Internationally known mineralogist John Rakovan stands in front of a collection of minerals.
Courtesy photo

An internationally renowned professor of mineralogy is bringing new energy and leadership to the mineral museum located on the New Mexico Tech campus.

John Rakovan, Ph.D., is the new state mineralogist and senior museum curator for the New Mexico Bureau of Geology and Mineral Resources Mineral Museum, succeeding Virgil Lueth, who moved to emeritus status.

Rakovan, who started his new position Sept. 1, came to Socorro from Miami University in Oxford, Ohio, where he was a professor in the Department of Geology and Environmental Earth Science for nearly 25 years.

He earned a bachelor of science degree in geology from the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, a master of science degree in clay mineralogy from the University of Illinois at Chicago, and a doctorate in geochemistry and mineralogy from State University of New York at Stony Brook.

He did postdoctoral research work in mineral-water interface geochemistry at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and then joined the faculty at Miami University, where he began as an assistant professor in 1998 and rose to full professor in 2011.

He will remain an adjunct professor of mineralogy at Miami University for the next couple of years as he continues to advise graduate students.

As an undergraduate at the University of Illinois, Rakovan’s older housemate went on to attend graduate school at New Mexico Tech. Visiting his friend got him hooked on the region and its collecting opportunities.

“I’ve always been interested in minerals, so we were collecting from day one,” he said.

After he started graduate school and met his wife, Monica, who is currently a geologist and owner of an environmental consulting company, Environmental Solutions – AQ, they kept traveling to central New Mexico for collecting.

“I love this state,” Rakovan said. “There’s something about it. I thought I’d always love to move here and when this (position) came up, I thought ‘this is perfect.’”

Soon after becoming a professor, Rakovan was giving a presentation at an International Mineralogical Association conference in Toronto, Canada. A member of the audience for his talk told Rakovan where he could find the minerals he was seeking — the Hansonburg Mining District in the Oscura Mountains southeast of Socorro near the Trinity site.

That audience member was Virgil Lueth, and that connection led to a collaboration between the two mineralogists that has lasted for 25 years. Rakovan said the first three graduate students he advised did their field work at that site.

“One of the things I plan to do right away as soon as I get settled in here is get back to the work that we started 25 years ago,” he said. “Because it turns out that there’s new interest in what we were doing.”

Rakovan is working on a grant proposal to bring in major instrumentation to the Bureau — a single crystal X-ray diffractometer — to assist with the identification and determination of properties and structures of new minerals.

For his contributions to the field of mineralogy, Rakovan even has a mineral named after him, Rakovanite, a bright orange mineral found in San Miguel County, Colorado. For the past 22 years, Rakovan has been a regular contributor to and has served as executive editor of Rocks and Minerals magazine, an international, bimonthly publication for mineral enthusiasts and professionals.

“One of the reasons they hired me is because I’m very entrenched in both the professional and amateur mineralogy communities nationwide,” he said. The reception he’s received from both communities so far “has been very, very supportive.”

Mineral enthusiasts will have an opportunity to meet Rakovan at the 42nd New Mexico Mineral Symposium Nov. 11-13, at New Mexico Tech’s Macey Center.

The symposium is organized by the Mineral Museum and sponsored by rock and mineral clubs throughout New Mexico and the city of Socorro. Rakovan will provide remarks on “Crystal Faces and Forms” on Saturday, Nov. 12, in the symposium’s first session. More information about speakers, social events, registration, and tailgating at the symposium is available at: https://geoinfo.nmt.edu/museum/minsymp/home.cfml

Katie Bauer, NMT Communications