DAVEMAOITE – ONE OF THE LATEST MINERAL DISCOVERIES
Davemaoite’s discovery just broke headlines, but it isn’t the only new mineral. As a whole, news of mineral discovery is often left to the world of academia. Blocked by pay-walls, jargon, or sheer obscurity, the common person will never hear about new minerals. To be fair, most of them aren’t relevant to the common person either, even davemaoite isn’t. But what makes davemaoite special enough to break headlines? What other minerals were discovered recently? Is davemaoite that important?
To answer the first question, here is the quick history of it. Davemaoite begins with a single man: Ho-kwang (Dave) Mao, the namesake of the mineral. If you’re interested in geosciences, Mao is probably a name you are familiar with. If not, Mao is a renowned scientist in his field with multiple awards under his belt, including the Balzan Prize, Gregori Aminoff Prize, the Roebling Medal, and more.
Mao’s expertise is in “ultra high pressure research,” and it is this area where davemaoite is relevant. Davemaoite was invented in a lab using expensive and complicated equipment that can replicate extreme pressure. How extreme, you may ask? 20 gigapascals worth of pressure was needed to synthesize davemaoite. This is 20,000,000,000 billion pascals, or about 198.3k standard atmospheres worth of pressure. When it wasn’t under enormous pressure, the synthetic davemaoite reverted to calcium silicate perovskite. Researchers concluded that it was, for all intents and purposes, non-existent. That changed with the discovery in Botswana.
If you were expecting a block of this stuff, you would be disappointed. But when you learn where it was found, you may be excited. Davemaoite, at present, is found in diamonds. The diamond had just a few davemaoite inclusions, but even a microgram of it would be proof that it can occur naturally.
So why does it matter? Well, to you, it means you can get an ultra-rare mineral in a diamond. How is that for bragging rights?
For scientists, this says a lot about the mantle, crust, and tectonics. Because the mantle is comprised of what is in the crust, the shift caused by tectonic plate movement changes mineral composition. A major reason for this is pressure (remember how davemaoite changed when it wasn’t under pressure?) and heat. So why didn’t davemaoite change back when it wasn’t under pressure? The answer is simple: diamonds are great at preserving inclusions. Because they are so extremely hard and don’t change due to shifts of pressure and heat, they can preserve practically anything that they pick up during tectonic movement.
There were other mineral discoveries, but they didn’t break headlines the way davemaoite has. Moxuanxueite, for instance, is clearly not worthy of being reported on. So is davemaoite special?
The short answer is no. There was another high pressure mineral discovered last year. Donwilhelmsite, named after Don Edward Wilhelms who helped develop geological maps of the Moon, it comes from…well we aren’t sure actually. The sample discovered comes from a lunar meteorite, but it can be formed in the mantle or other meteorites too.
In June earlier this year, a rare iron mineral was found in the teeth of a chiton, a type of mollusk. Santabarbaraite (try saying that three times fast) was known well before 2021, but what makes its discovery unique that it was found inside of a living organism. Discoveries like this are practically unheard of.
Davemaoite may be the science media’s darling for the time being, but a new discovery may come along in due time and everyone will forget davemaoite.
“Carnegie’s Dave Mao Awarded AGU’s Inge Lehmann Medal.” Geophysical Laboratory, 4 May 2016, gl.carnegiescience.edu/news/carnegie%E2%80%99s-dave-mao-awarded-agu%E2%80%99s-inge-lehmann-medal.
“Donwilhelmsite.” Mindat, www.mindat.org/min-53358.html. Accessed 16 Nov. 2021.
Malewar, Amit. “It Was Discovered within the Lunar Meteorite Oued Awlitis 001 Found in 2014 in the Western Sahara.” Tech Explorist, 4 Nov. 2020, www.techexplorist.com/scientists-discovered-high-pressure-mineral-lunar-meteorite/35991.
Miyawaki, R., Hatert, F., Pasero, M., and Mills, S. J.: IMA Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification (CNMNC) – Newsletter 58, Eur. J. Mineral., 32, 645–651, https://doi.org/10.5194/ejm-32-645-2020, 2020.
O’Neill, Mike. “Rare Mineral Discovered in a Living Organism for the First Time.” SciTechDaily, 5 June 2021, scitechdaily.com/rare-mineral-discovered-in-a-living-organism-for-the-first-time.
Pappas, Stephanie. “New Mineral Discovered in Deep-Earth Diamond.” Scientific American, 11 Nov. 2021, www.scientificamerican.com/article/new-mineral-discovered-in-deep-earth-diamond.