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Fluorescent minerals from the Rausch collection at UMass Amherst.
August 16, 2016

Rock On

  • Amherst
See the wonders of the UMass Amherst mineral gallery.

When the ultraviolet light above the case of fluorescent minerals in the University of Massachusetts Amherst Rausch Mineral Gallery cycles on, the specimens under glass transform from drab rocks to rock stars. Traffic-vest orange and sales-tag red, highlighter yellow and M&M blue—it’s astonishing to see such colors in nature.

The fluorescent minerals share the gallery in the Morrill Science Center with display cabinets full of specimens representing all the major mineral groups. They sparkle and glow and fascinate visitors with their profusion of shapes and hues. Light green apophyllite from India, golden smoky quartz from Brazil, violet fluorite from Tennessee—the room holds the world’s wonders.

Most of the more than 250 minerals on display were the bequest of Marvin Rausch, professor of chemistry at UMass Amherst from 1963 to 2001. Rausch amassed one of the finest mineral collections in New England. He favored large specimens; most of the rocks in the collection are softball-size.

Julie Brigham-Grette, professor of geosciences and department head, points out that the collection is an important outreach tool. Students from all majors stop in and Boy Scouts and other youth groups come to the gallery. One youngster commented, “This would be so cool if it was my bedroom.” There’s even been a wedding in the gallery.

Those whose curiosity is piqued by the minerals can learn about their origins and their practical applications from educational displays produced by students of Professor of Geosciences Sheila Seaman, who uses the collection in her classes. “Students are initially attracted to the minerals on an aesthetic level and then find them a gateway to studying geosciences,” she says.

The collection captivates both casual visitors and rock hounds. On a recent day, workers passing through the gallery to make a repair took a minute to check out the exhibit. “Can you imagine if you found something like this while you were digging?” asked one. “How can that grow?” wondered his coworker.

The Rausch Mineral Gallery in Room 243 of the Morrill Science Center South is open to the public Monday through Friday from 9:00 to 5:00. Admission is free. For more information, contact: office@geo.umass.edu.

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