The Pacific Museum of the Earth, popular for its 22-foot-long dinosaur skeleton, now features a precious minerals vault - photo by Martin Dee
UBC Reports | Vol. 53 | No. 6 | Jun 7, 2007
New Vault a Hit with School Groups
By Brian Lin
Rare gemstones are on display at UBC for the first time thanks to a new vault at the Pacific Museum of the Earth (PME) in the Dept. of Earth and Ocean Sciences.
Originally established at UBC as the M.Y. Williams Geological Museum in the 1970s, the PME inherited collections from the Pacific Mineral Museum in downtown Vancouver in June 2003 and was renamed to reflect its diverse exhibits, which cover everything from the earth’s core to the stratosphere.
The PME attracts more than 1,500 visitors a year to peruse its collection of several thousand minerals, fossils, a 22-foot-long dinosaur skeleton and a tornado machine.
Diamonds, emeralds, gold, silver, and meteorites -- including a piece of Mars -- are among the 18 precious mineral exhibits in the high-security vault. The valuable specimens, some on display for the first time on campus, are presented on dark pedestals and spotlighted with fibre optics to create a ‘floating’ effect.
One exhibit showcases several pieces of ammolite, the iridescent shell material of ammonites, a marine organism which went extinct 65 million years ago. Only occurring in the Bearpaw formation that extends between Alberta, Saskatchewan and Montana, gem quality ammolite is the rarest gemstone in the world.
Categories for evaluating commercial gems -- color, clarity, cut and size -- aren’t the only considerations when selecting for a mineral exhibit, explains museum Curator Mackenzie Parker.
“What really stands out for us are samples that show how the minerals are formed or how they interact with their surroundings,” says Parker.
One of the diamond specimens in the exhibit is especially of interest because it is still set in its original host rock. “Since opportunities to collect diamonds before they have been separated from their host rock are rare, this is more valuable as a specimen to geologists and students than one that’s set in a ring.”
Since the vault opened this spring, along with the museum’s new Teachers Resource Centre, requests for organized tours have spiked.
“The majority of our visitors are school groups where teachers utilize our collections to supplement their curriculum,” says Parker. “The most popular activities are the two new hands-on workshops at the Teachers Resource Centre -- the Mineral Properties exercise and the Rock ID exercise -- that give students an opportunity to perform some of the basic identification and sorting exercises that geologists do on a regular basis.”