VM for Earth sciences

Examine 3D specimens and microscope images of rocks, meteorites & moon rocks.

Background and nature of the task

The use of microscopes to study optical properties in order to identify crystals is the science known as petrology. Petrology remains one of the key skills in geology, and most students learn to use polarising microscopes to study the optical properties of polished rock slices just 30 microns (0.03 mm) thick.

While the striking colours and intricate textures revealed by polarising microscopes are inherently beautiful, there is a great deal of geological information contained in those colours and textures. Learning to recognise, identify, and classify minerals and rocks under the microscope is a skill that takes a great deal of practice. Moreover, as with much of science-based learning, the practical skills of petrology are not primarily related to learning facts, but are actually concerned with learning how to discriminate and classify within the paradigms of the discipline. The problems of teaching with complex visual materials, in effect of teaching students 'how to see' from the scientific perspective, is thus a skill that can be taught using a virtual microscope.

Duration and pattern of use
4 h study of OpenLearn learning materials.
Unstructured access to rocks from the UK, moon rocks and meteorites.

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