now has about a million mineral-location pairs, according to Shaunna Morrison, a mineralogist at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington and first author of the new network analysis study.
To make their predictions, Morrison, Hazen and their colleagues use the RUFF and MINDAT databases to compare well known minerals with rare ones that have only occasionally been collected. In this way, they can calculate the likelihood that researchers and collectors will identify new minerals in a given place or category in the future, said Hazen.
Why Minerals Matter
Elemental and phase/mineralogical characterization of geological materials can provide useful information in oil and gas exploration, to find ore deposits, and beneficiation and extraction processes for industrial needs. X-ray diffraction (XRD) is a nondestructive technique used to characterize phase composition in mineralogical samples. XRD instruments used for geological sample analysis range from simple, easy to use bench-top systems for routine analysis to more advanced floor-standing, high performance, research grade systems for investigative laboratories.
To learn more, read Analysis of geological minerals using the ARL EQUINOX series X-ray diffractometer.
Watch this video to see a demonstration of a desktop XRD instrument.