Canadian, UK Scientists Uncover 'Kryptonite'
OTTAWA, Canada, April 25, 2007 -- Superman's Achille's heel is no longer the stuff of fiction. A new mineral matching the unique chemistry of kryptonite, a fictional radioactive green crystal that causes the superhero to weaken, has been identified by Canadian and British scientists.
Unlike kryptonite, the new mineral is white, powdery and not radioactive. And, rather than originating from outer space, the real kryptonite was found in Serbia by mining firm Rio Tinto. Unable to identify the unusual mineral's composition, Rio Tinto enlisted the help of mineralogist Chris Stanley of London's Natural History Museum.
Before a mineral can be classifed as new and distinct, it must first go through rigorous analysis so that its chemical and
NRC researchers Pamela Whitfield (right) and Yvon Le Page (below); botom photo: kryptonite. A video interview with NRC mineral curator Mike Rumsey about the identification of the new mineral matching kryptonite's unique chemistry, sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide, is available at: http://www.nhm.ac.uk/nature-online/earth/
rock-minerals/kryptonite/kryptonite-video.html (Photos: NRC)
optical properties, including its crystal structure, can be determined. Typically, a mineral sample contains crystals large enough so that techniques such as single crystal x-ray diffraction (XRD) can be used to determine crystal structure and composition. In the case of this new material, the sample's crystals were too small.
Stanley called upon the sophisticated analytical facilities of Canada's National Research Council (NRC), and on the expertise of NRC researchers Pamela Whitfield and Yvon Le Page, to analyze and validate the mineral's crystal structure. "Knowing the crystal structure of a material enables scientists to calculate its other physical properties such as its elasticity or thermochemical properties," said Le Page, an expert in crystallography. "Being able to analyze and validate all the properties of a mineral, both chemical and physical, brings us closer to confirming that it is indeed unique. However, finding out that the chemical composition of a material submitted for review is an exact match to an invented formula for the fictitious kryptonite was the coincidence of a lifetime."
Stanley, who has worked to identify many new minerals, revealed the true identity of the mysterious new material. "Toward the end of my research, I searched the Web using the mineral's chemical formula -- sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide -- and was amazed to discover that same scientific name written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther's character from a Metropolis museum in the film Superman Returns," he said. "The new mineral does not contain fluorine and is white, rather than green, but in all other respects the chemistry matches that of the rock containing kryptonite."
Approximately 30 to 40 new minerals are discovered each year. Each must be registered with the International Mineralogical Association's Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names. These agencies compare new submitted material against a vast database of all known minerals to determine if the newly discovered rock is genuinely unique.
In addition to the investigative work done by Britain's Natural History Museum and Canada's National Research Council, scientists from Natural Resources Canada, the Geological Survey of Canada and the Canadian Museum of Nature have collaborated to ensure that the new mineral is recognized by the international scientific community. The mineral will be formally named when it is described in the European Journal of Mineralogy later this year.
For more information, visit: www.nrc-cnrc.gc.ca
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