Fun with Minerals
By Nicholas J Booth, on 8 October 2015
This is a guest post by Nadine Gabriel, a UCL student and volunteer with UCL Museums. All photos by the author.
Hello there, I’m Nadine Gabriel and I’ve been working with the UCL Geology Collections for just over a year. Towards the end of the summer holidays, I was given the chance to audit the thousands of mineral specimens in the Rock Room to ensure that we have a record of what is (and isn’t) in the collection. While auditing the collection, I handled a wide variety of specimens and learnt about new minerals and their classification – I’ve come across so many minerals that I’ve never heard of, even after doing two years of geology. But the best thing about working with the collection was saying ‘ooh’ and ‘ahh’ every time I saw a nice shiny mineral.
When I first started working with the geological collections, my audits involved working with Excel spreadsheets and paper catalogues filled with entries from way before I was born. This time, I was given the chance to test a new database software called Filemaker Pro. It’s great to use and presents data in a nice layout. Needless to say, it was a welcome upgrade from the spreadsheets which require endless scrolling to get to the information you want to edit. I still had to consult the paper catalogue every now and then to input some information into the new database. It was quite interesting to see the different handwritten entries from various curators who have come and gone over the years.
Some of my favourite specimens were:
- The quartz drawer filled with specimens that (unfortunately) belonged to Birkbeck (UCL and Birkbeck share mineral storage). It really caught my eye as I pulled open the drawer and even managed to cause me to gasp. There were quartz specimens with different colours, forms and associated with various minerals, such as haematite.
- The one thing that made me unhappy was a badly labelled specimen of siderite (from Birkbeck’s collection). A paper label had been stuck on the specimen and then cellotape was wrapped around it – ugh.
- I found some heart-shaped minerals, which cheered me up. There was a piece of malachite which had been cut and polished. However, there was a specimen whose shape was completely natural: a piece of butterfly twinned calcite. In my eyes, this emphasises the fact that people should fall in love with the natural beauty of minerals.
- The only fossil I’ve come across so far in the collection was part of a mandible which had been completely replaced by aragonite. Unfortunately, there was no information on what animal the jawbone belonged to.
- A nice historical surprise consisted of two anhydrite crystals presented to Kathleen Lonsdale while she was still working at the Royal Institution in London; the two specimens were together with part of an envelope dated 1946. Kathleen Lonsdale was a famous crystallographer and, in 1949, she became the first female professor of chemistry and the head of the Crystallography Department at UCL.
During the audit, I came across a few minerals that were named after people. So, if your name is Franklin, Brooke, Bruce or Margaret, you’ll have franklinite, brookite, brucite and margarite respectively as your ‘namesake mineral’. While going through the collection, I managed to find a mineral somewhat similar to my name called vanadinite. Luckily, after looking for a list of minerals online, I managed to find gabrielite! It’s a rare sulphosalt from Lengenbach Quarry in Switzerland and there aren’t many pictures of it online so I couldn’t fully admire it. In case you’re wondering, it’s named after Walter Gabriel, a mineral photographer and an expert on minerals from Lengenbach Quarry. I would definitely recommend trying to find your ‘namesake mineral’, it’s quite exciting when you find one, but that could just be me…
I’m about halfway through the Rock Room minerals and I’ll be continuing the audit throughout the autumn term. I’m sure I’ll find some more interesting minerals. Wish me luck!
Nadine Gabriel is a 3rd year Geology Student and volunteer with UCL Public and Cultural Engagement.