Friday, July 12, 2013

Hidden Gems: UNO Pegmatite Researchers Dig for Minerals in New England

Business travel just got interesting for a group of earth and environmental scientists from the University of New Orleans. The researchers recently hosted the sixth international meeting of pegmatite researchers in New England, where they took guests to the hills in search of precious minerals.

"Pegmatites are very coarse-grained igneous rocks that contain a large number of important accessory minerals of economic importance," said geologist Alexander Falster. "They are also a source of many gem species and are mined for the production of gemstock, such as colored tourmaline, aquamarine, topaz and many more."

UNO's Department of Earth and Environmental Sciences is designed to help students develop deep understanding of "the Earth and her processes, materials, landforms, history, and even inhabitants," according to program literature. The department's Mineralogy, Petrology and Pegmatology, or MP2, Research Laboratory is dedicated to advancing knowledge and research in the classical fields of geology, mineralogy and petrology. The University's MP2 research group specializes in pegmatology, which is the study of pegmatites, their mineralogy, paragenesis, and mechanisms of formation.

Earlier this summer, the adventurous researchers hosted the 6th International Symposium of Pegmatite Researchers from May 26 to June 3, in Attitash, New Hampshire and in the Oxford pegmatite field, Maine. The meeting, known affectionately this year as "Peg2013," takes place every two years -- and UNO researchers had a high bar to reach. This year's meeting would be attended by 110 participants from 19 countries -- and the group held its last biannual meeting and exploratory adventure in 2011 in Mendoza, Argentina.

UNO researcher William B. "Skip" Simmons, lit the charge, aided by Falster and UNO EES researcher Karen L. Webber. Joining them on the international organizing committee were star researchers from other countries, including: Miguel Galliski and Florencia Marquez-Zavalia (CONICET, Argentina), Encarnation Roda-Robles (Universidad del Pais Vasco/EHU, Bilbao, Spain), Edna and Robert Whitmore and Raymond Sprague (Maine Pegmatite Workshop).

The group planned a trip, which started with talk and poster presentations May 26 to May 30 at the Attitash Grand Summit Hotel, in Bartlett, New Hampshire, where researchers enjoyed cultural displays, as well as special exhibits of New England pegmatite minerals on display by local collectors, miners and museums, Falster said.

Participants presented 90 extended abstracts and 46 papers – and following three days of technical sessions, participants took a one-day, mid-meeting field trip to the phosphate-rich Palermo pegmatites of Grafton, New Hampshire, Falster said. Nearly all meeting participants attended the three-day post-meeting field trip to the Gem Bearing Pegmatites of the Oxford Pegmatite Field in the Segago Migmatite terrain of western Maine. Daily excursions left from Poland Springs, Maine and miner/chef, Michael O'Neal of Appetites Catering, prepared the group's delightful daily lunches, "gastronomical delights such as lobster rolls."

UNO graduate students Andrew Boudreaux, Kimberley Clark, Myles Felch, Leah Grassi and Karen Marchal presented papers at the symposium, as did UNO undergraduate students Jon Guidry, Susanna (Sasha) Kreinik, Christopher Mark Johnson and Michael Marchal.

The MP2 Research Group students are pursuing thesis work related to granitic pegmatites, said Falster. They not only helped plan and run the meeting, they helped hone for publication a field trip guidebook printed by Rubelite Press.

Already the UNO team is gearing up for summer 2015, when the 7th International Symposium on Granitic Pegmatites will be held in Southwestern Poland, Lower Silesia. Meetings and poster presentations will take place at Książ Castle, the Pearl of Lower Silesia, which was built in the 13th century. Pre- and post-meeting field trips will include pegmatites of the Czech Republic and Poland. The sites ensure that any stones or minerals found won't be the only precious gems brought home by UNO researchers.