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Recipe to create your own samples to understand the Earth  

By Andrea Billarent Cedillo

One could say that the fundamental aspect of geological studies is fieldwork. We observe and measure distinct features in rocks and minerals, so we can propose a hypothesis that explains such features. Does our work end up here? I think not. For a complete understanding of Earth’s systems, we should be able to produce our own simulations, a recreation of natural phenomena. 

Let’s imagine a slice of carrot cake. We can see, touch, smell, and taste it. Using our basic knowledge of cakes and our observations, we can tell several things: the cake has a good amount of baking powder because it is perfectly fluffy, it has chopped nuts (not well-sorted because there are big and small chunks), a few golden raisins (let’s say 5%), and that the carrots are thickly grated. We can also smell and taste spices such as cinnamon, cardamom, and nutmeg. With that information we can make up a nice story about the cake elaboration, but we would never be sure until we try to make it ourselves. Of course, it is always impossible to make the exact same cake, but we can mimic some or nearly all of its characteristics. 

For many years geoscientists have been trying different recipes to simulate processes occurring on Earth. Some start working with a geologic sample, while others use different natural or synthetic materials to recreate features seen in nature, like deformation in a mountain belt, or things that we cannot touch, like the melting of rocks in the deep crust or the geology of Mars. We can mimic these geologic features and processes using analog models (eg. sandbox deformation experiments), machines that simulate high pressures and temperatures (eg. mineral transformations during metamorphism), or by carrying out different chemical experiments (eg. dissolution of minerals). During the last decades, these physical and chemical models and experiments once made in the lab have also been translated into computational simulations that help us comprehend processes impossible to model in the lab, such as mantle dynamics or meteorologic processes. 

There are multiple recipes to understand the Earth. As with the cake, we need people to taste several cakes, others to test different recipes or baking methods, and even some others to create a digital version of it. In my project for FluidNET, I am a baker. I create fluid samples with silica concentrations similar to the ones found in geothermal fields to see if there is a relation between different physical and chemical parameters with the silica species developed in the fluid. After that, I will use a geologic sample (slightly modified by myself) to make experiments that will help me understand how dissolution and precipitation work on a mineral surface. Stayed tuned for updates on these experiments. 

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