Big Data Points Humanity to New Minerals, New Deposits
Applying big data analysis to mineralogy offers a way to predict minerals missing from those known to science, as well as where to find new deposits, according to a groundbreaking study.
In a paper published by American Mineralogist, Hazen and colleagues report the first application to mineralogy of network theory (best known for analysis of e.g. the spread of disease, terrorist networks, or Facebook connections).
Led by Shaunna Morrison of the Deep Carbon Observatory and DCO Executive Director Robert Hazen (both at the Carnegie Institution for Science in Washington, D.C.), the paper’s 12 authors include DCO colleagues Peter Fox and Ahmed Eleish at the Keck Foundation sponsored Deep-Time Data Infrastructure Data Science Teams at Rensselaer Polytechnic Institute, Troy NY.
The results, they say, pioneer a potential way to reveal mineral diversity and distribution worldwide, their evolution through deep time, new trends, and new deposits of valuable minerals such as gold or copper.
Says Dr. Hazen: “Network analysis can provide visual clues to mineralogists regarding where to go and what to look for. This is a brand new idea in the paper and I think it will open up an entirely new direction in mineralogy.”
Morrison SM, Liu C, Eleish A, Prabhu A, Li C, Ralph J, Downs RT, Golden JJ, Fox P, Hummer DR, Meyer MB, Hazen RM (2017) Network analysis of mineralogical systems. American Mineralogist 102(8):1588-1596
In June 2017, Robert Hazen participated in a question and answer with NSF's Rob Margetta on deep carbon science, data-driven discovery, and the future of interdisciplinary science.
About deep carbon, Hazen says: "Ninety percent of Earth's carbon is beneath Earth's surface, in hidden reservoirs. We're not exactly sure what those look like or how much carbon is down there, because it is stored in various forms and moves around as part of a deep carbon cycle. However, important exchanges between carbon on the surface and the deep interior happen through a process called subduction, driven by plate tectonics, and through volcanism and other processes. We really have to understand those aspects of the carbon cycle."
Hazen also describes his vision for the future of science, which he thinks will rely on early career researchers and big data resources that allow anyone with a laptop to be a scientist. "We see an opportunity to build an international network of early career scientists immersed in this idea of cross-disciplinary science. Imagine when our vision for a vast data network is in place, with open access and new data tools -- as long as you have a laptop and internet access you can make discoveries. This is such a democratic approach to science. You don't need expensive equipment located in one place in the world. Data sharing could open science to people regardless of their economic and physical environments."
Read the full interview here.
On April 5, 2017, the Natural History Museum in Vienna unveiled a new permanent exhibit based on Hazen's research. This exhibit will teach visitors about the changes in Earth's mineralogy through time, or "mineral evolution," an idea first proposed by Hazen in 2008.
Hazen's research on mineral evolution demonstrates that Earth's mineralogy has changed through time due to varying physical, chemical, and biological processes. In particular, the emergence of life dramatically shaped Earth's mineralogy -- without life, an estimated 60% of our planet's mineral species would not exist. “There’s a growing awareness of the dramatic changes in Earth’s mineralogy over the past 4.5 billion years. Remarkably, that epic “mineral evolution” story is as much about life as it is about rock. We now realize that minerals and life co-evolved,” says Hazen.
The new exhibit explains each 'stage' of Earth history, with descriptions accompanied by images and mineral specimens. Hazen remarks, “The new Viennese exhibit traces Earth’s changeable appearance through a series of dramatic stages, from a landscape that was primarily black (owing to volcanic basalt), to rusty red, to white (a time of global glaciation), and ultimately to today’s green Earth. Dozens of beautiful mineral specimens, accompanied by explanatory text and dynamic visuals, illustrate each stage.”
The grand opening included a press conference and a public lecture by Hazen.
On 27 September 2016, the Mineralogical Society of America (MSA) awarded Robert Hazen the 2016 Roebling Medal for his ongoing research into the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere. In his presentation speech, Russell Hemley commented that Hazen's exceptional career "has not only influenced the mineral sciences in diverse ways but has broadened the scope, relevance, and impact of mineralogy in many fields and communities beyond."
The Roebling Medal, MSA's highest honor, is bestowed annually "for scientific eminence as represented primarily by scientific publication of outstanding original research in mineralogy." First bestowed in 1937, the Roebling Medal is named in honor of Colonel Washington A. Roebling (1837-1926), an avid mineral collector who was involved with the MSA from its founding in 1919 until his death.
The award was presented in Denver, Colorado at the 2016 Geological Society of America Annual Meeting. The meeting included a session in honor of Hazen, titled Mineralogical Evidence for the Co-Evolution of the Geosphere and Biosphere: In Honor of Robert M. Hazen, 2016 Roebling Medalist. During the session, Hazen presented an award lecture on The Co-Evolution of Earth and Life; Insights from ‘Big Data’ Mineralogy.
Robert Hazen joins a distinguished group of past Roebling Medal recipients, including Norman L. Bowen (1950) and Linus Pauling (1967).
Read Hazen's acceptance speech here.
The award-winning science show NOVA, broadcast by PBS, featured Hazen's research on the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere in an hourlong episode titled "Life's Rocky Start." The episode follows Hazen around the globe, from Morocco to Australia, as he demonstrates how life and minerals have influenced each other through Earth's 4.6 billion year history.
Aired on January 13, 2016 at 9pm on PBS.