Both images encapsulate the kind of person he is: a leading scholar in the field of clay mineralogy who lives life with gusto.
But a freshman geology class changed everything. Huff met with the dean who asked him if he was married. He accepted, and ultimately spent his entire career at the school. Last year, after 55 years, he retired from UC as professor emeritus.
I sat down with Huff to talk about his decades of research, his passion for using technology in teaching, and the approach to work-life balance that served him well throughout his career. SD: How did you become interested in clay mineralogy — did you take a class about it? WH: No, there were no classes in clay mineralogy. I had gone on a lot of field trips around the Cincinnati area, and I was becoming more familiar with the regional geology.
UT College of Liberal Arts:
When I was in graduate school, the department hired a faculty member named Frank Koucky; Frank was a mineralogist and a specialist in X-ray diffraction. It was installed in the basement and I was fascinated with what it could do. For example, I thought: How do we study the minerals in shale? Frank took me over to Champagne and I met with Ralph Grim and had a lovely chat one afternoon.
He encouraged me to do some reading, told me about this book, and told me about some of the literature in the field. Huff has collaborated with scientists all over the world to uncover details about past volcanic eruptions using clay minerology. SD: What is clay mineralogy and why is studying it useful?
WH: Well, you have to think about how clay is formed in the first place. Physical and chemical weathering processes break down surface rocks, and clay is a byproduct. The nature of that clay will depend on the intensity of the weathering, the duration of the weathering, and of course, what the parent material is.
So, clay minerals developed from granite over a long period of time might be different from what would develop on, say, metamorphic rocks that weathered only for a short period of time. The nature of clay minerals changes over time, and they change as a function of burial as well.
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Clay in soil might have certain mineral characteristics, but if that soil becomes buried or overlain by some other material, compaction and pressure over time will change the nature of the clay minerals. This is one of the big topics of study: Could you look at clay and, for example, tell something about what its thermal history has been?
Clay is used a lot in industries and manufacturing processes as well. People in the ceramics industry, for example, like kaolinite. Kaolinite is the primary ceramic clay, and they search very hard for areas where rocks have a lot of feldspar in them and have been deeply weathered but not buried.
In Memoriam: C. Ronald Huff
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