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60th Anniversary of the Discovery of ‘Dense Silica’: Stishovite


Sixty years ago today, April 19, 1961, Sergei Stishov — then a graduate student at Moscow State University — together with Svetlana Popova first identified silica in the rutile-type structure from x-ray diffraction in high-pressure experiments, testing the hypothesis proposed a decade earlier about the high-pressure behavior of the common mineral quartz.

Upon learning about the discovery, Edward Chao of the U.S. Geological Survey found that their reported x-ray diffraction pattern matched that of material he had collected on the shocked Coconino sandstone at Meteor Crater, Arizona. He and his colleagues quickly announced the finding and proposed that the mineral be named stishovite.

The discovery was a landmark in both high-pressure physics and studies of the Earth’s deep interior. The story — indeed the geopolitical back story — is recounted in a memoir that Stishov published in 1995.  Additional information and pictures, from the 50th Anniversary Celebration of the discovery in 2011, are here and here.

Academician Stishov is currently a Staff Member at the Lebedev Physical Institute of the Russian Academy of Sciences (RAS), and is the former Director of the Institute of High Pressure Physics of the RAS. He has held numerous visiting appointments in the U.S., including LANL starting in 1993, as well as Caltech, Berkeley, and Stony Brook.  Svetlana Popova, who passed away five years ago, was a long-time Staff Member at the Institute of High Pressure Physics.