John Fink (Class of 2020)

photo of John Fink

"That is the most valuable thing about science, that you are constantly learning from other people, and the connections and the way you communicate here is something you may never do again. I think that is something truly special."

Why Miami?

"As a kid, picking up and examining rocks got me interested in the natural world. I was fascinated with how you can pull directly from the ground these perfectly geometric shapes in all different colors. The more scientific it gets, the more beautiful it is to me. There's an incredible diversity of minerals out there, and we have so much yet to learn.

"This is what led me to Miami. Meeting with faculty like professor of geology John Rakovan helped me fall in love geology and choose it as my major. I knew from the beginning that Dr. Rakovan's enthusiasm and dedication to his research and teaching students would help me feel at home. I've been working with him on his research since my first year, and he has helped make available a number of opportunities. Over the past year or so I've also learned how to use various sophisticated instruments and become more independent in my own research."

Best Miami Experiences

John Fink enjoys the view after a day of mineral collection at the Blanchard Mine, Socorro, New Mexico.

"I transitioned really smoothly as a first-year student at Miami. I made a lot of friends and got involved in the Geology Club immediately. This allowed me to communicate with all the geology majors and get to know them well. Many of us go on weekend trips to hike and learn about regional geology, and every spring break we take a major trip somewhere, such as New Mexico, where we collect minerals. We visited a beautiful mine site on top of a mountain, and below we could see the Trinity site, where the first atomic bomb was dropped.

"Besides Dr. Rakovan, I've had great experiences with professor of geology Brian Currie, who teaches the senior capstone field course, and assistant professor of geology Claire McLeod, who taught my courses on petrology and isotope geochemistry. Both are very knowledgeable in their field and get very involved to help their students find career opportunities in industry and academia.

"In the lab I really enjoy learning about all kinds of minerals, which are very useful in all kinds of industrial applications. Dr. Rakovan has been teaching me single crystal diffraction, which he describes as a fading skill that not many people know anymore. It makes me feel good that I am learning something that not many people know how to do, and I am sure it's a valuable skill for material applications. All skills learned in the lab are valuable, even basic mineral identification. You can give me a piece of smoky quartz, and I could tell you whether it came from Colorado or Switzerland!"

Miami and the Liberal Arts

"I see mineralogy as a culmination of my childhood fascination with the solid earth. The field is basically a culmination of physics, chemistry, and geology. So much can be discovered from this, but I'm learning many different perspectives, not just those from the scientific community. My international studies and Spanish classes, for example, help me to understand many of the events happening around the world and to communicate actively with someone from another culture. This is particularly useful in understanding a place where I may wish to do research.

"Having the opportunity to be an undergraduate associate in geology has allowed me to become more focused in the mineral sciences, which is what I would like to continue doing when I get to grad school, where I want to get both a Master's and a PhD. Having a geologic background prepares me to solve geologic problems in the context of the solid Earth."

Shooting Rocks with X-rays and Lasers: A Glimpse at Mineralogical Research

John Fink on Mt. Fuji, Japan

"A lot of the mineralogical research that is done here in the Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science, including in Dr. Rakovan's lab, has never been done before. It's a real thrill to discover something completely new.

"I got involved with Dr. Rakovan's research during my freshman year. One of my projects involved studying a vanadium-rich muscovite, which is a type of mica. We use a single crystal x-ray diffractometer to see how the atomic structures of these minerals change when the rare element vanadium is introduced into the structure.

"The first thing that Dr Rakovan gave me to examine were some rare minerals from Arizona. One was called oboyerite. Using a Raman microscope, we shoot a laser at a sample, and the energy that is bounced off is measured. By recording the energy shifts that resulted in the laser interacting with the mineral, we were able to identify the mineral. Also, Raman spectroscopy data had never been collected for this mineral before.

"When you analyze the structure of minerals, you find many oddities, which can tell you a lot about the geological environment about which the piece was formed. One of the greatest practical applications of mineral analysis is looking for ore deposits that are not clearly identifiable at the surface of the Earth. Doing mineralogical and geochemical research on surficial rocks can help determine if there is a viable deposit for ore below it, which is valuable to industry. All materials that we don't grow are mined in some way from the solid Earth!

"Since I want to continue research in the academic field, I think it is very useful to know structural solutions of complex crystals. I've learned that x-rays are probably one of the most important forms of electromagnetic radiation that we use in mineralogy, and even in all of science. By knowing how to analyze different materials, you learn a lot about the way the physical world works."

Advice to Students

"Connect with faculty as soon as you can. Get to understand and appreciate what they do, and constantly learn from them as well as your fellow students and friends. The friends I have met at Miami will last a lifetime, and I know I will constantly be learning from them, and they will be learning from me.

"That is the most valuable thing about science, that you are constantly learning from other people, and the connections and the way you communicate here is something you may never do again. I think that is something truly special."

[September 2019]