New mineral: Steinhardtite


Steinhardtite is a mineral named in honor of Paul Steinhardt, Princeton’s Albert Einstein Professor in Science and a professor of physics (Image courtesy of Luca Bindi, et al)

A MINERAL DISCOVERED to be of meteoritic origin has been named “steinhardtite” in honor of Paul Steinhardt, Princeton’s Albert Einstein Professor in Science and a professor of physics. The name was approved by the Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification of the International Mineralogical Association.

The mineral was found in the Koryak Mountains in Russia’s Kamchatka Peninsula during a 2011 expedition led by Steinhardt to locate the meteoritic source of the first known naturally occurring example of a quasicrystal, now known as “icosahedrite,” in which the atoms are arranged in patterns that do not regularly repeat and include unlikely configurations such as the 20-sided shape of a soccer ball. Steinhardt and collaborators had discovered a sample of icosahedrite at the Natural History Museum at the University of Florence, Italy, a finding published in the journal Science in 2009, and later identified the Florence sample as being meteoritic in origin. The expedition to the Koryak Mountains resulted in the discovery of steinhardtite, a new crystalline form of aluminum combined with significant amounts of iron and nickel.

The international team reporting the mineral and proposing the name was led by Luca Bindi, professor of mineralogy and crystallograpy at the University of Florence. Princeton researchers included Nan Yao, director of the Imaging and Analysis Center at the Princeton Institute for the Science and Technology of Materials (PRISM); Gerald Poirier, PRISM senior research specialist; Lincoln Hollister, professor of geosciences, emeritus; and Chaney Lin, a graduate student in physics. They were joined by Glenn MacPherson, a geologist at the Smithsonian Institution; Christopher Andronicos, an associate professor at Purdue University; scientists Vadim Distler, Valery Kryachko and Marina Yudovskaya of the Russian Academy of Sciences; Michael Eddy, a graduate student at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology; Alexander Kostin, a geosciences technologist at BHP Billiton; and William Steinhardt, a graduate student at Harvard University.

-By Catherine Zandonella