Research News

Bringing Gemmology to a Bigger Stage: The 2015 GSA Annual Meeting

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2015 GSA annual meeting sign
The 2015 Geological Society of America (GSA) annual meeting was held on 1–4 November in Baltimore. GIA hosted two gemmology technical sessions at the conference. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

Deeply rooted in mineralogy, modern gemmology has become increasingly multidisciplinary, with the incorporation of theories and techniques from many other scientific branches, especially those in the geoscience realm. 

GIA booth at the 2015 GSA annual meeting
Kate Donovan from the GIA Alumni Association and Dr James Shigley discuss gemmological research and education with visitors to the GIA booth. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

The annual Geological Society of America (GSA) meeting attracts more than 6,000 geoscientists from all over the world and is one of the best platforms for presenting recent research and finding inspiration for future work. Since 2013, GIA researchers have participated in the GSA annual meeting. At the 2015 conference, held in Baltimore on 1–4 November, GIA hosted two technical sessions, one oral and one poster, with 26 presentations altogether. At the same time, GIA hosted a booth in the exhibition hall at the Baltimore Convention Center, where representatives from the institute were on hand to answer questions.


GIA’s Dr James E. Shigley and Dr Wuyi Wang co-hosted the oral session. Dr George Harlow led with a talk on how gem material studies provide insights on the whole geological system of the Earth. Dr Wang presented the discovery and distribution of [Si-V]defects in HPHT synthetic diamonds. This study by a team from GIA’s New York lab challenged the widely accepted theory that [Si-V] defects only occur in CVD synthetic diamonds, while also showcasing photoluminescence mapping as a powerful research technique. 

Dr James Shigley standing next to the schedule of oral presentations
Dr James Shigley stands next to the schedule for the gemmology oral technical session. Dr Shigley and Dona Dirlam, director of the GIA library, established the gemmology technical sessions at the GSA annual meeting in 2013. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

Taking a truly multidisciplinary approach, Dr Laurent E. Cartier from the Swiss Gemmological Institute SSEF worked with a biologist to apply DNA analysis to the origin determination of organic gems. The current study is focused on pearls. For the first time, gemmologists can conclusively identify the mollusc species of a pearl. Dr Cartier and his colleagues are working to perfect this technique and exploring the possibilities with other organic gems such as coral and ivory.

Dona standing next to the door
Dona Dirlam is the director of GIA’s Richard Liddicoat Research Library and Information
Center. Dona is one of the founders of gemmology technical sessions at the GSA conference. Photo by
Cathy Jonathan/GIA.

Dr Karen Smit, a postdoctoral researcher from GIA’s New York lab, studied the Re-Os isotope of sulphide inclusions in type Ib diamond from West Africa. The isotopic study was used to explain the assembly of the Gondwana supercontinent. Next, Dr Steven Shirey from the Carnegie Institution of Washington presented his Re-Os geochronology study on a sulphide inclusion in superdeep diamond from Brazil. The age of this inclusion indicated crystal recycling facilitated by mantle convection beneath. Both studies demonstrate the important role gem materials can play in earth science research.

Audience at the 2015 GSA meeting’s gemmology session
GSA attendees wait for the gemmology oral session to start. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

Gemmological studies of famous stones and historical jewellery pieces are also of great interest. Alan Hart from the Natural History Museum in London explored the creation of the Mogul cut. Using the famous Koh-i-Noor (”Mountain of Light”) diamond from the British Crown Jewels as a case study, Mr Hart found that differential hardness was the key factor that brought about the Mogul cut with the primitive cutting tools available at the time.  Dr Raquel Alonso-Perez from Harvard University studied the tourmalines mounted in the Hamlin Necklace, a piece of 19th-century North American jewellery, using both spectroscopic and trace-element analysis. 

