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An Obscure African Plant Tells Miners Where to Look for Diamonds 

Diamonds you’re familiar with. Pandanus candelabrum, not so much. And until recently, botanists didn’t pay much attention to this rare, palm-like plant from West Africa either. But the discovery that P. candelabrum grows only over rock that may harbor diamonds has vaulted the plant out of obscurity.
» 5/05/15 6:00pm 5/05/15 6:00pm

The Strange Second Life of America's Only Rare Earth Mine

Rare earth elements are hard-to-find metals that we need for batteries, solar cells and electronics. These days, they’re mostly mined and processed in China. But it wasn’t always so. The history of rare earth elements is surprising, and some of it even takes place in America’s backyard. In fact, there is still a rare… » 5/05/15 2:00pm 5/05/15 2:00pm

These Vases Are Actually Made From Liquified Smartphone Byproducts

It’s not something anyone likes to think about, but your smartphone—or your laptop, or the battery in your hybrid car—created a huge amount of toxic and radioactive waste. And now we know what happens to that waste in the long term. It returns to the earth, mingles with sludge, and finds its way into clay pots. » 4/22/15 1:35pm 4/22/15 1:35pm

What All the Metal From a Single Mine Would Look Like As a Giant Orb

Of all the ways humans have altered the Earth, mining must be one of the most awesome—just for the sheer ratio of Earth excavated to metals and gems recovered. Still, it's hard to visualize just how much a single mine has netted in numbers, which is why For What It's Worth is so interesting. » 8/18/14 9:00am 8/18/14 9:00am

The Nearly Mile-Wide Diamond Mine That Helped Build the Soviet Union

Building empires takes money. And building industrial empires takes diamonds, not just for cash, but for the machines and tools that need them to operate. In a remote corner of Siberia, the Mir diamond mine was responsible for funneling diamonds into building the USSR—and it left behind a pit that stretches almost a… » 6/20/14 12:13pm 6/20/14 12:13pm

China Is Building Fake Islands to Bolster Its Claim to Disputed Waters

Pity the poor mapmaker assigned to the South China Sea. The hotly disputed waters in the Pacific are torn between competing claims from all the countries that surround it. China, especially, has been aggressive and sly. It's now dumping sand onto small reefs and shoals, building whole new islands to bolster its… » 6/18/14 7:00pm 6/18/14 7:00pm

These Are the Rare and Precious Metals Mined From Inside Old Electronics

You've surely heard that inside your iPhone, TV, and power drill sit fragments of valuable metals, and that our hunger for new gadgets is depleting the world of its very limited supply. But you've probably never actually seen those chips of gold or tantalum. Well, here they are. » 6/05/14 1:20pm 6/05/14 1:20pm

These Incredible Salt Mines Are Like Another World Beneath Our Feet

Salt mines are special compared to other underground excavation sites: once they are closed for extraction purposes, they can be opened for visitors, or for storage purposes—all because of their unique microclimate with natural air-conditioning and constant temperature and atmospheric pressure all year. » 5/02/14 9:02am 5/02/14 9:02am