Thursday, February 17, 2011

Jessica Simonoff's Most Recent Prodigious Feat

Pictured above at the 2011 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show's February 12 banquet is Friends of Mineralogy National Vice President Allan Young presenting to 12 year old Maryland mineralogical prodigy Jessica Simonff the award for Best Article 2010, entitled Skeletal Galena Crystals from Madan Bulgaria--Natural or Fake? Jessica co-authored this article with Dr. Lance Kearns, Professor, Museum Curator, and SEM Facilty Director at James Madison University.

Such skeletal galena crystals have been prized for several years by collectors who've paid as much as $3,000 for them from presumably similarly duped dealers. As a result of Jessica and Lance's research, the sale of skeletal galena crystals from Madan was banned at the 2011 Tucson Gem and Mineral Show.

The first published suspicion regarding these crystals of which I'm aware was posted on Mindat by Pat Haynes on October 26, 2009. Within less than a year, the resulting thread had generated over 200 posts spanning 10 pages. Providing theoretical input along with Jessica were the likes of Rock Currier, Alfredo Petrov, and far too many other renowned authorities to mention. By April, 2010, and approximately 150 posts, Mindat founder Jolyon Ralph questioned why, with so many opinions, no article had been written and published regarding the authenticity of these specimens.

Having been active in the discussions, Jessica endeavored to borrow some (still very expensive) specimens to photograph under the microscope and test using nondestructive techniques. Edward Rosenzweig of Edwards Minerals loaned her several samples, which were provided to him as naturally occurring, to study. On July 30, she had put together and posted on Mindat a link to a photographically illustrated article on the findings of her research. The post also noted that she had obtained permission to use an SEM (scanning electron microscope) and XRD (X-ray diffraction) machine for further experimentation.

Jessica followed through during the ensuing months on Mindat with continuing updates to the article. When she and Dr Kearns eventually used the SEM to examine the two of the pieces that were being sold as natural, they saw conclusive evidence that the specimens they had studied were indeed man-made fakes. They wrote up their research in the December Mineral News article, and Jessica subsequentally submitted a post to Mindat with the results and SEM photos, completing her article.

Jessica has other irons on the fire. One will be a presentation on her research in early April at the Atlantic Micromount Conference in Elkridge, Maryland. She has also received informal feedback that an abstract submitted for presentation at the Rochester Mineral Symposium later that month will be accepted and ultimately published in Rocks and Minerals. In addition, mineralogy personnel at the Smithsonian have invited her to present her work. And there is more to come. Stay tuned.

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