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Geology major Robert Libutti ’02 of Sinking Springs, Pa., worked this spring with Guy L. Hovis, John Markle Professor of Geology, synthesizing and analyzing a rare form of feldspar.

Libutti, a graduate of Wilson High School, participated in Lafayette’s EXCEL Scholars program, in which students collaborate closely with faculty members on research projects while earning a stipend. He and Hovis focused on combining potassium feldspar, a common mineral, with the metal rubidium.

“The thermodynamic mixing properties of alkali feldspars are well known. We proposed that it would be informative to have mixing data on other, synthetic, feldspars, in order to develop principles relating the magnitudes of mixing properties to properties of the substituting cations,” explains Hovis, who has received almost a million dollars in research support from the National Science Foundation over the last 25 years.

“We took rubidium chloride and mixed it with feldspar at 800 degrees Celsius,” Hovis continues. “It melts the rubidium chloride but the feldspar is still solid. We want the ions to change places so that the feldspar’s chemical content changes to include rubidium.”

“We did early research on it, more for scientific knowledge than a practical use,” says Libutti, a recipient this year of the geology department’s annual James L. Dyson Geology Award. He hopes to teach or work in a museum one day.

“It’s really interesting to see what goes on in research. You read about it in a book and then see it in the lab. It’s a good learning experience,” he says.

“Bob is bright and dependable and a good student,” says Hovis, adding that one aim of the project is to discover how minerals behave inside the earth.

Hovis joined the Lafayette faculty in 1974 and has been Markle professor since 1991. He holds master’s and doctoral degrees in geology from Harvard University.

In March and April he traveled to Cambridge University in England to investigate research opportunities for the funds from his latest NSF grant. Hovis learned to use new state-of-the-art high-temperature X-ray equipment and planned experiments to be completed under the auspices of a three-year grant totaling more than $157,000.

The director of NSF’s Petrology and Geochemistry Program from 1990-92, Hovis was elected to live membership in Clare Hall, Cambridge University, and is a life fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America.

He is the recipient of several major Lafayette awards, including the Mary Louise Van Artsdalen Prize for outstanding scholarly achievement, the Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Award for superior teaching and scholarly contribution to his discipline, and Thomas Roy and Lura Forrest Jones Faculty Lecture Award in recognition of excellence in teaching and scholarship.

Categorized in: Academic News