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Editorials Archives - Elements
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Mineral Resources and The Limits of Growth

In writing an editorial for this issue on mineral resources, I was immediately reminded of The Limits to Growth (Meadows et al. 1972), a book that I read avidly from cover to cover as a young post-doc. For anybody interested in humanity’s effect on the environment and its near-term consequences, it is still a fascinating read. The authors summarised a computer model of the likely effects of sustained economic growth on the Earth and the human population. Based on historical data from 1900 to 1970, they observed exponential growth in total human population, resource consumption, food consumption, industrialisation and environmental pollution.

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Return from the “Dark Side”

In 2004, I assumed an administrative role in my university, thus joining what is commonly referred to as the “Dark Side” of academia. I have only just returned to my position as a faculty member. Some pursue administration as a career path and expect to move up the academic ladder, progressing from department head, to dean, to provost, and, perhaps, even to president. Others, like myself, view administration as an intriguing experiment: I certainly didn’t anticipate staying away from a faculty role for so long (almost 13 years). Like many faculty, I had little experience with organizational leadership when I joined the Dark Side. I was like a Padawan apprentice (another reference from Star Wars) aspiring to be a Jedi and greatly in need of master Yoda’s training.

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Sleeping Beauties and the Grind of Scientific Communication

An article on the “sleeping beauties” in science (Ke et al. 2015) recently appeared on my desk (or more accurately, on my desktop). “Sleeping beauties” in science have been defined by van Raan (2004) to be publications that go unnoticed for a long time and then suddenly attract a great deal of attention. The “sleeping beauty” concept prompted me to review whether their existence is a component of our current publication practices. Do we have the incentive to develop risky ideas or the time to put together significant, paradigm-shifting papers?

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Little Black Blobs in the Background

I am sure that many of us remember “mineralogy” from our student days as beginning with the orthosilicate group, passing quickly through sorosilicates to beryl, then through pyroxenes and amphiboles, and on to micas, feldspars, and the silica minerals. Amphiboles were studied to exhaustion, their nomenclature (now mostly discarded) being then regarded as of prime importance. Sulfides, on the other hand, were almost completely ignored, despite their economic importance and significance, as we now know, as agents of climate cooling. In petrography classes, sulfides were classified together with oxides as “opaques” and dismissed from further consideration.

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Volcanic Eruptions and What Triggers Them

St. Helens erupted catastrophically at 8:32 a.m. on 18 May 1980 in southern Washington state, about 50 miles northeast of Portland (Oregon, USA). This eruption was preceded by a magnitude 5.1 earthquake and a subsequent landslide that are thought to have triggered the main eruption.

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Something Old is Something New

Looking back, my tenure finishes near to where it began—with a focus on mineral–water interfaces (Elements, “Mineral–Water Interactions,” v9n3, 2013). A recurring theme throughout the current issue is that chemical reactions at mineral surfaces likely had a role in sparking what we now experience as complex living systems. Indeed, mineral−water interfaces may reside at the heart of the ultimate scientific question—“What is the origin of life on Earth?”

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EU Science and “Brexit”

Everybody reading this will know that on 23 June 2016 the people of the United Kingdom voted to leave the European Union (EU). For almost all of us in the UK academic community, this was a shocking result, leaving us feeling bereaved as if by the death of a family member. The impact on our university and research communities cannot be overestimated, but nor can the impact on our European neighbours, colleagues and friends.

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Nuclear Waste Disposal, Climate Change, and Brexit: The Importance of an Educated Public

Modern society faces a variety of major challenges that will impact the quality of our lives. Of these, 15 have been singled out as “Global Challenges” by the Millennium Project (2014)(see figure). One of the greatest of these challenges is the availability of sufficient clean water. Another is sustainable development and climate change. Much of the US public now accepts that the rapidly increasing levels of CO2 in the atmosphere are caused by human activity, including the burning of fossil fuels. However, there is little consensus among US scientists, engineers, politicians, and the public about how to reduce atmospheric CO2 levels, especially at a time when developing countries are seeking the same standard of living enjoyed by the world’s most industrialized countries. Yet another challenge, which is related both to the burning of fossil fuels and to climate change, is adequate energy to power our global society. As the World Nuclear Association (WNA) has shown, nuclear energy is an attractive option: for example, France derives over 75% of its electricity from nuclear fission (WNA 2015). One of the major societal concerns limiting the widespread use of nuclear power, however, is safe disposal of nuclear waste, which is the topic of this issue of Elements.

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Geochemical Samples: Beautiful Small or Better Big?

“What are the main challenges for geochemistry in the future?” was a question asked of Al Hofmann, the recent Urey medalist of the European Association of Geochemistry (Elements, February 2016, p 68). “The ability to analyze most or all atoms in a very small sample by micro-analytical methods,” was his answer. As an Earth surface geochemist interested in large-scale fluxes, my spontaneous response was surprise. Isn’t the grandest of all challenges rather to use large spatial scale geochemical signals to reveal processes and fluxes of global significance? Then I contemplated the vast amount of information that has been harvested from the smallest samples. And I began to question whether the “small is beautiful” or “bigger the better” avenues are actually opposing approaches. The editing of my first issue as an Elements principal editor, this cosmic dust volume, contributed enormously to a swing of my opinion.

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The Glittering Prizes

It is the time of year when many learned soci-eties are seeking nominations for medals and other awards which confer honour on those col- leagues of exceptional achievement. Having been a member of several awards committees, it has become apparent to me that few of us take the trouble to nominate even the most deserving of colleagues for awards. In fact, awards committees are usually so short of nominations that the Chair has to cajole and browbeat friends and colleagues into submitting nominations for scientists who are clearly of the right level of distinction.

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