This geologist studies stones used in heritage sites like red sandstone and makrana
Sitting in a small office packed with several cupboards, slide trays and two PhD students, Gurmeet Kaur, assistant professor in the department of geology at Panjab University, animatedly talks about the importance of research in geology. It has a lot of economic and environmental implications, so more students should go in for it, she suggests.
A post-doctoral scholar from Lakehead University in Canada, Kaur’s UNESCO-Council of the International Geoscience Programme (IGCP) Project on kimberlite and lamproite rocks (known to contain diamonds) led to the reclassification of two pipes (where stones are found) at the Wajrakarur kimberlite field in Anantapur, Andhra Pradesh. “Kimberlite and lamproite rocks are the main sources of diamonds. It is important to identify them correctly if diamond deposits are to be explored,” she says. Research to ascertain the economic implications of mining such rocks is critical, she reiterates, holding up a kimberlite and pointing to the diamond in it.
The stones of course are in crude form when mined and acquire their brilliance after cutting and polishing.
FROM AJANTA AND ELLORA TO THE TAJ MAHAL
With specialisation in petrology, mineralogy and geochemistry, Kaur is currently working on a Heritage Stone Project with funding from the International Union of Geological Sciences (IUGS) and UNESCO. “The project includes studying stones used in heritage sites such as the Sanchi stupas, Ajanta, Ellora and Taj Mahal, forts in Rajasthan and other sites in Delhi, Mumbai and Pune,” she says, adding that the aim is to promote and conserve these heritage stones.
RED SANDSTONES OF VINDHYA MOUNTAINS
While Kaur and her team have proposed that the famed red sandstones sourced from the Vindhya mountains in India for Global Heritage Stone Resource (GHSR) status and the Deccan province for Global Heritage Stone Province status, their proposal for GHSR status for Makrana marble was accepted last week by the IUGS.
Talking about her work, Kaur says, “We have to characterise rocks in terms of terminology. Deccan basalts have been used widely in forts and Victorian-era buildings in Maharashtra. At the same time, paintings in the Bhimbetka caves near Bhopal, Madhya Pradesh, are the earliest signs of civilisation.”
This project is like an outreach activity which aims to make people aware of their cultural heritage, but “we figure that out by studying materials used in heritage and other structures,” she says.
EVERYTHING UNDER THE MICROSCOPE
Studying stones is a process in itself. “We first need make a paste of the stone to mount it flat on a side and this creates a lot of mess,” she laughs. It is then studied under the microscope to ascertain its minerals. The paste can’t be thick, “otherwise we will not be able to see the composition of the stone,” she says.
Displaying her collection of stones, Kaur points out to the effect of climate change. It takes millions of years for the elements to act on the stones but erosion is faster in the hot and humid tropics as compared to the glaciated region.
Kaur took up geology for higher studies as low scores did not allow her to pursue engineering, but her interest grew as she pursued BSc in geology from PU.
NOT A PLACE FOR WOMEN ONCE UPON A TIME
She loves field trips and says these were frowned upon in the relatively conservative society in the 1990s when women weren’t meant to go on such excursions and return home late.
“There were hardly any women in geology when I started working”, she says, which is why the department at that time did not even have a women’s washroom.
Born and brought up in Madhya Pradesh, Kaur has spent a considerable part of her grown up years in Chandigarh. She lives with her parents on the university campus and loves travelling, listening to music and gardening.
If there’s more time in her hands she says she likes to switch off her mobile phone, relax and enjoy a quick nap.