Nanoporous minerals, including the naturally occurring zeolites, are well known for their variety of uses in geological, environmental, industrial, and even medical applications. Certain nanoporous minerals, such as sitinakite (crystal structures shown above), are ideal for nuclear waste sequestration due to their remarkable resistance to extreme pH and high gamma radiation, adjustable tunnel structures, and exceptionally high ion selectivity.
A topic hotly debated (mostly outside the scientific community) concerns the effects of asbestos minerals on human health. Research has shown that certain asbestos minerals (e.g., crocidolite) present more health risk than others, so there is renewed interest in determining how fibrous byproducts develop in amphibole and other deposits. But fibrous minerals are not limited to near-surface dust and the risk to human health from mining could be more extensive than previously thought. My work in very low temperature mineralogy in collaboration with John All (WKU) has shown that dust trapped in snow in the high-altitude Peruvian Andes, which has been transported to ~5000-7000m in the atmosphere, contain significant quantities of asbestos talc as well as faceted copper- and mercury-bearing minerals.
A major question in Earth science, still unresolved, is what drove past sea level changes? Based on the composition of fluid inclusions in halite, there is little question that the seawater concentrations of some major ions (e.g., Mg, Ca, SO4) have changed by a factor of three or more through the Phanerozoic. My main contribution is determining the mineralogy and Mg/Ca of echinoderms representing key changes in ocean chemistry through the Phanerozoic. Slight changes in global seawater chemistry can have a profound impact on the crystal chemistry and structure of the minerals, be it calcite or aragonite, which are biologically mineralized. By determining the composition, crystal structures, and crystallization/preservation pathways of the organisms’ tests, we are developing a detailed proxy record of ocean chemistry through time.
The Materials Genome Initiative is a massive experimental, theoretical, and data science undertaking to discover the makeup of minerals/materials from sub-atomic particles through materials fabrication and application. My work in this area brings expertise from an experiential and theoretical kinetic perspective where experiments are performed in real-time to capture atomic/molecular motions from liquid-to-crystal, bulk physical and chemical properties, and their responses to extreme environments (X, P, T).