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Junior Trisha Slemmer of Quakertown hopes to discover a diamond in the rough this semester by synthesizing a rare mineral from common ones.

A geology major, Slemmer is working as an EXCEL Scholar with Guy Hovis, John Markle Professor of Geology. They are using an ion exchange process to transform potassium feldspar, a mineral frequently found in volcanic and other rocks, into pure rubidium feldspar, the mineral that gives pink granite its color.

A past director of the National Science Foundation’s Petrology and Geochemistry Program, Hovis has been elected to life membership in Clare Hall at Cambridge University, England, and is a Life Fellow of the Mineralogical Society of America. Last month, he presented work conducted with five Lafayette students at the national meeting of the Geological Society of America.

Hovis, whose own research focuses on the thermodynamic properties of minerals, says that a source of rubidium feldspar can help him and others conduct further research on the mineral.

Slemmer’s work involves mixing powdered white feldspar and powdered rubidium chloride in a platinum crucible and heating the mixture in a furnace for varying periods of time. When the mixture is heated, a process that can take up to two weeks, she rinses the resulting powder to dissolve the chlorine from the rubidium chloride and examines the remaining material using X-ray diffraction.

“I enjoy the whole process of trying to synthesize something,” says Slemmer, an environmental science minor.

Hovis says she has approached the project in a methodical fashion. “I think Trisha has good quantitative strengths,” he adds. “She shows good ability across the board.”

Slemmer is glad to have an opportunity to work with Hovis and calls him “an excellent mentor.”

“He’s very excited about his research, knows what he’s talking about, and has a passion for trying new things,” she says. “He takes the time to work with me and show me new techniques and then allows me to work with my interpretations and make my own decisions.”

Slemmer compiled short biographies of 19th century female geologists last spring. She is considering a career in technical writing or teaching and is hoping to relate her future work to the environmental field.

A peer tutor, Slemmer is a member of Lafayette Christian Fellowship and a former member of Crew Club. She plans to study at the University of Queensland in Australia this spring through a Lafayette-affiliated program.

Categorized in: Academic News