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University of Utah geologist inspires name of new mineral

Published May 17, 2013 12:58 pm

Geology • Named for Professor Barbara Nash, nashite is unique even among its class.
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Barbara Nash has spent her career studying rocks, but she never thought one would bear her name.

"This is a bit of a pleasant surprise," said Nash, a geology and geophysics professor at the University of Utah. The mineral, nashite, is unique even among its class: Rather than brilliant orange like other decavanadates, it's a translucent, streaked bluish-green.

Decavanadates are formed when oxygen in air reacts with vanadium ore bodies near the surface in old, damp mines. They're found in Colorado and Utah's uranium-vanadium or "uravan" mineral belt.

Mineral collector Joe Marty, who discovered nashite, said analyzing minerals to determine their chemical makeup isn't easy. Because they formed in a moist environment, decavanadates tend to dry out and get damaged during analysis.

"It's hard putting together a team of people to discover new minerals," he said. "It takes a lot of experience to interpret the results."

Nash has directed the U.'s Electron Microprobe Laboratory since 1970, analyzing samples one-tenth to one-hundredth the size of the thickness of a fingernail.

"She was more than willing to help, and we just decided to honor her for her contributions," Marty said.

A retired medical technologist at the University of Utah School of Medicine, Marty started collecting minerals in 1990 and first found nashite three years ago on sandstone blocks on Colorado's St. Jude uranium mine.

"I just didn't know what it was," he said. "It looked a little bit different."

He eventually wrote a study on the mineral with Anthony Kampf, of the Natural History museum of Los Angeles County, John M. Hughes from the University of Vermont and Frank Brown, dean of the U. College of Mines and Earth Sciences. They described the mineral to the International Mineralogical Association, which confirmed the find and the name.

The mineral's color comes from an unusual arrangement between its vanadium atoms. Nash is known for her study of the origin and chemistry of volcanic rocks as well as decavanadates.

lwhitehurst@sltrib.com

Twitter: @lwhitehurst