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A real ​“rock star” moment: New mineral named after Argonne materials scientist Kanatzidis

A new mineral, kanatzidisite, recognizes Mercouri Kanatzidis’s decades of contributions to chalcogenide chemistry

Grant and Award Announcement

DOE/Argonne National Laboratory

Kanatzidis with kanatzidisite structure


Mercouri Kanatzidis, Argonne and Northwestern University materials scientist, next to partial view of structure of kanatzidisite, a new mineral named after him.

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Credit: (Image created by Argonne National Laboratory. Photo on left courtesy of Northwestern University.)

What do Mozart, Christopher Columbus and J.P. Morgan have in common? It turns out they all have minerals named after them. A new member of this exclusive club has recently been inducted: Mercouri Kanatzidis, materials scientist at the U.S. Department of Energy’s (DOE) Argonne National Laboratory and professor at Northwestern University.

Kanatzidis is the namesake of a newly discovered mineral, kanatzidisite, which was recently unearthed in Hungary and announced by the International Mineralogical Society. Kanatzidisite belongs to a class of materials known as chalcogenides, which Kanatzidis has studied extensively for decades at Argonne and Northwestern. Chalcogenides are sulfur-containing materials that in antiquity were used in the production of copper metal.

“To have a mineral named after me? Well, that’s a real ​‘rock star’ moment in my career,” Kanatzidis said. ​“It’s a very unusual honor, and you hope the name will stick around a long time.”

The mineral was found in the Nagybörzsöny deposit at Alsó-Rózsa, Hungary, and now can be found at the Museo di Storia Naturale, Università di Firenze, Florence, Italy. Its chemical formula is (SbBiS3)2Te2.

Kanatzidis got his start in chalcogenide chemistry as a graduate student, where he worked on sulfur-containing analogues of biological enzymes. ​“One of the world’s most important catalytic reactions is the hydrodesulfurization of crude oil, which is a catalytic process that removes sulfur from natural gas and refined petroleum. It uses molybdenum sulfide, a major chalcogenide,” Kanatzidis said. ​“If you take that catalyst out of the picture, our economy collapses.”

According to Kanatzidis, other chalcogenides are used in solar cells and other materials. ​“I wanted to understand what stabilizes these compounds, and then I wanted to make new chalcogenides — to design, predict, and synthesize new materials, which I’ve been doing for more than 30 years,” he said.

At Argonne, Kanatzidis’s work has focused on the implications of chalcogenides for new potential superconductors as well as X-ray and gamma-ray detectors. ​“This new material could be a number of things — it might be a good thermoelectric material, which can absorb heat to create electricity. It could be a topological quantum material, which could be used for energy conversion, or even a superconductor. However, we need researchers to figure out how to make it so we have more of it to study,” Kanatzidis said.

“This new material that was discovered isn’t exactly something that I have ever made in the lab — it uses different building blocks,” he added. ​“However, it has similar structural elements.”

The new ​“building block” in the material discovered in Hungary has inspired Kanatzidis to pursue new ideas in the laboratory. ​“There’s a loop of discovery that’s emerging,” he said. ​“There’s knowledge in the geology world about what is being done synthetically in the laboratory, and the principles that are being discovered by the geologists can lead us chemists to greater heights and new discoveries.”

Kanatzidis’s investigations into chalcogenide chemistry have largely been supported by DOE’s Office of Science and Office of Basic Energy Sciences.

The kanatzidisite atomic structure is reported in the Journal of the American Chemical Society.

Argonne National Laboratory seeks solutions to pressing national problems in science and technology. The nation’s first national laboratory, Argonne conducts leading-edge basic and applied scientific research in virtually every scientific discipline. Argonne researchers work closely with researchers from hundreds of companies, universities, and federal, state and municipal agencies to help them solve their specific problems, advance America’s scientific leadership and prepare the nation for a better future. With employees from more than 60 nations, Argonne is managed by UChicago Argonne, LLC for the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science.

The U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Science is the single largest supporter of basic research in the physical sciences in the United States and is working to address some of the most pressing challenges of our time. For more information, visit https://​ener​gy​.gov/​s​c​ience.

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