Department of Mineral Sciences
The National Gem and Mineral Collection is one of the greatest collections of its kind in the world with highly prized objects as well as comprehensive mineralogical reference material. The collection traces its origins to the minerals that were bequeathed by James Smithson, along with the money to establish the Smithsonian Institution, over 150 years ago. The collection adds specimens through gifts, purchases using private endowments established for that purpose, field collection, and exchange. In particular, the gem collection has been built almost entirely by gifts from individuals. There are approximately 380,000 mineral specimens and 10,000 gems, making it one of the largest of its kind in the world including such famous pieces as the Hope Diamond and the Star of Asia Sapphire. Contacts: Russell Feather, Paul Pohwat and Jeffrey Post
National Rock and Ore Collection
The National Rock and Ore Collection is divided into over forty sub-collections for ease of research use. These collections together number about 305,178 catalogued and computer inventoried specimens. Large and very well documented collections of mantle xenoliths, ocean basin lavas, ores and edifice and eruption keyed volcanic rocks have worldwide coverage. Additional highlights include historically significant collections, especially of the United States Geological Survey specimens, island rocks, petrologic features, petrographic and lithological reference collections, building stones, and impactites. Important collections available for study but not yet catalogued include the Shoemaker impactites, Boyd and Wilshire xenoliths, Chao and Cameron ore deposits, and the research collections of Dr. John Ferry, Dr. David Stewart, and Dr. Dallas Peck.
Most of the rocks and ores are part of the Locality Collection. This collection is organized into small suites of rocks from the same locality, such as a particular quadrangle or geological setting. These are typically petrogenetically related and usually described in at least one reference. The Volcanological Reference Collection includes specimens from approximately 300 different volcanoes or volcanic fields. Many are from dated eruptions. This collection, organized by eruption year, includes a large suite from the Hawaiian Volcano Observatory of eruptive material from Kilauea and Mauna Loa volcanoes. The collection also includes drill cores from the Kilauea Iki and Makaopuhi lava lakes. The Ore Collection is a systematic collection of metallic ores and mineral commodities. The collection includes metal-bearing minerals and massive ore-bearing material (primarily from major U.S. mines opened prior to 1930), as well as some non-metallic minerals and commodities such as pigments, abrasives, salts, clays, and hydrocarbons. The Sea Floor Rock Collection includes dredged and cored specimens from mid-ocean ridges, seamounts, and fracture zones, as well as a large manganese nodule collection. The Impactite Collection includes shocked rocks from impact structures around the world. Often the corresponding meteoritic material is also represented in the National Meteorite Collection. The Building Stones Collection features rocks utilized for building and ornamentation, and is composed primarily of material received from the Centennial Exposition at Philadelphia in 1876 and from the Tenth Census at the close of an investigation into the quarrying industries of the U.S. in 1880. Most specimens are from domestic quarries, with some foreign varieties represented. Contacts: Leslie Hale and Ben Andrews
The Department of Mineral Sciences is well equipped for the study of rocks and minerals. Instrumentation includes an electron microprobe and an analytical scanning electron microscope, and X-ray diffraction facilities. Also available are an infrared spectrometer, CCD imaging and spectroscopy with a cathodoluminescence microscope, and numerous optical microscopes. The Department has a time-of-flight secondary ion mass spectrometer, which can analyze the elemental compositions of minerals on the nanoscale, and a microdiffractometer, which can non-destructively obtain an X-ray diffraction pattern from a small area on a polished sample. A well-equipped shop for preparation of thin and polished sections provides supporting services to the scientific staff. The facilities include a room-size rock saw to section exceptionally large rocks as well as meteorites. At the Museum Support Center in Suitland, Maryland, the Department maintains a clean room modeled on the facility used for Moon rocks at NASA’s Johnson Space Center.
Geologists from the Department conduct fieldwork at sites around the world. Research areas have included: the famous jade mines of Burma (Myanmar) and Mesoamerican jade quarries in Guatemala; emerald deposits of North Carolina; gem pegmatite deposits in the United States; deep submersible study of a large submarine caldera south of Japan, where active ore forming processes are occurring; young lava flows from Kilauea volcano in Hawaii, the Santiaguito lava dome complex at the base of Santa Maria volcano in Guatemala and acid-mine drainage sites in Appalachia.
The Bulletin of the Global Volcanism Network is published monthly by the Department’s Global Volcanism Program. The departmental newsletter, NMNH Geoscience, is published quarterly and is accessible on the web.
Education and Outreach
Members of the Department are actively involved in a number of education-related and outreach programs within and outside of the Institution such as public lectures, traveling exhibits, hosting of interns and fellows, and collaborating with a variety of university and other agency partners.
The Mineral Sciences library contains about 15,000 volumes and 100 journal titles and focuses on mineralogy, gemology, volcanology, meteorites, petrology, and geochemistry.
