Parting Shot

Vectors, Scalars, and How Science Works

By | June, 2021

The Oxford English Dictionary defines ‘vector’ as a quantity having direction as well as magnitude, and ‘scalar’ as a quantity having only magnitude, not direction. Much geological research starts with fieldwork, manifestly a vector activity. In Figure 1A, the geologists are exploring the intersection of a complex, 3-D body, the layered Klokken syenite, a 4 × 3 km igneous intrusion in the Gardar alkaline province of SW Greenland, with a mountainous 3-D land-surface. I described the unusual layering in Elements v10n1 (Parsons 2014). The igneous rocks were emplaced 1,166.3 ± 1.2 million years ago, and the 650 m of 3-D topography, which reveals the inner workings of the magma chamber, was carved by the advance and retreat of the mighty Greenland ice sheet in the last few thousand years. Only the age (a U–Pb age from baddelyite, ZrO2) is a scalar quantity.

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How Far to Glencoe?

By | April, 2020

In their doomed attempt to keep me near the cutting edge of technology, one of my sons recently bought me a grey cylinder that, when connected to an electricity supply, answers (literally) to the name of Alexa. She speaks BBC English with a mellow, alto voice and can, sometimes, answer my questions. Early in our relationship, to see how smart she really is, I asked her a question with three answers, ‘How far is it to Glencoe?’

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Nooks and Crannies — Mountains and Clouds

By | April, 2019

I must explain the extension to my title. I wrote a Parting Shot with the title ‘Nooks and Crannies’ for Elements, 8 (2), 2012, in an issue on ‘Minerals, Microbes and Remediation’, devoted to nooks and crannies on weathered alkali feldspar surfaces. For international readers, I explained that (according to the Concise Oxford English Dictionary) a ‘nook’ is ‘a corner or recess; a secluded place’ and a ‘cranny’ is ‘a chink, a crevice, a crack’. The reactivity of complex mineral surfaces is a complicating factor in ‘reactive transport’, particularly near Earth’s surface. The present issue provides me with an opportunity to dust-off a few old micrographs, images of considerable beauty in themselves, to remind readers that minerals are not just chemical compounds. It also allows me to introduce an intriguing discovery of the last five years. Some, but not all, feldspars are extremely effective at nucleating ice in clouds, and this may be related to nooks and crannies, not just to chemistry.

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Archived Parting Shots (PDF)


2015 Issues -- Volume 11

February 2015

Pierrette Tremblay

"Parting Ways"

April 2015

Ian Parsons

"The Untravell'd World

June 2015

Ian Parsons

"Bon Apatite!"

August 2015

Ian Parsons

"One Long Gigantic Blunder"

October 2015

Ian Parsons

"Wild and Wonderful"

December 2015

Ian Parsons

"Adventure, M'boy, Adventure!"


2014 Issues -- Volume 10

February 2014

Ian Parsons

"Black Swans"

April 2014

Ian Parsons

"The Third Dimension"

June 2014

Ian Parsons

"Friendly Brick"

August 2014

Ian Parsons

"Hot Oil"

October 2014

Pierrette Tremblay and Bernard Cesare

"A Closer Look at Ocean Jasper"

December 2014

Ian Parsons

"Chute de Pierres"

2013 Issues -- Volume 9

February 2013

Ian Parsons

"A Record Brimful of Promise"

April 2013

Darlene Coward Wight

"The Importance of Serpentinite to Cape Dorset Carvers"

June 2013

Ian Parsons


August 2013

Ian Parsons

"Trouble with Telecomms"

2012 Issues -- Volume 8

February 2012

Ian Parsons

"Three Rings for the Elven-Kings..."

April 2012

Ian Parsons

"Nooks and Crannies"

June 2012

"A Ruin and Two Earthquakes"

August 2012

Ian Parsons

"Strange Granites"

W. B. Simmons Jr.

"Two Centuries of Gem Production from Maine Pegmatites"

October 2012

Ian Parsons

"Full Stop for Mother Earth"

December 2012

Ian Parsons

"All Alone"

2011 Issues -- Volume 7

February 2011

Ian Parsons

"Collecting Stuff"

April 2011

Thomas Clark

"The Legacy of Iron: Schefferville, Quebec, Canada"

June 2011

Pete Williams

"Stamp Collecting"

August 2011

Ian Parsons

"Standing Stones"

October 2011

Jeff Scovil

"The Photographic Challenge of Elbaite"

December 2011

Ian Parsons

"Spoiled Land"

2010 Issues -- Volume 6

February 2010

Ian Parsons

"Balthasar's Feast"

April 2010

Thomas Clark and André Gobeil

"Magma Mingling and Mixing in the Grenville Province"

June 2010

Ian Parsons

"The Lure of Place Names"

August 2010

Ian Parsons

"A Nice Day out for a Materials Scientist"

October 2010

Ian Parsons

"Strange Attractors"

December 2010

Bernardo Cesare

"On the Beach"

2009 Issues -- Volume 5

February 2009

Ian Parsons

"Mineral Connections"

April 2009

George Harlow

"Mineral Oddities"

June 2009

George Harlow

"Gaga Over Gems"

August 2009

Ian Parsons

"Glacial Wasting"

October 2009

Charles Butt

"Archibold Liversidge (1847-1927) -- Pioneer Gold Geologist and Geochemist"

December 2009

Ian Parsons

"Five Years On"

2008 Issues -- Volume 4

February 2008

Ian Parsons

"Volcanoes at the Eng of the World"

April 2008

John Rakovan

"Unusual Apatite Composites from the Sapo Pegmatite, Minas Gerais Brazil"

June 2008

Ian Parsons

"Elemental History"

August 2008

"The 'Glass Flowers' at the Harvard Museum of Natural History"

October 2008

Ian Parsons

"Most Important Instrument of the 20th Century"

December 2008

Ian Parsons

" 'What's in a Name? That Which We Call a Rose by Any Other Name Would Smell as Sweet.' "

2007 Issues -- Volume 3

February 2007

Ian Parsons

"Bull's Eye"

April 2007

Pierrette Tremblay

"An Old World Mineralogical Collection in the New World"

June 2007

Patrick Haynes

"Beauty from the World of Micro"

August 2007

Ian Parsons

"Lonely Planet"

October 2007

Ian Parsons

"Wilderness and Humour in the Northwest Highlands"

December 2007

Bernardo Cesare

"Rock Art"

2006 Issues -- Volume 2

February 2006

Joe Skulan

"When Art Meets Elements -- The Color of Iron"

April 2006

George Helffrich, Bruno Faria, and Alex Lodge

"An Unusual Carbonatite Occurrence"

June 2006

Ian Parsons

"The Mighty Works of Finn MacCumhaill"

August 2006

Allessandro Guastoni

"The Tucson Show"

October 2006

"The Lycurgus Cup: A Unique Glass Artifact"

2005 Issues -- Volume 1

March 2005

Ian Parsons

"The Badminton Cabinet: The Most Expensive Piece of Furniture...Ever!"

June 2005

"The Rock Concert: A Celebration of Deep Time"

September 2005

"Saluting NASA's Deep Impact Mission"

December 2005

Ian Parsons

"Myth and Majesty in the Hebrides"