Comment: The Museum of Minerals contains beautiful minerals, but the science is too much to digest

Aidan Fraser / review
Sharon Fitzgerald leads her talk at the Benny Hall Museum of Minerals on March 16.

by
Senior Reporter

Do you find beauty in natural crystal formations? Do you direct your energy into colored crystals? Are you majoring in geosciences? If so, you may want to visit the university’s Mineral Museum located in Penny Hall. The museum displays more than 3,000 crystal specimens donated to the university, and luckily for you, it’s open to the public to visit throughout the semester.

The curator of the Minerals Museum is Sharon Fitzgerald. On March 16, Fitzgerald led a curator lecture on gemology titled “Faces and Faces – Crystals into Gemstones” in which she touched on many misconceptions in gemology, a branch of mineralogy.

One of the misconceptions that Fitzgerald clarified during her talk is that the color of the gemstone does not determine its name. The reason this is a common myth is that gemology has not always been considered a scientific field. In the late nineteenth century, there were five recognized classes of precious stones: sapphire, sapphire, diamond, emerald, and pearl.

“The problem was that anything green was called emerald, anything red was called a sapphire, anything blue was called a sapphire, and anything clear was a diamond,” Fitzgerald said.

George Koons is considered one of the first gemologists to travel the world collecting, identifying and selling minerals to a donor. The donor then donates the Koons collection to museums or universities. Based on Fitzgerald’s research, the university maintains the last of Koon’s 12 mineral groups.

“He was really the one who put the flag into the gems and sorted out some of this mess that was all just about color,” Fitzgerald said.

Aidan Fraser / review
Topaz on quartz, wolfenite, bitate and quartz.

Since the event was open to the public, there was a small crowd of people with different levels of background knowledge in gemology. Because of my limited experience with gemology, I found the content of the talk to be particularly complex, and I had to do more research after the event to decipher the words and phrases used by Fitzgerald.

For example, Fitzgerald began her speech with the meaning of “faces and faces.” The terms “minerals”, “crystals” and “gem” have been used almost interchangeably, but in mineralogy there are clear differences between these three terms. From my understanding of the research I did after the event, a mineral is a naturally occurring inorganic substance that has crystal structures. However, synthetic crystals are not minerals because they do not occur naturally. When minerals are cut and polished, they are considered a gemstone.

Personally, I think that had it begun with a brief explanation of the basic facts about mineralogy, it would have been easier to talk to someone with limited prior knowledge in the field.

Aidan Fraser / review
Vesuvianite, the gemstone that Sharon Fitzgerald completed her dissertation and a favorite gemstone for groups

In addition to highlighting these facts, I also believe that if Fitzgerald had shown the audience what gems were being discussed, it would have been a more interactive experience. Much of the talking was static, with most people staying in the same place while listening to Fitzgerald’s talk. Some of the guests who had the advantage of already recognizing the gem that Fitzgerald was talking about walk casually to the described stone. As an alternative to mentioning the name of the gem, referring to the gemstone on display would have made the conversation clearer.

As a reporter with little background in gemology, the curator’s talk did not resonate with me. The view of the crystals in the museum is beautiful. I can tell by the thoughtful way Fitzgerald spoke about the exhibition, as well as how interesting the exhibition was, that she is very proud of the Museum of Minerals.

Although gemology is complex, the history of this field is very interesting. If the Museum of Minerals provided more information about their collections as if their audience had no prior knowledge of what metal is, I think there would be a better overall understanding of the history of the field and the anatomy of metal and how it is done. Science is easily misunderstood.

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