A visit to the Mineralogy and Petrology Collection

The mineralogy museum displays a variety of minerals and rocks, including a meteorite from 4.6 billion years ago!



YouAlberta is written by students for students.

Rebeca (she/her) is a fourth-year philosophy and political science honors student. Originally from Mexico, she retains her culture through cooking traditional Mexican dishes, trying new vegan recipes and making her food extra spicy. Rebeca relishes exploring Edmonton’s river valley hiking trails. Passionate about connecting with under-represented communities and telling their stories, she plans to pursue a career in journalism.

This collection, established in 1912, is the oldest on campus and the oldest provincially funded museum collection in Alberta. The Meteorite Collection, part of which is on display, is the third largest in Canada and the largest collection of meteorites in a Canadian university! 

When I first visited the museum, I felt intrigued by the different rocks and minerals on display. I was amazed by the bright colours, unique textures and distinctive shapes of the rocks. The learning atmosphere of the museum invited me to read the explanations of the displays to learn about the origin and history of these pieces. I found it easy to navigate the different sections of the museum; regardless of the order in which I looked at the sections, I understood each part fully.

My favourite part of the collection is the Toluca meteorite. This is because I got to feel the texture of a meteorite that is 4.6 billion years old and also because this meteorite was found close to my hometown in Mexico! Learning about this meteorite has motivated me to visit the different museums on campus to know more about the diverse specimens that other collections host, to find out where these specimens were brought from and maybe find another display from my hometown!

Prior to visiting the collection, I had limited knowledge about rocks and minerals. The organization of the displays and the explanation on the boards facilitate learning, even with limited background on the topic. Visiting the museum is a great plan even if you do not know much about rocks or if you think you are not interested. You might change your mind and become a big fan of rocks, just like I did! 

What to expect during your visit

The U of A Museums Mineralogy and Petrology Collection contains 15,000 specimens and 2,500 are on display. There are over 2,000 meteorites in the Meteorite Collection. The museum organizes and displays these specimens in different sections: 

The first section contains the rocks displayed on the east, south and north walls. Some of the elements found in these rocks are used to manufacture the things we use in our daily lives. For example, some of the rocks have copper, from which electrical wires are made. 

The second section is made up of flat cases that display the different minerals grouped together by kind. This grouping of the minerals is based on their chemical composition. Fun fact: some of the minerals in the flat cases were donated by William Ferrier, who received an honorary doctorate from the U of A in part for his contributions to the mineralogy collection. 

The third section is the “Fluorescent Minerals” section. Here, you can see different minerals under UV spectrum light. The ultraviolet rays are the ones that are beyond the blue end of the visible spectrum. These UV rays cannot be seen by the human eye but can cause many minerals and rocks to glow. The right term to say that a mineral glows is to say that it “fluoresces.” One of the minerals that fluoresces is fluorite, which gave the name to this phenomenon. 

The fourth section relates to the rock cycle. These cases show how the rocks are grouped and how they change during the cycle. The diverse types of rocks in the cycle include sedimentary rocks, metamorphic rocks and igneous rocks.

Fifth are the diamonds. This section exhibits uncut diamonds and explains that diamonds take billions of years to form and travel hundreds of kilometres to get to the Earth’s surface. This display explains that the kimberlite rock is the principal host rock of diamonds. The exhibit of diamonds shows the natural colour and shape of diamonds before they are cut.

The sixth section is called “from minerals to rocks.” It explains that there are “over 6,800 different minerals” that have differences in “composition or structure, which distinguishes one mineral from another.” This display explains some of the properties of minerals, including lustre, gravity, magnetism, effervescence, colour, hardness, cleavage and fracture. Lastly, this section explains that a rock is “composed of one or more minerals.”

The seventh section talks about the meteorites, which “fall to Earth from outer space as a fireball blazing through the sky.” The structure and “chemical composition in meteorites preserve a blueprint of the Solar system’s earliest history.” This record helps provide information that would be unavailable otherwise. 

The next section focuses on the geology of Canada, which, if looked at from left to right, displays this geology starting from the west and concluding with the eastern geology. To the left is the Canadian Cordillera, which consists of belts of mountain ranges separated by plateaus and valleys. This cordillera extends from the West Coast to the eastern edge of the Rocky Mountain Foothills. This part also explains the plate tectonics, the terranes, the cross-section of the Rocky Mountain Belt, the physical geography of the region and the mineral discoveries of the area. The next display to the right focuses on Alberta’s geology and explains the mineral resources from the area that “played a major role in Alberta’s economy, such as coal, natural gas, crude oil and oil sands.” The last display to the right relates to the Canadian Shield, the “largest area of exposed Precambrian rocks on Earth.” In this region there were important mineral discoveries such as nickel, copper, silver, gold, uranium and diamonds. 

The last section of the museum is the hands-on specimens that you can touch and interact with for learning purposes. Some of these specimens include a: quartz crystal, septarian nodule, limestone, cadomin conglomerate, granodiorite and the Toluca meteorite. This meteorite is the oldest item you will ever touch since it is from 4.6 billion years ago, the same time as the Earth! The meteorite was found in 1776 in Mexico and has a known mass of three tonnes. 

The museum is regularly used for teaching. Around 1,200 students use the collection for learning annually. Groups from different disciplines come to the museum every day. For example, some students look at the rocks to write travel chronicles, fine arts students use the collection for drawing purposes and earth science students visit the museum to complete lab assignments. There are ongoing research projects all year long that study the pieces in the collection conducted by both faculty members and students. Similarly, some specimens are loaned around the world for research purposes. 

In addition to research, the museum is also open for K - 12 class visits and special events such as Science FUNday and U of A Days, where over 1,000 guests visit the collections. It is estimated that around 6,500 people visit the museum every year.

If you are interested in rocks and geoscience, you can join the P.S Warren Geological Society!

You are invited to visit the collection and feel the texture of the meteorite from 4.6 billion years ago!

About the museum

The museum is located in the Earth Sciences Building on the U of A North Campus, room B-08. It is open to the public to visit for free during operating hours (Monday, Wednesday, and Friday from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m.). An interactive virtual tour is also available.