Sphalerite – Day 13 of the Mineral Advent Calendar

This holiday season, why not get a mineral every day instead of chocolate? Today’s mineral is Sphalerite find out more about it below..

As we move towards the 25th of December, the number of shopping days decreases – and you might be out searching for the perfect gift! If you decide you want a more modern gift than yesterday’s Uranium Glass, you might decide to get a fancy new touchscreen device, but they are dependant on a lot of minerals, metals and elements to make them work!

There are lots of different touchscreen devices now - but they all need indium! Image is from wikipedia.

There are lots of different touchscreen devices now – but they all need indium! Image is from wikipedia.

One of the most important of these is a rare earth element (REE) called Indium, which you can find in the zinc ore mineral, Sphalerite. This is part of the same group of economically important elements as Neodymium (from Day 2 – Monazite) Without sphalerite (and therefore indium) your touchscreen device would just be another phone or computer!

A geogrous Sphalerite photo taken by Chinellato Matteo from Chinellatophoto.com, avaliable on the MinDat website.

A geogrous Sphalerite photo taken by Chinellato Matteo from Chinellatophoto.com, avaliable on the MinDat website.

Chemical formula: ZnS
Colour: Yellow, light to dark brown, black, red-brown, colourless, light blue. green
System: Isometric
Hardness (Mohs): 3½ – 4
Can you find it in the UK? Yes

The locations you can find Sphalerite in the UK.

The locations you can find Sphalerite in the UK.

You can find Sphalerite in several locations in the UK, across Scotland, England and Wales, including two of the most popular areas to find minerals of all types, Cornwall and Cumbria. Perhaps if you are still struggling for a gift you could take a loved one on a mineral hunting trip to one of these locations – I’m sure they would love it! Just ask my family!

I guess even my family can't be excited by rocks and fossils ALL the time!

I guess even my family can’t be excited by rocks and fossils ALL the time!

On second thoughts maybe don’t ask my family…..!

For more information about Sphalerite please visit the MinDat website.

EGU 2014 Day 1 – Volcanoes, good neighbours and career opportunities.

Phew what a day!

Well day one was a cracker here at EGU. I started the day badly – I forgot that I hadn’t changed my watch and with no other clocks here at the Brigittenau Youth Hostel, I didn’t realise I was actually running an hour late (whoops) meaning I missed the beginning of my first session. Note to self – always double check all your clocks!


When I arrived at the conference centre I went straight into my first session – NH 2.1Quantifying Volcanic Hazards. It was a really interesting session with presenters defending abstracts based on a wide range of volcanic topics, from pyroclastic flow modelling on Mt Merapi in Indonesia, to using the eruptive history of Laki in Iceland to help the UK government prepare for the effects of another Icelandic eruption (which, let’s face it, is just a matter of time). Who knew that actually a Laki-like eruption is ranked as one of the top three risk scenarios, in terms of impact, only preceded by pandemic flu and east coast flooding!


One of the most interesting presentations for me, was on the subject of a bayesian probability event tree, developed to examine the likelihood of volcanic unrest on El Hierro island in the Canary Islands and relating it to what is the origin of that unrest is, how it would evolve, location of the event, magma composition, size or magnitude of the event, products of the unrest and the extent of those products.

What particularly interested me, was the fact that although there were many geologists, physicists, chemists and other scientists on the team, it seemed like something that could be used by a non-expert planner, or even a civilian resident in the area. After the presentation, I spoke to Dr Joan Marti from the Instituto de Ciencias de la Tierra Jaume Almera, in Spain about the research.


He told me that the production of a hazard map from the data depends on the reproduction of a probabilistic model for each of a varied type of unrest scenario (bearing in mind the special temporal probabilities), that when combined with an interpretation of the historical activity of the island (which has been dived into zones) produces a qualitative, not quantitative, hazard map of the whole island – given the probabistic liklihood of activity and what type, magnitude etc etc. What Dr Marti also told me was that the new event tree was designed to be used by local government, because the probabilities and uncertainties have been incorporated within the program. The really great thing about this plug-in is that it can be used to calculate risk from any number of hazards, that may be related. All in all, it’s a tool that will improve local government response to geological unrest on El Hierro. You can read more about this work here.

I also looked at the session ERE 3.2 Ore deposits: origin, exploration and mining and although there was a lot of focus on copper ore deposits a couple of presentations caught my eye – the first was a piece of work on Rare-Earth Elements in Pacific seafloor sediments (an interesting idea presented by Jeremie Melleton), but the best presentation for me was by Alexandra Masaitis from the University of Nevada on ‘Good Neighbour Agreements’. The work centred on the idea that above and beyond a social contract, mining companies should be seeking to be ‘good neighbours’ and establish trust with the host community. I was particularly interested because Alexandra’s case study was based in the US, with all the associated legal issues that mining in a developed country can bring. The poster described the implementation process and what was necessary, but didn’t say if the Good Neighbour Agreement was actually considered successful by the stakeholders and the company. One surprising risk that was highlighted was the idea that the company could raise the expectations of the stakeholders to a level beyond that which could reasonably be met, thereby weakening the process.


Finally at the end of the day I attended a workshop on Enhancing your Career Prospects – adding value to your research experience. The focus of the workshop was on making the most of your time as a researcher by forming your ‘personal brand’ and using networking effectively. Now I must admit I find networking for the sake of networking a bit stupid (Id rather have something to talk about), but after this session I started to realise what it was all about. The most valuable conversation I had though, was about my personal brand. Who am I and what do I want to be? The thing that came out most for me? As an interdisciplinary researcher, I want credibility within BOTH of my disciplines. And I’m pretty sure I’m not alone – but how do we achieve this?

Answers on a postcard….

(One for the office chatters – see, it’s networking really!)