Gemmology presentation at the 2015 GSA meeting
Dr Shigley introduces the technical session, co-hosted by Dr Wuyi Wang. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

Inclusion study is one of the pillars of modern gemmology. GIA’s leading inclusion researcher, John Koivula, pointed out the possibility of misidentifying synthetic corundum as natural heat-treated material. Experimental studies proved that heat-fused cracks generated in both pulled and flame-fusion synthetic corundum look virtually identical to the features associated with so-called flux-healed natural stones. Dr Aaron Palke, a postdoctoral researcher from GIA’s Carlsbad lab, found some unusual glassy melt inclusions in sapphires from south-western Montana. Dr Palke and colleagues hypothesised that these sapphires crystallised as peritectic minerals during high-grade metamorphism that generated silica-rich melt and an alumina-rich restite. Future research on this topic may shed light on the source and transportation of Montana sapphires.

Gemmology oral session at the 2015 GSA meeting
Dr Steven Shirey answers questions from the audience after his presentation. Photo by
Tao Hsu/GIA.

Phenomenal gems are especially interesting materials for scientific study. Dr Keal Byrne and colleagues from the Smithsonian Institution investigated the luminesce of “chameleon” diamonds, which show an intriguing colour-change response to temperature and/or light. Xiayang Lin from Pennsylvania State University discovered the microscopic surface feature that causes iridescence in natural quartz crystals from India.

Gemmological research presentation
Dr Aaron Palke presents his research on unusual glassy inclusions found in Montana sapphires. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

Researchers also presented studies on American gem deposits. Dr Michael Wise from the Smithsonian Institution presented his work on the hydrothermal emerald and hiddenite mined in the Hiddenite area of North Carolina. Yury I. Klyukin from Virginia Tech investigated the fluid evolution of the deposit at North American Emerald Minenear Hiddenite. Dr William B. Simmons from Maine Mineral and Gem Museum shared the recent discovery of gem-quality pollucite in Mt. Mica pegmatite.

A group of gemmological researchers standing outside the GSA meeting room
Presenters from the gemmology oral session. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.


The gemmology poster session on 4 November featured twelve posters. Although it was held on the final day of the conference, the session was very well attended. The flexibility of presentation time and format allowed for dynamic discussion between exhibitors and viewers. 

Taking photo of a poster at GSA
The gemmology poster session attracted considerable attention on the last day of the GSA conference. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

The posters covered a wide range of topics. GIA researchers displayed their studies on micro-diamonds, diamond defect formation, and low–pressure, high-temperature (LPHT) treatment of type Ia diamonds. Sarah Ostrye presented the GIA library’s rare book digitisation project. Catherine McManus of Materialytics introduced her project on diamond origin determination using multivariate analysis of LIBS spectra. Gary S. Michelfelder from Missouri State University and co-authors presented their study on the origin of alluvial diamonds in the Coromandel area of Brazil. 

GSA poster presenter
Sarah Ostrye from the GIA library presented the rare book digitisation project. Photo by
Cathy Jonathan/GIA.

It was also impressive to see Chinese gemmology students present their research on a newly discovered gem corundum deposit in north-eastern China and a colour study on tanzanite. Topics and abstracts from the poster session can be found at

Dr Rodney Ewing giving an acceptance speech
Dr Rodney Ewing received the Mineralogical Society of America’s Roebling Award for his distinguished contributions to mineralogical research. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

In another highlight from the GSA meeting, Dr Rodney C. Ewing, a professor of geological and environmental sciences at Stanford University, received the Mineralogical Society of America’s Roebling Medal. Dr Ewing has served on GIA’s board of governors for nine years, providing insightful guidance on research activities and nurturing the institute’s postdoctoral programme. 

A bear mascot invites attendees to the 2016 GSA conference in Denver
The 2016 GSA conference will be held in Denver and will once again communicate high-quality gemmological research to the geoscience world. Photo by Tao Hsu/GIA.

Since their inception at the 2013 GSA meeting, the gemmology technical sessions have provided a broader stage to share important research findings with other scientists. The 2016 GSA annual meeting will be held in Denver, and the gemmology session organisers will start work on it soon. 

Dr Tao Hsu is technical editor of Gems & Gemology. Dr James E. Shigley is the distinguished research fellow at GIA. Dona M. Dirlam is the director of the GIA Richard T. Liddicoat Gemological Library and Information Center. Both Dr Shigley and Dona are founders of the gemmology technical sessions at the GSA annual meeting.