Elemental

The Forty Acres is home to minerals and gems from all over the world. Here they are like you’ve never seen them.

The Alcalde
Mar 2 · 3 min read

Photographs by Matt Wright-Steel

Rosasite: A carbonate mineral named after where it was originally discovered in 1908: the Rosas mine in Sardinia, Italy. New Mexico, USA

Just off of San Jacinto Boulevard, up two sets of long, narrow steps stands the Texas Memorial Museum, a towering white-stone building framed by tall green oaks. Inside, through a thick Art Deco glass door and underneath the 82-year-old building’s lofty, ornamental ceilings are 140 rare and magnificent minerals and gems from all over the world. The specimens were collected and bequeathed to UT by E.M. Barron, a former Texas legislator and World War II colonel from El Paso who turned his attention to minerals later in life as the founder of Southern Gem Mining Company. From a piece of delicate leaf gold from Nacozari once deemed the finest gold specimen from Mexico ever brought to the U.S. to a 925-carat blue topaz crystal that, in 1969, sat inside the Texas Capitol while the legislature voted to make blue topaz the official state gemstone, each piece in the collection is priceless. Even inside the dimly lit glass cases of the exhibition — sustained direct light can change their chemical nature — the gems glint and dazzle. These images, captured using a probe-lens to create a bug’s-eye view, unearth crystal faces and a depth of character from inside the rocks that is impossible to see with the naked eye, offering an unprecedented look at some of the university’s most shining treasures. — Sofia Sokolove

Apophyllite: Derived from the Greek phrase “it flakes off,” apophyllite has a tendency to peel apart when heated.Pune, India; Metatorbernite: A radioactive phosphate mineral, this specimen came from the Shinkolobwe Mine, which produced uranium ore for the Manhattan Project before officially closing in 2004. Shinkolobwe, Congo; Wulfenite: Arizona’s official state mineral, wulfenite was originally called melinose, from the Greek word for honey, because of its golden yellow hue. Arizona, USA
Dioptase: An uncommon mineral found mostly in desert regions, dioptase has a long history: it was used to highlight the edges of eyes of Neolithic statues dating back to 7,200 B.C. Guchab, Namibia
Wulfenite: A secondary mineral — meaning it results from the weathering of a primary mineral — wulfenite can be found in open cavities of igneous rocks. Chihuahua, Mexico; Epidote: A mineral found in some metamorphic rocks, epidote is rarely cut as a gemstone because it is known to be fairly dense and fragile. Alaska, USA
Azurite: This deep-blue copper mineral is produced by the weathering of copper ore deposits.Arizona, USA
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