Exploring Earth's Treasures: The Mineralogy/Petrology Museum

Mineralogy/Petrology Museum

Like a glistening treasure chest in the basement of the Earth Sciences Building, the Mineralogy/Petrology Museum exhibits approximately 1,000 specimens for teaching, research and community outreach purposes. Three different University of Alberta Museums collections, all under the Department of Earth and Atmospheric Sciences, are represented in the museum. These include the Mineralogy/Petrology Collection, the Meteorite Collection and the Drill Core Collection.

The earliest museum collecting on campus began in 1912 under what was then called the Department of Geology, making this the oldest museum on campus and one of the oldest systematic collections in Canada. The geology museum, as it was known in the early years, was originally located in Assiniboia Hall prior to moving to the third floor of the Old Arts Building. In 1959-60, it moved to its current location in the Earth Sciences Building, then known as the Agricultural Building.

The museum is divided into petrology and mineralogy, or the study of rocks and the study of minerals. As a refresher for non-geologists, rocks are composed of one or more minerals while minerals are naturally occurring solids. Some of the museum exhibits include presentations on the Canadian Shield, the Canadian Cordillera region, the geology of Alberta, and the rock cycle, including igneous, sedimentary and metamorphic groupings. These exhibits represent significant scientific discoveries, but they also hold incredible aesthetic appeal for visitors who constantly marvel at the varied colours, textures and lustres of the specimens.

The ever-popular fluorescent exhibit displays the spectacular properties of different rocks and minerals when exposed to long and short-wave light. A new addition to this exhibit also includes a vial of the oft-maligned and always controversial crude oil.

Another impressive exhibit features meteorites from around the world. The Meteorite Collection is the largest university-based collection of meteorites in Canada, housing roughly 1,100 specimens from more than 130 different meteorites, a fraction of which are exhibited in the museum. A scale model of the Whitecourt impact crater shows just how massive the effect of meteorites can be on the Earth’s surface. Museum visitors can even touch a meteorite on the “touchable table.”

Other highlights include an exhibit of diamonds “in the rough,” on permanent loan from De Beers, as well as a massive specimen of native copper that’s more than 625 million years old.

Roughly 4,000 visitors come through the Museum annually, including 2,000 people on scheduled tours. It is accessed not only by undergraduate geology students, but also K-12 school-aged children, particularly those in grade 3. In addition, the Museum is used as part of the University of Alberta Museums school program, the Muse Project, in the grade 7 science curriculum.

The Mineralogy/Petrology Museum and the accompanying collections are part of the University of Alberta Museums, a network of 28 interdisciplinary museum collections across campus, accessed daily for teaching, research and community engagement. The museum is open to visitors, free of charge, Monday through Friday from 8 a.m. to 4 p.m. Groups of more than five are advised to call ahead to book tours. For more information, please contact 780-492-5834.