Blowing People’s Minds With Geology

Today was a great day in teaching.

This morning, before a suitable amount of BBotE was consumed, I had to do a radiation safety presentation for a group of students in Nuclear Engineering. While we were waiting for everyone to show up, the professor and I were discussing the experiments the class were going to do with the few students that were present. When we hit the x-ray fluorescence experiment and discussed how they were going to be identifying unknown materials for elemental composition, the professor whipped a rock out from his jacket pocket. It was a somewhat nondescript looking hunk of basalt.

Prof: “As some of you may know, I just returned from vacation in Tanzania and I got to climb to the top of Kilimanjaro. One of the samples we’ll be looking at is this” *waves rock around* “to figure out what’s in it.”
Me: “Ooo…the frustrated geologist is intrigued.”

He passed the rock to the student on his left. When it got to me, I looked at it and asked, “How many people in here have taken a geology course?” One student and the professor raised their hands. I then asked, “Do either of you remember the rock identification guide and the qualities you test to make your ID?” The professor had a look of “huh?” while the student’s face said “Crap, I used to know that.”

Me: “One of the methods for identification that is no longer in the rock guide is taste.”
*I licked the rock to the shock of the class and mild disgust of the professor*
Me: “Yup, that’s East African Rise igneous. You can tell by the salty flavor due to the high sodium & potassium content of the shallow extensional zone magma source.”
*The look of mild disgust from the professor turned to awe*
Prof: “Seriously? You can do that?”
Me: “Yes, but don’t do it with the minerals of California. We have an awful lot of borates, selenates, and arsenates courtesy of all of the marine melange deposits and evaporated lakes. We’re the reason that Taste was removed from the rock guide.”
Prof: “Remember that class, don’t lick things unless you know they are okay for licking.”
Phil: “Doubly so for things in a radiation lab. Just don’t.”

The professor then high-fived me.