Smithsonian Natural History Museum

On my recent trip to Washington D.C. I had a chance to spend a good afternoon in the Rocks and Minerals section of the Smithsonian Natural History Museum. This was the first time I’ve been to D.C since I was in grade school, a time in my life when I would have only cared about the displays if they had video of Andre Dawson or Walter Payton, or if there was free food, especially really bad for me food. Now that I am a certified geologist, I was really excited to go through the displays again. I was entirely impressed, I really thought that the combination of fantastic rock and mineral specimens, informational displays and devices, and interactive exhibits was superb. I mentioned in the last post that they had a “Make Your Own Earthquake” experiment, they also had petrographic microscopes set up to view thin sections on cross polarized light, real-time displays of world earthquake activity, interactive quizzes, and things you can sit and climb on (a pre-requisite for a very active young Thermochronic). They also had a geochronology display (which I’ll blog about next) that included a video describing how to make a TIMS (thermal ionization mass spectrometry) zircon U-Pb measurement. Simplified, of course, but very well done.
Attached to the rocks and minerals is the gem display, which includes the Hope Diamond, the world’s largest blue diamond. Perhaps it is my bias as an earth scientist, but the cut gem display was a huge letdown after the minerals exhibit. Diamonds are interesting minerals, and are good for jewelry, but are not even in the top 10 of Thermochronic’s most beautiful and interesting mineral list. Please excuse the blurriness of some of these pictures, the lighting isn’t the best in the museum, and I don’t own a tripod [yet].

Quartz with rutile inclusions

riebeckite (crocidolite), the bad-for-you asbestos

rhodochrosite and fluorite on calcite

amethyst (purple quartz)

Two stony-rion meteorites, Esquel (left from Argentina), Springwater (center from Saskatchewan), and Imilac (right, almost off screen, from the Atacama Desert)

Two more stony irons, Albin (from Wyoming) and Ahumada (from Chihuahua)

peridotite xenoliths from Hawaii

columnar jointed basalt

annd my favorite, a ptygmatically folded vein

Incidentally, I also had a chance to do my version of geology recruiting. Like all of D.C., the museum was packed with bajillions of middle and high schoolers on field trips. When I was in a crown at the more popular exhibits, I made sure to say things like “Wow, this is amazing, I think when I get to college I am going to take a geology class,” or “Looks like being a seismologist would be a great job!” This made Mrs. Apparent-dip-but-with-a-different-last-name laugh, which is always good, but I am sure I also inspired dozens of young earth scientists to think of new careers.

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