Aaron Palke knew he wanted to be a geologist as young as 5 years old. “On drives from my childhood home in Oklahoma to where my family lived in Montana, my dad and I would go agate hunting. I remember he would share his mineral collection with me, so I was interested in this stuff from a young age.”
In his current role as senior manager of research at the Gemological Institute of America (GIA), Palke does applied mineralogy – the measurement of mineral properties – while providing a service to the gem and jewelry industry. “One of the things the GIA does is help customers to buy gems with confidence. What we do is provide them with a third-party assurance that their gem of choice is what it's supposed to be.”
Not only does Palke study the gems in the lab using elemental analysis and spectroscopy techniques he cultivated at Stanford, he also helps to determine the provenance of gems by heading the GIA’s field gemology program. “We travel around the world, to places like Tanzania and Russia and Thailand, to collect reference stones which we use to develop our own database and inform our work.”
Unlike some other career options in the field of geology, his role offers a unique approach that Palke has come to enjoy.
“I’m used to the world of academia and science, where everything is aimed at being objective and logical. What I really enjoy about gemology is that it is inherently emotional and subjective, and that my work sits in the place where these modes of thought overlap.”