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How scientists gave Mozart a role in rock history

A scientist at the Natural History Museum in London has had a rare mineral named after him. Symesite, a complex oxide of lead, has been named in honour of Dr Bob Symes, a former keeper of mineralogy who does research at the museum.

A scientist at the Natural History Museum in London has had a rare mineral named after him. Symesite, a complex oxide of lead, has been named in honour of Dr Bob Symes, a former keeper of mineralogy who does research at the museum.

The pink translucent crystal found in a Somerset quarry, takes its place alongside two substances named after his colleagues Dr Alan Criddle and Dr Chris Stanley: criddleite, a black-streaked gold-bearing mineral from Canada, and chrisstanleyite, a similar-coloured compound of palladium and silver, found in Devon.

The three men are continuing a long and honourable tradition in the museum's world-renowned mineralogy department of providing surnames and research data for new minerals, of which between 30 and 40 are discovered, every year to add to the 3,800 or so minerals already known.

A glance at the departmental staff photograph for 1961 shows the mineralogists who gave their names to embreyite, heyite, sweetite, and claringbullite, while that for 1911 shows the faces behind priorite, fletcherite and spenserite.

While mineralogists can have their monikers put forward by others, strict protocol does not allow them to name minerals after themselves.

Dr Symes played no part in the recent christening of the rock that will make his lineage immortal. Symesite - occurring as tiny pink crystals in Merehead quarry, near Wells, has been described and named by a team led by Mark Welch, another mineralogist at the museum. Dr Welch had to have his description and name accepted by the commission on new minerals and mineral names of the International Mineralogical Association.

This can be easier said than done, for the 28 scientists from around the world who make up the commission are sticklers for protocol, and naming a mineral is a much more tightly controlled business than naming a newly discovered flower, say. Once certain conventions are observed, you can name a new plant after anyone or anything you want apart from yourself - your girlfriend, your granny or your pet goldfish.

Dr Welch said: "The name for a new mineral must reflect an association with mineralogy, and in a direct way. It can be called after a locality where a mineral was found, or named in honour of some person who had an association with mineralogy. But not your girlfriend. Aberrations are found jarring."

Thus, controversy erupted in the world of rare stones when in 1993 three Italian mineralogists suggested the name mozartite for a newly discovered calcium-manganese silica compound from the Apennines, on the grounds that it had been found two years earlier during the bicentenary of the great composer's death.

The necessary two-thirds majority of the new mineral names commission accepted it, but several members voted against, including Britain's representative, Dr Criddle, of the Natural History Museum.

"I adore Mozart's music but I couldn't quite see how he made a significant contribution to mineralogy" he said.

Dr Criddle, who is the museum's head of mineral sciences and systematics, and whose name was attached to criddleite in 1988, put forward his own alternative

"I suggested they name it köchelite after Köchel who catalogued Mozart's music, as he was a mineralogist," he said. "But mozartite it remained." So many common English surnames have now been taken for minerals that Christian names are creeping in - jerrygibbsite was named after an American crystallographer, Dr Jerry Gibbs, in 1984, as gibbsitewas named in 1822.

Dr Stanley, deputy keeper of the mineralogy department, found the same process apply to the naming of chrisstanleyite last year.

Stanleyite had already been taken in 1982, for a new vanadium sulphate from Peru. It was named after Henry Morton Stanley the journalist and explorer who in 1870 found David Livingstone, the Scottish missionary lost in Africa.

The man who named stanleyite was Dr Alex Livingstone, of the Royal Scottish Museum in Edinburgh.

"David Livingstone presented the Royal Scottish Museum with a collection of African rocks and minerals," he wrote in his paper proposing the name, "and therefore it seems reciprocally appropriate to honour mineralogically the man who immortalised the phrase, 'Dr Livingstone, I presume'."