Programs and Partnerships
Global Volcanism Program
The Global Volcanism Program (GVP) is the hub of an international network for monitoring, reporting, and maintaining data related to volcanic activity around the world. The GVP plays a leadership role in global volcano information – tracking events as they happen, building the database of critical information, and using these resources both for NMNH research projects and for answering questions about volcanology from other scientists, the media, and the public. The large and growing database contains information for more than 1,500 active volcanoes from around the world and more than 10,000 of their known eruptions in the last 10,000 years. Most of these data are now available on our website, along with our systematic monthly and weekly volcanic activity reports, the latter in collaboration with the USGS Volcano Hazards Program. The GVP also maintains extensive collections of maps, images, and other resources for Earth’s active volcanoes. The GVP collaborates with non-Smithsonian scientists and organizations concerned with volcano hazards, airline safety, geothermal energy, and global climate change, including the USGS, the Department of Energy, the National Aeronautical and Space Administration (NASA), National Oceanographic and Atmospheric Administration, and the Federal Aviation Administration. Contact: Elizabeth Cottrell
Antarctic Meteorite Program
The Antarctic Meteorite Program was established in 1976. Cooperatively administered by the Smithsonian Institution, the National Science Foundation, and NASA, the focus of the Program is the collection, curation, and long-term storage of meteorites recovered from the Antarctic ice sheets. Curators in the Department of Mineral Sciences classify each of the meteorites returned and publish these results in the Antarctic Meteorite Newsletter, issued twice a year by NASA’s Johnson Space Center. The Smithsonian also curates Antarctic meteorites, where the entire collection will eventually reside. Of the 17,000 distinct meteorites in the Smithsonian’s National Meteorite Collection, more than 15,000 come from Antarctica. Contact: Catherine Corrigan
ANDREWS, Benjamin, Geologist and Associate Curator of Rocks and Ores. B.A. (2002) University of Oregon; M.S. (2004) University of Alaska; Ph.D. (2009) University of Texas, Austin. Research specialties: Volcanic processes and hazards ranging from magmatic storage and recharge conditions, through eruption, to deposition; rates of mass, momentum, and energy transfer in different volcanic and geologic processes; analog modeling, optical flow velocimetry, turbulence analysis, sample grain size and component analysis, experimental petrology, electron microscopy, and crystal isotope stratigraphy.
COTTRELL, Elizabeth, Research Geologist; Director, Global Volcanism Program and Associate Curator of Rocks and Ores. B.S. (1997) Brown University, Ph.D. (2004) Columbia University. Research specialties: experimental geochemistry and petrology, volcanology.
MACPHERSON, Glenn J., Senior Scientist and Curator of Meteorites. B.S. (1972) University of California, Santa Cruz; Ph.D. (1981) Princeton University. Research specialties: Origin of the solar system using geochemical studies of meteorites and comets; origin of the continental margin of North America using geochemical studies of ancient volcanic rocks.
McCOY, Timothy J., Geologist and Curator of Meteorites. B.S. (1986) Eastern Illinois University; M.S. (1990) University of New Mexico; Ph.D. (1994) University of Hawaii, Manoa. Research specialties: Meteorites; igneous evolution of small bodies in the early solar system; martian volcanological history derived from meteorites.
POST, Jeffrey E., Chair of Mineral Sciences, Mineralogist and Curator of Gems and Minerals. B.S. (1976) University of Wisconsin, Platteville; Ph.D. (1981) Arizona State University. Research specialties: Environmental mineralogy; single crystal and powder X-ray diffraction; electron microscopy; manganese oxide minerals; clay minerals; computer modeling of mineral structures, Rietveld analysis; gemology.
SORENSEN, Sorena S. Geologist and Curator of Rocks and Ores B.A. (1978), Pomona College; Ph.D. (1984) University of California, Los Angeles. Research specialties: Metamorphic petrology; major, minor, and trace element geochemistry of metamorphic and igneous rocks; field studies of metasomatic fluid/rock interactions; petrotectonic evolution of high P/T and arc-related metamorphic terranes.
Affiliated Research Staff
CORRIGAN, Catherine, Geologist. B.S. (1995) Michigan State University; M.S. (1998) Michigan State University; Ph.D. (2004) Case Western Reserve University. Research specialties: Meteorites.
FISKE, Richard, Geologist Emeritus. B.S. (1954) Princeton University; M.S. (1955) Princeton University; Ph.D. (1960) Johns Hopkins University. Research specialties: Structure of Kilauea Volcano, Hawaii; explosivity of Kilau-ea Volcano; submarine pyroclastic volcanism along the Izu Bonin arc, Japan; Mesozoic volcanic rocks of the central Sierra Nevada, California.