Usually mineral collections held by museums are not exactly crowd pullers. That can be seen on weekends, when the main halls of London’s Natural History Museum are crammed while their mineral collections are practically deserted. The lucky ones among us studying geology not only enjoy the freedom of roaming around those collections all by themselves, they are also reported to be the happiest among all universities students [1] as well as enjoying the highest salaries among all graduates [2].

In case that your interest has been sparked and you now want to feel like a geologist at least for one day, the University College London has just the right offer for you: That is, a visit to their geology collection [3]. Arranging a visit had proven to be tricky: roughly six months had passed between the first inquiry to the geology department and the actual visit to the collection, with many referrals and follow-up emails in between. Clearly this procedure is the department waiting for prospective visitors to display perseverance and rigidity—two properties of successful geologists and auger drills alike.

Ideally a visitor also explains clearly what samples she/he wishes to see. Once we had proven ourselves to be worthy, we were met warmly and with the greatest hospitality by the head of collections. Before our visit we asked to take a look at minerals with optical properties, namely Calcite and Ulexite. While Ulexite was not available, a great range of Calcite samples was available. A photo of Calcite and its double refraction property can be seen here:


The photo is now in the public domain. It is featured on the Wikipedia page of the mineral Calcite [4]. The double refraction property gives rise to a handful of mathematical problems requiring trigonometric calculations for their solution. To take a photo that can be freely used in mathematical teaching materials was one of the main purposes of our visit.

After the scientific part of our visit, we indulged in going through the drawers and looking and other, shinier minerals. Be invited to take a look at the drawers together with us through the following pictures.

礦物通常不是最多人參觀的博物館藏品。周末時我們經常可看到位於倫敦的自然歷史博物館的數個主要大廳內都是人頭湧湧,但參觀礦物藏品的人卻屈指可數。學地質學的幸運兒不僅可以慢慢盡情細看那些藏品,據報導,他們也是所有大學生中最快樂的 [1],並可領到眾畢業生中最高的薪水呢 [2]。

如果您興致甚濃,又想試當至少一天地質學家,倫敦大學學院可幫您:您可參觀他們的礦物藏品 [3]。參觀安排頗棘手,從第一次查詢地質學系到實際參觀需時約六個月,其間轉介和跟進的電郵不斷傳來傳去。顯然,這一程序是地質學系在試探我們有沒有毅力和經不經得考驗(廣東話叫「硬淨」)—這可是對地質學家和地鑽來說要成功的兩個先要條件!


該照片現已被張貼在方解石的維基百科一頁上並可供公眾下載使用 [4]。雙折射特性引申出一些數學問題,需要用三角函數計算答案。我們參觀的其中一目的就是拍得一張可以合法自由使用在數學教材中的照片。



[1] Shepherd, J., 2008. “It’s official: geology rocks”. Retrieved from

[2] Harding, E., 2016. “Want that top-paying job? Take a degree in geology: Course is the most lucrative thanks to high salaries in jobs in the oil and nuclear industries”. Retrieved from

[3] UCL Culture. “The geology collection”. Retrieved from

[4] Wikipedia. “Calcite”. Retrieved from

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