It’s National Collect Rocks Day, so FIU News reached out to faculty members in the Department of Earth and Environment to learn about the rocks that set their careers in motion.
Rene Price would hike the Adirondack Mountains in upstate New York on the weekends. On one trip, she went in search of Herkimer Diamonds, which are actually quartz crystals. Unlike other quartz crystals, Herkimer Diamonds are special and rare with points on two ends instead of just one end. Though Price didn’t find the perfect crystal that day, she did discover the joy of caving. She has turned her fascination of caves into a career researching the interaction of water and rocks.
In the 1960s, the field of plate tectonics was in its infancy. Grenville Draper was an undergraduate student studying natural sciences at Cambridge University in England. First learning of blueschist rocks as a freshman, he became fascinated by the idea these striking, metamorphic rocks could point to where converging, tectonic plates once existed.
Looking to make an adventure out of a required undergraduate field research experience, Draper blindly stuck a pin in a map. Landing on Jamaica, he packed his bags and headed for the island’s remote Blue Mountains. Up until that point, metamorphic rocks had been reported there but not really studied. One rainy day, blue rocks peered up at Draper from the ground. Thinking these could be a potentially important find, he took a few of them back home for testing. Lab studies revealed they contained glaucophane, a mineral found only in rocks that form along convergent plate boundaries.
“I was beside myself with excitement! I had discovered Jamaica’s blueschists,” Draper said. “That was the beginning of my research career, and the rest of it has been concerned with the geology and tectonics of convergent plate boundaries.”
Since, then Draper’s body of work on earthquakes, volcanoes, plume rocks and sinkholes has helped reconstruct the geologic history of the Caribbean and has played a role in understanding how the planet is changing.
Not all rocks are collectible. For Rosemary Hickey-Vargas, the moon was the rock that started it all. When she was 16, astronauts from Apollo 11 landed on the moon in 1969. She was hooked. By the time she enrolled at Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) as a Ph.D. student, she was bound for a career in geochemistry. With the inspiration that comes from the exploration of the moon, she decided to focus on understanding how ore deposits, earthquakes and volcanoes are formed. Today she focuses on volcanic rocks in the southern Andes Mountains and western Pacific Ocean.
Starting a collection
If you’re thinking about starting a collection, FIU geologists advise you to read up on local laws before prospecting for rocks, minerals and crystals. When hiking, trailing or walking along beaches, streams, hills, mountains or quarries, remember there are different laws in place regarding the collection of rocks and other items. This is especially true for public areas, including national parks.