Conflict Minerals and your Smartphone

If you’re a Leonardo DiCaprio fan, you’ve probably heard the term blood diamond. It’s the title of his 2006 film set in Sierra Leone against the backdrop of armed conflict funded by diamond sales. The film helped raise awareness about this terrible connection and the steps being taken to break it.

Minerals associated with violence go beyond diamonds. Other lesser-known but vitally important materials play similar roles in conflicts elsewhere. And these materials end up inside your mobile phone.

Our museum’s display at this year’s Denver Gem & Mineral Show (Sept. 16-18, 2016), addresses the issue of conflict minerals in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC). These minerals include gold, tantalum, tungsten, and tin ores.

What is a conflict mineral?

A conflict mineral is a resource that directly or indirectly supports paramilitary violence and warfare. Mining in the DRC is carried out by small, local operators using hand tools and manual labor. It is a critical source of income for poor families who would otherwise rely only on subsistence farming to survive. Because these operations are so small and decentralized, however, the ore they produce must go through a long series of traders and middlemen before it can reach the market.

Paramilitary groups exploit this part of the supply chain because the material and money are so difficult to trace. Using violence, murder, rape, and extortion, they force taxes on the movement of ore minerals and use the profits to buy weapons.

How do these minerals affect me?

Materials derived from conflict minerals are critical to products you use every day. Just look at that ubiquitous symbol of high-tech gadgetry: your mobile phone.

Inside every smartphone, you’ll find:

  • Gold, which makes fast electrical conductors that won’t corrode over time
  • Tungsten, used in the vibrating motor that makes your phone buzz
  • Tantalum, needed to help tiny capacitors hold an electric charge
  • Tin, the soldering material connecting components together

These four materials are known collectively as the “3TG.” They have a wide variety of other uses, from hardening drill bits (tungsten) to forming surgical implants and rocket nozzles (tantalum) to shaping window glass (tin).

Circuit Board of a computer.

Image source: Morgan A. Vigil, University of California-Santa Barbara

 

How are corporations responding?

With such widespread uses of 3TG materials, it can seem impossible for the average person to have an impact on this issue. Fortunately, international governments, corporations, and non-governmental organizations are taking steps to cut off suppliers linked with conflict.

Annually, reports from electronics corporations and other organizations show positive trends: they are making headway in creating transparent supply chains and identifying conflict-free source materials. However, more must still be done, especially to combat smugglers who mix uncertified ore materials with ores certified to be conflict-free.

What can I do to help?

You can help work towards a conflict-free future by being an informed consumer. If you’re shopping for a new phone, look up the manufacturer’s Conflict Minerals Report as well as its device’s processing speed. If you are dedicated to a particular smartphone brand, contact the manufacturer in writing or through social media to express your support for conflict-free sourcing.

And when you’re done with your old device, always remember to recycle. Electronics recycling not only reuses 3TG materials, but also benefits public health and the environment.

New Museum Exhibit: “What’s inside a rock?”

Have you ever picked up a rock and wondered about what might be inside? This new exhibit puts everyday rocks under the microscope to show the beautiful secrets inside ordinary stones.

What's inside a rock?

This exhibit sheds light on some of the science behind the gorgeous minerals displayed at the museum. It’s great for families and people of all ages!

Come visit to discover the humble ingredient in over half the rocks on Earth’s surface and find out what, exactly, makes something a crystal. You can even check it out during the museum’s upcoming Summer Fest, taking place this year on August 6 & 7 from 10 AM through 5 PM.

Zircons are Forever at OMSI SciPub

zircon-x

Zoned zircon at 200x magnification. Image courtesy Union College.

Curator Leslie Moclock will be giving this month’s OMSI Science Pub lecture at the Venetian Theatre & Bistro in Hillsboro, OR.

Everyone knows that dinosaurs died out 65 million years ago. But have you ever wondered how we figured out that number? Come discover the secrets of geochronology and learn how scientists determine the age of rocks and fossils. From maps and sledgehammers to radioactive crystals and cutting-edge electronics, this talk illuminates the tools and techniques used to investigate the history of our Earth.

Date: Monday, June 27

Time: 7-9 PM

$5 suggested cover charge

Venetian Theatre  & Bistro
253 E. Main St., Hillsboro, Oregon

New Discoveries at Jewel Cave

Jewel Cave GrowingThe map of the Jewel Cave National Monument continues to expand in South Dakota. Currently the Jewel Cave holds the claim of the third largest known cave in the world, but it has not always been easy. Back in July of 2011 tours of the mine had to be put on hold when the 28 story elevators for sightseers had a serious mechanical problem. Once the elevators were back on track, the visitors were once again able to enjoy the Monument Center and volunteers were recruited to continue the search for more areas of the cave system. The Cave is now open again with even more to explore and discover.

Looking to explore the rocks of North America this summer, consider a trip to South Dakota to this rare and special cave.

Meteorites Bring the Building Blocks of Life

Meteorite Day at the Museum May 23, 2015 Visit us at the Rice NW Museum on Saturday, May 23, for our annual Meteorite Day. There will be guest lectures and special events for the family all day.

