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Recent Trends


The formal study of rare minerals by the scientific community, and the resulting discovery and description of new mineral species, has steadily declined in the United States in recent years. While the number of new mineral species approved by the International Mineralogical Association’s (IMA) Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names (CNMMN) has remained fairly constant in recent years, the number of American scientists participating in this critical aspect of descriptive mineralogy has fallen to alarmingly low levels compared to where it was twenty-five or more years ago. It is just not considered “glitzy” science any longer, and it receives little respect (and hence, funding) in today’s academic circles in this country.


Because of the dramatic decline in descriptive mineralogy among American researchers, U.S. museums and university collections have become moribund with regard to maintaining a leadership role in the preservation of newly discovered mineral species. Although this lack of preservation interest may not apply to attractive azurites, rhodochrosites and tourmalines, for which there seems to be some modicum of funding, it certainly applies to the uncommon, aesthetically challenged minerals so important to research and a fuller understanding of our environment. Without an active scientific community to feed research collections, and without the general public clamoring for preservation, U.S. museums and future generations of scientists will have to look outside the U.S. for access to these scientifically important research specimens. Another disturbing trend with regard to preservation of mineral collections is that it is no longer uncommon for significant mineral collections to languish without qualified curatorial oversight. Without competent mineralogical stewardship to direct, maintain and improve a collection, the long term result can be disastrous.


Further, the general decline in the study of mineralogy at the university level has placed historically and scientifically important university collections at great risk in the face of significant funding reductions and the ever-increasing need for classroom and laboratory space. Examples of discarded or pillaged college collections of significant historic and scientific value abound. This decline in the stature of earth sciences in general has filtered down to secondary and grammar school systems across the country, too, and a robust natural science curriculum is lacking in many school districts at all levels of the educational system. Recent international educational surveys have now placed the United States 19th in sciences and 24th in mathematics education among the 30 OECD countries of the world. The future of descriptive mineralogy in the United States, like many other fundamental sciences, indeed appears dim. Thsi was recently reflected in the mining industry's plea for more and better trained field geologists.




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