2021 Speaker Dr. Terry Wallace

Metals as Minerals: A Cosmic View
Dr. Terry Wallace

Minerals are the DNA of the planet Earth. They contain the fragments of the complex history of our planet from its formation nearly 4.6 billion years ago, the creation of planet-wide ocean, an oxygen-rich atmosphere, and the rise of life. More than 5,400 mineral species have been identified on Earth, representing a variety nearly 100 times larger than any other planet in the solar system – a robust indication of the uniqueness of the our planet. Some of the most fascinating “strands of geologic DNA” are the native element metals. Platinum, gold, silver and copper have been an engine of the emergence of human society. But this story is not one of just Earth – ie, a gold nugget is made of material that was not born in our planet or even our solar system; it can only be made by the most extreme forces of the universe, traveling through space between the galaxy’s star systems, and then gathering in a gravitational storm that built our solar system 4.5 billion years ago. Some modest amount of these metals were collected in a rocky mass of rubble that became Earth. But the formation of the Earth, and in continued evolution, are a violent story; melting, fractionation, bombardment from space, plate tectonics, volcanism and erosion. The very nature of the metal mineral specimen gives a glimpse to this extraordinary past.


Dr. Terry C. Wallace, Jr., is Director Emeritus of Los Alamos National Laboratory, where he served as the 11th Director in 2018. As a premier national nuclear science laboratory, Los Alamos is a principal contributor to the U.S. Department of Energy mission to maintain the nation’s nuclear weapons stockpile but also protects the nation through programs in nuclear counterproliferation and nonproliferation. Wallace also has been a life long collector of minerals, and has written more than two dozen popular articles and books on various aspects of mineralogy. He has a mineral named in his honor for his efforts in education, research, and service to mineralogy (Terrywallaceite). He is a Fellow in the American Geophysical Union and has served on the Board of Earth Sciences & Resources in the National Academy of Science. His awards include the Brown Medal, the Langmuir Medal for Research, the Macelwane Medal, and the Carnegie Mineralogical Award.