The Power of Mysterious Words

One of the joys of growing up in a little-remarked-upon corner of the upper Midwest USA is that it came with its own secret words and rituals—cricks and bubblers, hotdishes and euchre. The Wisconsin patois served as a daily reminder that humans have a passion for using mysterious languages to express the numinous: cants and glossolalia that describe new things or express new ideas or emotions, and that draw lines, intentionally or otherwise, between the community of “insiders” and everyone else.

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v17n5 From the Editors

Elements is published through the collaboration of 18 participating scientific societies. The Elements editorial team is responsible for the content and the day-to-day management of the magazine. The Elements Executive Committee is responsible for the management of the magazine through financial oversight, approval of editorial appointments, and facilitating a close working relationship between the editorial team and the participating societies.

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v17n4 From the Editors

For centuries, philosophers and scientists had proposed the existence of planets outside of our own Solar System. Yet, it wasn’t until late 20th century that scientists first confirmed the existence of exoplanets. How does one study planets that are thousands of light years away from Earth? Exoplanet studies are not purely within the domain of astrophysicists. As you will discover in the articles of this issue, exoplanet research requires an interdisciplinary approach.

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v17n3 From the Editors

In just about every physical science course the concept of the atom is taught. Students are introduced to the three subatomic particles of electrons, protons, and neutrons. Usually, there is a lot of emphasis on electrons, because their configuration determines the chemical properties of an atom. And the protons get a lot of attention as well: who doesn’t like H+? Sadly, too often, neutrons are left in the “Oh, there is another part of an atom” category … that neutral subatomic particle that adds weight to the atom.

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v17n2 From the Editors

Science is a breeding ground for jargon. Jargon is useful and elegant for the specialist but often a conundrum for the nonspecialist. As you read the articles of this issue of Elements, you will likely encounter some of this rich terminology, including the evocative terms “snottite” and “moonmilk”. But, thankfully, the editors and authors have made considerable effort to translate much of this cave science jargon so that we, too, can enjoy the wonderful world of speleothems.

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Alps as Inspiration

Looking down on the Earth from space, the Alps appear to be a small, and possibly unimportant, adornment to the tremendous girdle of “Alpide” orogens that stretch the full width of the southern margin of the Eurasian continent. But seen up close, and with historical perspective, the Alps punch far above their weight. From the deepest prehistory of our hominid ancestors to the modern age, the Alps have been a formidable barrier to trade, communication, migration, and conquest across the small, but storied, “peninsula” of Europe—a fact brought home for me when I recently toured a museum in Bolzano (Italy) dedicated to the life and remains of “Ötzi”, a man who met his end five thousand years ago in the high peaks and ice fields of the Ötztal Alps.

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v16n6 From the Editors

As part of every years’ final “From the Editors”, we like to thank the many people who have contributed to Elements over the course of the previous year. But before we do so, we want to acknowledge that 2020 was a year unlike any other in the history of Elements. The global pandemic impacted all of us in profound and, for many, sometimes tragic ways. The challenges that our readers, editors, authors, participating societies, and advertisers faced in 2020 makes it even more meaningful to thank our contributors. We greatly appreciate all your efforts!

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v16n5 From the Editors

Marissa Tremblay, Emily Cooperdock, and Peter Zeitler, guest editors of this issue of Elements, introduce us to another application of noble gases: thermochronology. In addition to editing the six thematic articles on the utility of noble gas thermochronology to fundamental geological questions (e.g., What are the rates of exhumation? How does a fault zone evolve?), these guest editors also wrote this issue’s Toolkit, which introduces the different methods used to extract, isolate, and measure the concentration of noble gases (and their isotopes) derived from natural materials. We hope you enjoy reading about this fascinating topic!

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