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An introduction to minerals and rocks under the microscope
Experience the study of minerals using a polarising microscope. While the study of...
Experience the study of minerals using a polarising microscope. While the study of minerals can involve electron or ion beam chemical analysis, the polarising microscope remains the prime tool for the study of rock thin sections and is the foundation of learning to recognise, characterise and identify rocks.
After studying this unit, you should be able to:
- understand the facts, concepts, principles, theories, classification systems and language associated with minerals and rocks
- use the essential terms, concepts and strategies of mineralogy
- apply knowledge and understanding of the study of rock thin sections using a polarising microscope
- work with and recognise a variety of minerals and microtextures in igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks
- make systematic descriptions and identifications of minerals in rocks, observing them using images of thin sections viewed under a polarising microscope, and deduce how and in what environments the minerals and rocks were formed.
- Current section: Introduction
- Learning outcomes
- 1 Minerals and the crystalline state
- 1.1 Introduction
- 1.2 States of matter
- 1.3 Physical properties of minerals in hand specimen
- 1.4 The atomic structure of crystals
- 1.5 Crystal defects and twinning
- 1.6 Crystal symmetry and shape
- 1.7 Summary of Section 1
- 1.8 Learning outcomes for Section 1
- 2 Minerals and the microscope
- 2.1 The nature of light
- 2.2 Minerals and polarised light
- 2.3 Minerals and the polarising microscope
- 2.4 Summary of Section 2
- 2.5 Learning outcomes for Section 2
- 3 Rock-forming minerals
- 3.1 Introduction
- 3.2 Silicate mineral structures
- 3.3 Minerals with isolated SiO4 tetrahedra
- 3.4 Chain silicates
- 3.5 Sheet silicate minerals
- 3.6 Framework silicates
- 3.7 Non-silicate minerals
- 3.8 Summary of Section 3
- 3.9 Learning outcomes for Section 3
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An introduction to minerals and rocks under the microscope
The study of the structure and characteristics of minerals is fundamental to the identification of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks, and the interpretation of the environment in which they formed. This free course introduces the polarising microscope, the main tool used to study minerals in rock thin sections, which remains the foundation of learning to recognise, characterise and identify rocks.
The different atomic structures of minerals and their characteristics are explained, and the unit develops the skills to identify minerals using features such as mineral shape, colour, grain size, opacity, refractive index and cleavage. The unique features of the polarising microscope are also covered, including extinction, birefringence and pleochroism.
Recognising minerals and understanding their structure is the basis for recognising rocks and interpreting microtextures to learn how they were formed. Evidence gathered by careful study of minerals in thin sections is a key part of the interpretation of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks.
This free course is an adapted extract relevant to The Open University course S276 Geology, which is no longer taught by the University. If you want to study formally with us, you may wish to explore other courses we offer in this.
This is an extract from an Open University course which is no longer available to new students. If you found this interesting you could explore more free Science courses or view the range of currently available OU Science courses.
Copyright & revisions
Originally published: Tuesday, 9th December 2014
Last updated on: Tuesday, 9th December 2014
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