Scientific American reports that life began on meteorites. Well, actually the ingredients necessary to start the building blocks of life on this planet did.

The molecules that kick-started life on primordial Earth could have been made in space and delivered by meteorites, according to researchers in Italy. The group synthesised sugars, amino acids and nucleobases with nothing more than formamide, meteorite material and the power of a simulated solar wind, replicating a process they believe cooked up a prebiotic soup long before life existed on Earth.

Formamide is a simple organic compound first suggested as a starting material for the formation of prebiotic biomolecules back in 2001. The chemical has been detected in galactic centres and stellar nurseries, as well as comets and satellites. These latest experiments show that formamide, irradiated by the solar wind…and in the presence of powdered meteorites, gave rise to amino acids, carboxylic acids, sugars and nucleosides—the building blocks of DNA and RNA.

The scientists speculate that this could mean that life formed on other planets might share similarities with the life formed on earth.

Gibeon Meteorite at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals.The Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals features many meteorites on exhibit discovered all around the world from Russia, Argentina, Namibia, the United States, and Australia. The extensive meteorite exhibit was put together by the Cascadia Meteorite Laboratory from the Geology Department of Portland State University.

Take a moment as you enter the main gallery area near the entrance to run your fingers across the large Gibeon meteorite found in Africa for a bone chilling sensation. Made mostly of iron, touch it and know that you’ve actually touched space metal and maybe even the ingredients to life on this planet.

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Volcano Watch and Educational Resources

Interested in volcanoes? The staff at the Rice Northwest Museum of Rocks and Minerals are fascinated not only by volcanoes but the geology of them as well. We’ve put together a collection of online resources to help you learn more about active and inactive volcanoes.

United States Geological Survey Volcano Hazards Program

Mount St. Helens Eruption - credit Simple English Wikipedia.The United States Geological Survey features a Volcano Hazards Program website with an interactive map displaying volcanoes worldwide and their active status, from dormant to high red level warnings. You will also find the latest news on volcanoes, especially those in North America and the United States. Recent reports and photographs of the Kilauea Volcano in Hawaii are fascinating as the lava moves down roads and into agricultural areas on the big island of Hawaii.

You will find Webcams, educational information on US volcanoes, Podcasts and Videos, Elevated Volcanic Activity Updates, Monitoring data, and an amazing Photoglossary with photographs and definitions of volcanic terms.

For the locals living in and around the Rice Museum, the Cascades Volcano Observatory keeps us informed as to activity in the Cascade Mountains from Washington to Northern California. They reported in February on a new study that designates the at-risk areas of Washington State and Oregon.

Washington State lahar-hazard zones contain an estimated 191,555 residents, 108,719 employees at 8,807 businesses, 433 public venues that attract visitors, and 354 dependent-care facilities with individuals who will need assistance to evacuate during an emergency. Mount Rainier lahar-hazard zones contain the highest percentage of assets, followed by Mount Baker, Glacier Peak, Mount St. Helens and Mount Adams. Residential populations within lahar-prone areas increased between 1990 and 2010, mainly in the Mount Rainier lahar-hazard zone, with some communities doubling and tripling their at-risk population. Many of these new residents may be unaware of the lahar threat.

See the Simplified Hazard Maps for the Cascade Volcano area for fascinating details on the Volcano Hazard Zones. Continue reading

15,000 Year Old Agate Knife Found in Oregon

Orange Agate from Rimrock Draw Rockshelter Excavation - Bureau of Land Management Oregon held in hand.OPB Radio reported on the amazing archaeological discover of a knife carved from agate currently estimated from 15,000 years ago in Eastern Oregon, evidence of what could be the oldest human occupation west of the Rocky Mountains, shaking up many theories on North American human history.

Carved from clear orange agate, the stone knife has been described as a Swiss Army Knife of its day with a serrated point edge like a saw and a steep, flaked edge used to carve wood and scrape hides and cut meat from the bones of prey. Blood found on the stone has been tested and found to be Bison antiques, an ancient ancestor of the modern bison or buffalo in North America. Continue reading

30,000 Diamonds

A rare diamondiferous peridotite has been found in the Udachny Diamond Mine. The Russian mine is one of the 10 deepest open-pit mines on Earth. A chunk the size of a golf ball has geologists counting the micro-diamonds imbedded within the rock.

In addition to diamonds, the 10.5 g rock contains specks of red and green garnet and other minerals.

Prof Taylor and his colleagues examined it using a giant X-ray machine to study the diamonds and their relationships with associated materials.

They also beamed electrons at the materials inside the diamonds to study the chemicals trapped inside.

This created 2D and 3D images which revealed a relationship between minerals.

…The images also showed abnormal carbon isotopes for this type of rock, indicating it was originally formed as part of the crust of the Earth, withdrawn by tectonic shifts and transformed into the shimmery rock scientists see today.

Along with the 30,000 diamonds fused into the peridotite are red and green garnets making for a beautiful and unusual specimen.

screen shot of sci-news 30000 find