Stanford University

Geological Sciences Seminar: Robert Hazen, Carnegie Institution for Science EPL

Tuesday, Nov 30, 2021 12:15 PM
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Faculty/Staff, Students, Alumni/Friends
Department of Geological Science

On the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere: A mineral evolution perspective

The story of Earth is a 4.5-billion-year saga of dramatic transformations, driven by physical, chemical, and—based on a fascinating growing body of evidence—biological processes. The co-evolution of life and rocks unfolds in an irreversible sequence of evolutionary stages. Each stage re-sculpted our planet’s surface, while introducing new planetary processes and phenomena. This grand and intertwined tale of Earth’s living and non-living spheres is coming into ever-sharper focus. Sequential changes of terrestrial planets and moons are best preserved in their rich mineral record. “Mineral evolution,” the study of our planet’s diversifying near-surface environment, began with a score of different mineral species that formed in the cooling envelopes of exploding stars. Dust and gas from those stars clumped together to form our stellar nebula, the nebula formed the Sun and countless planetesimals, and alteration of planetesimals by water and heat resulted in the 300 minerals found today in meteorites that fall to Earth. Earth’s evolution progressed by a sequence of chemical and physical processes, which ultimately led to the origin-of-life. Once life emerged, mineralogy and biology co-evolved, as changes in the chemistry of oceans, the atmosphere, and the crust dramatically increased Earth’s mineral diversity to the more than 5700 species known today.

Robert M. Hazen, Senior Scientist at the Carnegie Institution for Science and Robinson Professor of Earth Science, Emeritus, at George Mason University, received degrees in geology from MIT and Harvard. Author of more than 450 articles and 25 books on science, history, and music, Hazen has received numerous awards, including the 2021 IMA Medal, the 2016 Roebling Medal, and the 2012 Virginia Outstanding Faculty Award. In 2020 he was elected Foreign Member of the Russian National Academy of Sciences. The biomineral “hazenite” was named in his honor. Since 2008, Hazen and his colleagues have explored “mineral evolution” and “mineral ecology”—new approaches that exploit large and growing mineral data resources to understand the co-evolution of the geosphere and biosphere. In October 2016 Hazen retired from a 40-year career as a professional trumpeter, during which he performed with numerous ensembles including the Metropolitan Opera, Royal Ballet, and National Symphony. 

Email Rey Garduño,, for Zoom link and password.

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