An introduction to minerals and rocks under the microscope
An introduction to minerals and rocks under the microscope

This free course is available to start right now. Review the full course description and key learning outcomes and create an account and enrol if you want a free statement of participation.

Free course

An introduction to minerals and rocks under the microscope

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 course 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.

If you'd like an interactive overview of the geological makeup of the landscape of the British Isles, take a look at our Geology Toolkit [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] .

This OpenLearn course provides a sample of level 2 study in Science.


Take your learning further

Making the decision to study can be a big step, which is why you'll want a trusted University. The Open University has 50 years’ experience delivering flexible learning and 170,000 students are studying with us right now. Take a look at all Open University courses.

If you are new to university level study, find out more about the types of qualifications we offer, including our entry level Access courses and Certificates.

Not ready for University study then browse over 900 free courses on OpenLearn and sign up to our newsletter to hear about new free courses as they are released.

Every year, thousands of students decide to study with The Open University. With over 120 qualifications, we’ve got the right course for you.

Request an Open University prospectus