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Michael F. Hochella Jr., the Mineralogical Society of America Distinguished Lecturer for 1990-2000 and professor of mineralogy and geochemistry at Virginia Tech, will present two talks at Lafayette College April 6-7.

Free and open to the public, the events are sponsored by the Department of Geology and Environmental Geosciences.

Hochella will speak on “Mineral-Environment Interfacial Processes: How the Solid Earth Talks to the Hydrosphere, Atmosphere, and Biosphere” at 6 p.m., Thursday, April 6, in Van Wickle Hall room 106. He will give a brown-bag talk on “Nuclear & Mining Wastes: A Scientific and Societal Look at Lessons We Have (and Haven’t) Learned” at noon, Friday, April 7, in Van Wickle Hall room 108.

Of the first lecture, Hochella says, “The crust of planet Earth can be thought of as a catalytic bed of enormous diversity consisting of trillions of square kilometers of surface area. On one side of this interface is one of over 3,000 minerals or any number of solid, natural amorphous materials. On the other side is most often water or its vapor, modified with everything in the periodic table, as well as with living organisms.”

However, he continues, this unimaginably complex interface is curiously out of sight and out of mind, yet it plays critical roles in the quality of the world’s fresh water, the development of soils and the distribution of plant nutrients within them, the integrity of underground waste repositories, and the formation of many types of ore deposits, among other roles. The talk will explore this mysterious world and how it works, as well as local, regional, and sometimes global consequences of the fascinating chemistry that happens there.

Describing the second talk, he says, “The worldwide production of minerals by mining has increased by a factor of more than four in just the last 50 years, totaling now nearly 10 billion tons per year. Over the same general timeframe the United States alone generated 120 tons of plutonium from hundreds of thousands of tons of uranium oxide in order to manufacture over 20,000 nuclear warheads.”

A complex array of environmental problems, has accompanied the buildup, Hochella says, the most highly publicized being acid-mine drainage, as exemplified by the former Butte-Anaconda area of Montana, the largest Superfund site in the United States, and radioactive contamination, as exemplified by the Hanford Site in Washington, the nation’s largest high-level radioactive waste repository. They provide fascinating scientific and societal histories that can be used to assess what is to come in the future.

Hochella holds a Ph.D. from Stanford University and bachlelor’s and master’s degrees from Virginia Tech. He is a fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America and Geological Society of America.

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