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Research Interests

Although my background is in crystal chemistry, my work has expanded to cover three main areas of mineralogy: crystal chemistry, granitic pegmatites, and the geology of gem deposits. I have also begun to study the mineralogy and geochemistry of rare element-bearing carbonatites and carbon sequestration.

I became interested in mineralogy after taking a course in X-ray crystallography. In the world of crystal chemistry I am probably best known for my work on vesuvianite, a common mineral with chemistry and structure that is both complicated and variable. I am currently studying borosilicate minerals, in particular the dumortierite super group and the sakhaite-harkerite series. I am concentrating primarily on correlations between chemical composition, crystal structure, morphology and conditions of formation.

I have also worked on the crystal chemistry and mineral physics of the isostructural minerals titanite (CaTiSiO5), malayaite (CaMnSiO5), kieserite (MgSO4·H2O), and the amblygonite (LiAlPO4F)-montebrasite (LiAlPO4OH) solid solution. The crystal chemistry of oxysalt minerals containing heavy elements (e.g., tellurium, barium, mercury, and lead) has also been one of my research priorities.

One of the reasons I became a geologist was that I enjoy working in the outdoors. Before starting graduate school I had summer jobs in exploration geology in British Columbia, the Yukon, and Labrador. When I came to UBC I initiated a study of granitic pegmatites in the Canadian Cordillera. Since the early 1990s I have been studying the Little Nahanni Pegmatite Group, a 15 km long swarm of nearly continuous pegmatites in the southwestern Northwest Territories. Our work has shown that the pegmatites are enriched in lithium, niobium, tin, and tantalum. Ongoing research includes dating, stable isotopes, fluid inclusions, mineralogy, whole rock and mineral chemistry, and contact and regional metamorphism. We have also studied the O’Grady aplite-pegmatite complex (also in the Northwest Territories) and the Taylor 2 pegmatite in northern Ontario, with its attendant emerald occurrence. My students and I are currently working on grantitic pegmatites in western and northern Canada.

I became interested in the geology of gem deposits after recognizing that most are rare because the necessary geologic conditions are seldom attained. These exceptional requirements also make gem deposits fascinating for scientific study. My research to date has concentrated on emerald and sapphire occurrences in Canada and the United States. In 2007 I edited a volume on the geology of gem deposits (updated in 2014), and in 2008 I published a comprehensive review of emerald deposits and occurrences. One of the things I am most interested in is how scientific research can aid exploration, which until recently has been non-systematic and, in many cases, nonexistent for any gem mineral except diamond.

Recently, the enigmatic origin of carbonatites has attracted me to the study of these rare rocks. Carbonatites can be intrusive or extrusive and are composed primarily of carbonate minerals. Evidence exists for several different genetic models. My main goal with this project is to provide new insight into the origin of carbonatites, but I also hope to aid in exploration by characterizing possible indicator minerals, and to describe a number of new mineral species.

For the last five years my students and I have been developing a technique to sequester CO2 as FeCO3 be combining acid mine drainage with five gases power plants. To date the research has generated two patents, a spin-off company, a semi-finalist spot in the NRG COSIA Carbon XPRIZE competition, and a great deal of media attention.

Much of my research is done in collaboration with others at UBC, within Canada, and around the world.