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Wednesday, December 21, 2011

Optical Mineralogy at Arizona Science Center

Back a couple of months ago, I had the opportunity to visit the Arizona Science Center, located in downtown Phoenix.  Much of the exhibits were for sciences other than geoscience - stuff like motion, gravity, building things, the human body, weather, and similar things.  There was one section on geology, and so, you know, at least it existed!  One exhibit was on the rock cycle, which had some interesting, amusing animations (although I wondered if they introduced some misconceptions, but that's another story).  Another, however, was on looking at rocks with a microscope, and showed images of optical mineralogy.

Yes, that's right, a science museum had an exhibit on optical mineralogy.

There were a bunch of different samples of rock types with a hand magnifier to look at them, but at the top, there were two screens that kept rotating through a series of images taken with a polarized light microscope.  There wasn't much information about the images, but they were at least pretty to look at & had names that lined up well with the hand samples below.  Some of the images were taken with the analyzer in & some with it out, but it didn't go into any details, unfortunately.  Here's a shot of the full display, with a cross-polars view of a garnet mica schist in the screen.
The Earth Rocks! exhibit at AZSC.
Here's the floor plan of the area that contains this exhibit, mouse-over the gray rectangle at center-left to find it (unfortunately not a lot of info on the website either).

So that pretty much made my day.  I enjoy teaching optical mineralogy, but it is very tough to do, even with dedicated geology majors.  Maybe if there were a few more exhibits like this in the world of science museums, my job would get a shade easier.  And of course, if more people in the world knew even a few basics about how to identify rocks, we'd all be a lot better off!

So on one final note, who can name this dark brown, wedge-shaped beauty in the center of this image?