Although I have been busy enough with other aspects of my life that I haven't been doing much science of my own (unless you count kitchen baking experiments) I am continuing to read the various emails I get from geology lists. The list for people who are part of the mineralogical society of America has often proved to be an interesting one. One of yesterday's posts was no exception. It mentions a revolutionary invention for decomposing rocks into individual mineral grains, a plasma discharge device, which was shown at the Goldschmidt conference in Davos a few years ago.
The poster reports that "The action is based on the fact that the electric conductivity is elevated on grain boundaries and a plasma discharge at 50 keV proved to break up a variety of rocks into single crystals. The rocks included a metamorphic shale (greenschist facies) with amphiboles, garnets, sulfides, etc; a marble broke into perfect calcite rhombohedra, sphalerite and galena crystals - an amorphous shungite delivered intriguing round graphitic aggregates plus much fine grained graphite."
Plasma discharge? Really? That sounds like something I heard about on Star Trek as a child, but would have assumed was naught more than "technobabble". It is kind of delightful to hear that such things really exist. I would love to see such a toy—what a great way to isolate garnets or monazite for further analysis. Though, sadly, one would lose all of the wonderful information available from in-situ analysis, perhaps the larger amount of statistical information to be obtained by getting all of the grains in the sample in their whole form might make up for that.