Layers of Learning: UA Science Lecture Series Puts Minerals Under a Microscope

click to enlarge Minerals at the UA’s new Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum downtown. - PHOTO BY | JEFF GARDNER
Photo By | Jeff Gardner
Minerals at the UA’s new Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum downtown.

The University of Arizona College of Science is hosting its 17th annual lecture series, exploring the significance of minerals in mankind and our daily lives. Over the next five weeks, distinguished UA faculty members will present on a variety of topics, from their cosmic origins to their function in smartphones.

Each year, the series is centered around a unique theme that attracts a couple thousand people to Centennial Hall. Southern Arizona has a large community that is interested in the sciences, and with the recent Tucson Gem and Mineral Show, this year’s topic is expected to bring in crowds.

“This year’s topic plays very hand-in- hand with the mineral show,” Scott Coleman, the college’s marketing and communications director said. “So anyone that is interested can come on by and learn a few things.”

The lectures are free to the public and open to everyone. But if attending in-person doesn’t work, the college will be livestreaming the presentations on their YouTube channel, with closed captioned Spanish subtitles available.

The college is constantly looking to engage more viewers and highlight diverse topics in science.

“It’s a great opportunity for the college to have some outreach,” Coleman said. “And hopefully visitors will learn and enjoy the presentations.”

Carmie Garzione, the new dean of the college, played a big role in choosing this year’s topic. She is an esteemed earth scientist, and earned her doctorate in geosciences from the University of Arizona. She thought minerals would be a great fit to make her first year memorable.

Bob Downs will kick off the series on March 3, as he talks about the vital role of minerals in our daily lives. He will summarize a timeline of minerals, starting from their origin and working his way through their evolution on the geologic time scale.

A week later on March 10, Mauricio Ibañez-Mejia will tackle the question that has been researched for centuries: How old is the earth? He will explore how minerals can act as time capsules that are rich in history and can be dated to reconstruct the chronology of our planet. They are story- tellers that give insight into terrestrial and cosmic evolution.

Ananya Mallik will follow up on March 17, discussing how gems provide even more understanding into the planet’s inner layers and the history. Aside from the natural beauty of gems, diamonds, and rubies, they can also be studied in depth to understand the evolution of earth and the formation of landforms.

On March 31, Isabel Barton will center her presentation on Arizona, bringing local interest to minerals. She will talk about the abundance of copper, along with other critical minerals that have been found in Arizona.

Metals and minerals are the backbone of technology and are needed to support the constant advancements. Copper is used in wiring electronics and batteries, creating a high demand.

To wrap up the lecture series, Raina Maier will touch on the future of mining on April 7. She will underline the importance of “mining in a greener future,” explaining environmentally friendly approaches that are more sustainable and manageable in the long run.

Our dependence on metals and minerals is essentially inevitable. With the latest TVs, phone updates and expanding roads, the demand is always growing. Mining minerals provides the resources that make our computers, cars, roads, furniture, electronics and even toothpaste. They play a huge role in our daily lives and are responsible for power growth and energy generation.

“When people first think of minerals, their mind goes to pretty gems and rubies,” Coleman said. “But minerals are more than just pretty things to look at. They are the foundational part of civilization.”

Coleman hopes that the five lectures will resonate with Southern Arizonans. Along with a small committee in the college, the five faculty members created a complete story line throughout the presentations. As experts in their field, they will display both the history and the future of minerals. 
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