Minerals are the smallest unit that makes up the solid part of the earth. Recently, LiAl5O8, a new mineraldiscovered by Professor RAO Can’s research team at Zhejiang University’s School of Earth Sciences, was unanimously approved by the International Mineralogical Association Commission on New Minerals, Nomenclature and Classification (CNMNC). The mineral is named “Chukochenite” in English.It is the first lithium-aluminum oxide found in nature and is marked by itsidiosyncratic physical properties that are of immense significance for future scientific research.
This new mineral formed as a result of the reaction between Laiziling granite and carbonatite about 155 million years ago in Xianghualingskarn in Chenzhou City, Hunan Province. It is a euhedral-subhedral crystal and orthorhombic.
“This mineral is named Chukochenite in honor of the remarkable achievements of CHU Kochen, China’s celebrated scientist, educator and former president of Zhejiang University. CHU Kochen is one of the founders of earth sciences in China, the leader of the “Long March of Academia” and the founder of earth sciences at Zhejiang University, as well as the vigorous advocate and the determined practitioner of the Qiushispirit,” introduced RAO Can.
Since 2017, the research group led by RAO Can has been engaging in mineralogical research into granite and skarn in the Xianghualing area of Hunan Province. The chemical analysis revealed that the total amount of this mineral added up to 96 wt.%, a far cry from those internationally recognized minerals. Further calculations also indicated that there was no equilibrium between negatively charged ions and positively charged ones and that the proportion of the latter was relatively low. It was thus concluded that this mineral may well contain an ultra-light metallic element.
There were several possible reasons for the insufficient amount of chemical composition. The existing electronic probe failed to analyze lithium, thus rendering it impossible to obtain its chemical composition directly. The research team was baffled by these questions for a long time. “Through numerous attempts, we are able to prove the existence of lithium and determine its crystalline structure, thereby successfully discovering Chukochenite,” said RAO Can.
Crystal structure of Chukochenite
Chukochenite has a unique crystalline structure and it can become luminous with the addition of certain impurities. LiAl5O8, synthesized as a substrate for fluorescent materials is of enormous scientific value to the innovative development of luminescent materials. “This is the fifth new mineral I’ve discovered, but it is the first one that can shine,” RAO Can said, “This is a symbol of the truth-seeking spirit that CHU Kochen championed, which will always shine brightly on us.”
Ultra-light lithium metal is widely used in batteries, metallurgy and optoelectronics, and it will play an indispensable role in future scientific applications. The discovery of Chukocheniteprovides crucialinsights into the geochemical behavior of lithium.