Aug 9 2017

Finding New Gold in Old Terrain


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“Big Data” has become something so valuable that it never even had a chance to be a mere fad. It blasted straight through the buzzword phase in order to become something easily recognizable for its sheer value: an actual field that holds so many promises we are yet to realize. The applications are countless.

One case in point that transcends all metaphors and allegories is a new paper published in American Mineralogist, in which scientists report they have for the first time found an application for network theory (mostly used for the analysis of social media connections, terrorist networks and the spread of disease) in the field of mineralogy. This turned out to be a pioneer way to reveal the diversity and distribution of minerals worldwide, and also mineral evolution, new trends and unfound deposits.

Until now, the bulk of the work behind mineral discovery relied on luck instead of scientific prediction, despite all the advances in the knowledge of crystals and geological processes achieved in the last 100 years. Humans have collected a significant amount of information on more than 5200 mineral species, each one with a unique chemical and atomic structure “signature”. Within that framework, millions of mineral specimens collected at hundreds of thousands of locations around the world have been catalogued. That information was supplied to databases, along with details of where each mineral was discovered, its known occurrences and the ages of such deposits. Also, data included physical properties such as hardness, color, atomic structure and other parameters.

That wealth of information was then coupled with information on the geography of the location, geological setting and coexisting minerals. So the network analysis technique was applied onto that data set, so a single graph was produced representing data from multiple variables on those thousands of mineral samples from all over Earth. The visualization produced patterns that can easily be recognized as occurrence and distribution, patterns that would otherwise be hidden within a cumbersome spreadsheet.

In this remarkable example, Big Data provides a detailed picture of which minerals coexist which each other, the frequence of that pattern and all the necessary physical, chemical, geological or even sometimes biological conditions that are required for such minerals to be found. This will indeed create a new direction in mineralogy as guesswork will be gradually eliminated from the work methodology. In fact, a new initiative has been created based on this development: the Deep Carbon Observatory’s Carbon Mineral Challenge. The technique has been used to predict 145 missing carbon-bearing minerals and where to find them. So far ten have been found.

Big Data has been used extensively in many different applications, ranging from market analysis for consumer spending habits and marketing penetration, national security data collection and profiling, and to study the evolution of stellar clusters. But now, for the first time it is being applied to optimize the extraction of minerals, which will also as a consequence provide a host of other solutions in related fields, such as to determine optimal nutrient levels for soils in agriculture and to have a better understanding of biological evolution and the dynamics of the biosphere.

Which brings me to the big point made by this story; which is, that you should leverage Big Data to the advantage of your business and your clients. You will be able to optimize the market value of your products, price yourself into a competitive edge find the ideal customers. That will be made possible if you rely on the experience that Tenex brings to the table. Give us a call or send us an e-mail and we will use Big Data models to help you find the best balance in analysis, process and profitability for your business model and market segment.