Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

Badge 16 The World in Miniature


16. The World in Miniature

When we collect, we usually seek the biggest rock on the ground. But you may be surprised at what you‘ll find within the world in miniature! Step through the magnifying glass and learn to collect, clean, and store the smaller wonders of the mineral and fossil world and discover great specimens most people walk right over. Many people focus on cabinet specimens (ones that are fist-sized). Here, you‘ll learn about miniatures (a specimen small enough to fit in the space of a 2-inch cube), thumbnails (fits within the space of a 1-inch cube) and micromounts (specimens so small as to require magnification with a hand lens or microscope to identify and evaluate). You‘ll find one thing for certain: these small specimens sure are easy to store!

Activity 16.1: Collecting, Preparing, and Storing Miniature Minerals

Except for their size, miniatures aren‘t a lot different from larger specimens you may have collected, but you may need to use special techniques to trim and store a small mineral. Learn those techniques and make a collection of at least 10 miniature minerals.

Activity 16.2: Collecting, Preparing, and Storing Thumbnail Minerals

You might extract thumbnail minerals from a cavity in a rock, sift them from soil, or carefully split one away from a larger mass of crystals. Learn special techniques to collect, mount, and store thumbnail minerals, and make a collection of at least 10.

Activity 16.3: Collecting, Preparing, and Storing Microminerals

Microminerals are a special class requiring extra special care and materials. Because they are so very tiny, they‘re easily lost or destroyed. Learn what special efforts to take to collect, mount, and store them, and make a collection of at least 10 microminerals.

Activity 16.4: Collecting, Preparing, and Storing Miniature Fossils

Sometimes you‘ll find small fossils in mint condition sitting right on the surface. More often, you‘ll need special techniques to collect, trim, and store a small fossil without damaging it. Learn those techniques and collect at least 10 different miniature fossils.

Activity 16.5: Collecting, Preparing, and Storing Thumbnail Fossils

Learn how to use small chisels, saws, and nippers to trim matrix from around thumbnail fossils. Also learn how to safely store your small treasures so they aren‘t lost or destroyed. Then make a collection of at least 10 different thumbnail fossils.

Activity 16.6: Collecting, Preparing, and Storing Microfossils

You can find microscopic fossils loose in the dirt at a fossil site. Learn about graduated screens for sifting sediment to retrieve tiny fossils. Also learn how to store your tiny treasures so they aren‘t lost or destroyed, then collect of at least 10 different microfossils.

Activity 16.7: Collecting and Classifying Sand

A heap of sand is basically a collection of microminerals and microfossils. Form a sand collection and explore the world of sand grains with sand samples from at least five very different locations. Explain why your samples may look different from each other.

Let‘s start with some definitions…

A cabinet specimen fits within the confines of a 5-inch cube. These are the sorts of specimens we often see on display at gem and mineral shows. They‘re generally no bigger than fist-sized and would fit comfortably within the palm of your hand. But that‘s not what this unit is about…

A miniature is a specimen that fits within the confines of a two-inch cube.

A thumbnail is a specimen that fits within the confines of a one-inch cube.

A micromount is a specimen so small that it requires a hand loupe (generally 10X or 20X) or a microscope to identify and appreciate it. It‘s also usually permanently glued and mounted in a small box or slide.

It‘s probably best to start kids exploring smaller specimens with 'minatures'. The smaller you get on the scale presented above, the more complicated and expensive it can become to build and maintain a collection, and micromounts are pursued primarily by 'connoisseurs' of the mineral and fossil world. These tiny specimens often represent the pinnacle of perfection. Many of those stunningly perfect crystals you see featured in colorful magazine photo spreads are actually micromounts; take a close look at the captions, and you‘ll often see measurements expressed in terms of millimeters.

Still, it doesn‘t necessarily have to be complicated nor expensive to make a start with even a micromount collection. In this unit, we won‘t try to be comprehensive but instead will focus on simple, inexpensive basics while providing recommended resources for anyone wishing to go into more depth, particularly with microminerals and microfossils.

Smaller specimens provide a great way to get kids started in collecting. For one thing, such specimens are often a lot kinder to a child‘s budget if purchasing specimens at a gem show. While perfect crystals of precious gemstones such as rubies, sapphires, diamonds, or emeralds are going to cost a bundle no matter what the size, many common specimens of such minerals as quartz, calcite, or pyrite, or of fossils like brachiopods, horn corals, or ammonites usually cost a whole lot less the smaller they are.

Kids are also more likely to find 'mint' condition fossils or crystals of smaller sizes when collecting in the field. They just need to be trained to look for and appreciate these smaller specimens. When I was a child, I was on the lookout for the twelve-foot long petrified log or the T. rex skull—perhaps somewhat unrealistically, given that I grew up in Illinois…I haven‘t done a formal count, but I‘d safely wager that the vast majority of my own self-collected fossils fall within the categories of miniatures and thumbnails.

A miniature or thumbnail collection certainly takes a lot less space to store. While those fist-sized cabinet specimens could fill up shoebox after shoebox in a child‘s closet or under the bed, over 100 thumbnail mineral specimens can easily fit in a space just one foot by two feet and literally thousands of microfossils mounted on slides can be tucked compactly into a space no bigger than a breadbox. Finally, as a fringe benefit, working with small specimens refines hand-eye coordination and helps a child in developing concentration, patience, and focus.