Carlos Pina, crystallography teacher from the Complutense University of Madrid (UCM), he was "out of place" when in one of his practical classes a student asked him about Superman's kryptonite. At first I didn't know if he was kidding her, but they had been in the course for two months and rarely had the classroom been so attentive.
“He asked me if kryptonite existed in the real world and I answered him with what I knew. Days later I kept thinking about the matter and came to the conclusion that maybe the question was not so absurd”.
From that anecdote came the idea of entering the universe of science fiction to locate other famous and invented minerals. But to complete that task, he needed a millennial who knew the genre closely. That is why he called Carlos Pimentel, a researcher at the Polytechnic University of Madrid to whom he had directed the thesis, to help him out with the geekiest part of the project.
After four years alternating scientific study with hours of movies, comics and video games, the ‘Small Guide to Non-existent Minerals'(Ediciones Complutense, 2019) to bring mineralogy to new audiences. Thus, through the Star Wars sabers it is possible to delve into which natural crystals (such as ruby) or synthetic crystals generate laser radiation.
The work not only moves in the field of the imaginary, but also goes deep into the Earth and travels through the planet's deposits to search for minerals equivalent to those described and report on their properties. In the case of kryptonite, in 2006 a mineral with practically the same composition as this famous material was found in Serbia, the jadarite.
“The book is not directed only to people who like science fiction, but to a very wide audience, from an eight-year-old boy who is attracted by minerals, to the adult who enjoys science in all the formats ”, assures Pimentel.
Bringing young people closer to mineralogy
Hidden on Earth are thousands of treasures in the form of curious rockseye-catching gems and colorful minerals that can help shed light on the planet's history.
"Minerals are messengers from the deep," says Pina, citing Japanese mineralogist Ichiro Sunagawa. "By studying minerals, their structure and composition, we obtain information on the geological history of the Earth," he adds.
"In the end everything we wear, from glasses, rings, computers or mobile phones has to do with minerals. It has crucial applications in our day-to-day life ”, emphasizes Pimentel.
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For the authors, however, geology is one of the "most neglected and reviled" sciences, especially among the youngest. The subject is present from 4th of ESO; it is an optional itinerary. All students studying science study Biology and Geology. Already in the second year of Baccalaureate it is divided into Earth Sciences and Geology.
"The problem is that the course has focused a lot on the descriptive question, on classification and on memorizing data. Studying if it has a hardness of three or four or a certain brightness can be boring. Minerals, in addition to their aesthetic beauty and their commercial use, are interesting when they tell us about the origin and evolution of the Earth”, Maintains the geologist of the UCM.
"What we have done is take that mineralogy class and take it to a book, explaining the origin and the history behind the materials that appear in movies, books, comics or video games ”, points out his partner. In the pages of the guide there is a tour of well-known titles such as Star Trek, Avatar and The Lord of the Rings.
Science to enhance creativity
“Creating a mineral for a science fiction work is easy. You take an extremely hard material, you give it a cool name and if they ask you about it, you say that a magician has made it, period ”, points out Pimentel, who states that fictitious mineralogy always moves based on three characteristics: special powers, super hardness and radioactivity.
At a time when science fiction breaks records and brings together millions of followers, for them, it is important that creators have scientific advice not only to give coherence to the plot, but to enhance the creativity of his works.
"If you start from a scientific base, you can invent things much more attractive than if you simply fit a mineral into the narrative thread," says Pina.
“It is not that the creator is so scientifically rigorous that he turns each of his works into a documentary. Imagination is based on what one knows. That is why science can contribute new elements that the author was surely unaware of and from which he will let his creativity fly ”, he concludes.