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New Installation of Fluorescent Minerals Collection Opens at the University of Richmond Museums
These fluorescent specimens display the variety of colors under shortwave ultraviolet light. Calcite will fluoresce red, willemite fluoresces green, while franklinite does not fluoresce. © Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, University of Richmond Museums. Photograph by Katherine Wetzel.
RICHMOND, VA.- The Lora Robins Gallery of Design from Nature, one of the University of Richmond Museums, will open the reinstallation of the permanent exhibition Fluorescent Minerals: From the Permanent Collection on January 12, 2011. This new display contains more than 300 specimens and more than 40 different mineral species from North America and beyond, and it explores the science behind these minerals' ability to fluoresce. Highlights of the installation include numerous bright reddish-orange and green rocks of calcite and willemite from New Jersey, yellow-green hyalite opal slabs from North Carolina, and deep red rubies from India.

A majority of these specimens originate from the famous Franklin-Sterling Hill mining district in Sussex County, New Jersey. These mines boast a world-record variety of minerals with more than 340 named species, and more than 80 fluorescent mineral types found in the area. Examples of minerals from this quarry that are featured in the collection are willemite, wollastonite, calcite, and hardystonite.

What makes a rock fluoresce? When atoms within a mineral are exposed to ultraviolet light, they are filled with energy and become unstable. The atoms then eject this newly acquired energy and return to a more stable state. However, instead of ejecting this energy as ultraviolet light, the atoms eject it as light, or color. This light is responsible for the "glowing" colors emitted by the fluorescent minerals.

Within the new installation, a push of a button turns on 28 new ultraviolet shortwave and longwave lamps that agitate the minerals' internal atomic structure, causing the rocks to fluoresce brightly. Since the minerals glow differently under the two different wavelengths of ultraviolet light, the lamps run on a timed sequence that exposes the specimens first to longwave ultraviolet light, then shortwave ultraviolet light, and finally both long and shortwave light together to produce a unique and dazzling color show.

The fluorescent minerals were donated to the museum in 1977 by Mrs. Lora McGlasson Robins, and additional minerals were donated in 1982 by the Dulany Hunter Foundation and S. A. Dulany Hunter. Organized by the University of Richmond Museums, this installation was curated by Matthew Houle, Curator of Museum Collections, University Museums, based on a previous installation co-curated by N. Elizabeth Schlatter, Deputy Director and Curator of Exhibitions, University Museums, and Michael Reimer,'06, biochemistry and studio art double-major, and 2004 University Museums' Summer Research Fellow. Special thanks to David Hershey, Assistant Collections Manager, University Museums, and Carl Miller, President, Richmond Gem and Mineral Society.





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