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UMaine Scientist Contributes to Report of New Mineral

Ed Grew, who has a history of discovering minerals throughout the world, was invited to collaborate with an international team of scientists in the finding and classifying of a new boron mineral.

Geologists at the University of California, Riverside discovered a cubic boron nitride mineral in the southern Tibetan mountains of China. The mineral, named “qingsongite,” was discovered in 2009 and was officially approved this month by the International Mineralogical Association, according to a UC Riverside press release.

Grew, a research professor in the University of Maine School of Earth and Climate Sciences, joined UC Riverside geologists, Larissa Dobrzhinetskaya and Harry Green, as well as scientists at the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California and institutions in China and Germany in reporting the discovery.

Grew, who studies boron minerals and mineral evolution, became interested in the research after reading about the discovery in a journal article. He urged Dobrzhinetskaya to apply for official recognition of the mineral.

Grew, who has participated in the formal characterization of 15 new minerals, discovered seven himself and had two named after him in 2012, offered to help the researchers prepare the proposal to get the mineral officially approved by the Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification of the International Mineralogical Association. He is now helping write a full description of the mineral, which is required to be published in a scientific journal within two years of the commission’s approval.

Cubic boron nitride, which was first synthesized in 1957, is an example of a chemical compound that was discovered in nature after it was created in a laboratory. It has been used as an abrasive under the trade name Borazon and has potential uses in electronics and ceramics, Grew says.

“It’s the first naturally occurring boron-nitrogen compound,” he says of what makes the mineral unique. “All other boron compounds are either with oxygen or fluorine.”

Qingsongite is also the first boron mineral reported to have formed in the Earth’s mantle about 190 miles below the surface. Most boron minerals, such as tourmaline, are found at Earth’s surface or in the crust, at depths 25 miles or less, Grew says.

“The conditions of formation aren’t what make it a new mineral, but they add interest,” he says. “I think it’s exciting to find a mineral that was so deeply buried and has been returned to the surface. You wouldn’t believe it unless you had the evidence.”

The mineral was named after Qingsong Fang (1939–2010), a former professor at the Institute of Geology, Chinese Academy of Geological Sciences, who discovered the first diamond in Tibet in the late 1970s, and contributed to the discovery of four mineral species, according to the UC Riverside press release.

Over 4,700 mineral species have been recognized, and at least 100 proposals for new minerals and their names are now submitted each year for approval by the commission, which was founded in 1958.

Commission members, who represent 34 countries including the U.S., vote separately on each mineral and its name. In most cases, the minerals are approved based on the description and its distinction from other minerals, according to Grew.

The project that led to the discovery of qingsongite was supported by grants from the University of California Laboratory Fees Research Program and the National Science Foundation.

Elyse Kahl, 207.581.3747

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