TU’s rock collection rocks, two items missing

The University of Tulsa’s Geoscience Department has a large collection of rocks and minerals. Some of these are just for regular classroom purposes, but around 2005, a large collection was donated. A rough, conservative estimate would put the value of that collection at around $50,000.

The collection was donated by Ed Siereveld’s family. Mr. Sierveld was a Korean War veteran and electrical engineer, but he also had a strong interest in rocks and minerals. After he passed away, his family contacted Dr. Larry Rice, who was then on TU’s Board of Trustees. Dr. Rice contacted Dr. Steven Bellovich, who was the dean of the College of Engineering of Natural Science. TU accepted the donation, and had Cathy Webster, a graduate student and former lab coordinator, catalogue the collection. When TU received the collection, the rocks and minerals were in different boxes and unorganized. Also, while many of the specimens had handwritten labels from Mr. Siereveld, some of the labels were incorrect.

It’s difficult to estimate the size of the collection in terms of the number of specimens. It came in around twenty boxes, but each box contains a different number of specimens. Keplinger Hall hosts a display of many of the specimens. Based on variety, the display represents about two-thirds of what the collection has to offer. However, based on volume, it’s closer to about a fourth of the space the collection takes up. The display consists mainly of minerals, but there are also a few meteorites and a fossilized shark tooth. All specimens have a label with their name, origin, and chemical formula.

TU’s rock collection contains this brilliant chunk of Rutilated Quartz, shown next to a quarter for scale.

TU’s rock collection contains this brilliant chunk of Rutilated Quartz, shown next to a quarter for scale.

Among the minerals present is a barite rose, which is Oklahoma’s state rock. There is also a large halite specimen. Halite is the mineral form of table salt. One of the more prominent specimens is a large amethyst geode. It’s near the center of the display and one of the largest. It’s probably the heaviest of all the specimens, but some of the minerals that have metal in them would be denser. The geode has an estimated value of $800.

When asked if there were any minerals of particular note, Dr. Cornell, a professor in the department of geosciences, selected a calcite and sphalerite on matrix specimen that comes from Tennessee. He said it’s similar to the specimens from a large area in northeast Oklahoma that have been left after a mining operation. He described that area as a “blight on the land” because associated minerals like pyrite and marcasite react with water in such a way as to make the water acidic.

It’s difficult to identify what type of mineral around a tenth of the collection is. While there are many ways to identify what type of mineral something is, those processes often result in the destruction of part of the mineral. However, the use of an electron microprobe in the lower level of Keplinger Hall avoids the issue. Small parts of the mineral naturally come off and stay at the bottom of their box. Dr. Cornell described these as being the size of a toast crumb. The electron microprobe can use these small toast crumb size pieces to test for a mineral’s chemical composition.

Currently, TU doesn’t have the space to put the entire collection on display. So, a large portion of the collection remains in a room somewhere in Keplinger Hall. This room has very limited access, with only two keys.

Keplinger Hall hosts a large display of rocks and minerals that are part of a collection donated to TU. On Jan. 29, Dr. Cornell, a geology professor, and Cathy Webster, who curated the collection, discovered that one of the locks on the display had been broken. They’ve identified two items as missing, a sample of labradorite and sugilite.

Those items are present in a picture that was taken in September, when the display was last cleaned. So, the theft would have happened between then and the 29. They note that the two items were not the most valuable in the display. The labradorite has an approximate value of $90, and the sugilite is worth about $600. However, Ms. Webster notes that both specimens reflect light in interesting ways. This leads them to believe that the thief stole the items based on their looks and was probably not an expert about minerals.

Campus security is investigating the matter using surveillance footage. It’s possible that it’ll take a few weeks to review all of the footage.

Post Author: westanderson

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