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Beginner's Guide to Minerals and Rocks

© Canadian Museum of Nature


Now on store shelves is a new book by Canadian Museum of Nature mineralogist Dr. Joel Grice. The 300-page Beginner's Guide to Minerals and Rocks (published by Fitzhenry & Whiteside) is loaded with colour photos, information on appearance, physical properties, occurrence (localities), Canada's geological regions and interesting facts.

The guide also includes tips on field equipment, where to collect (watch out for dangers of falling rock!), home equipment (such as acid, hand lens, hardness testing tools), and how to catalogue, classify and store the collection.

The author's premise was to create a guide where the users could identify rocks and minerals by visual recognition. "So I put general pictures and not necessarily the most pretty specimen because that's not the way you're likely going to find it," he explains. In fact, the close-up photos of the specimens are stunning. They were taken by Ole Johnson, from the Geological Museum in Copenhagen—"one of the best photographers of minerals in the world", says Grice of his colleague. And 80% of the minerals in the book are in the Canadian Museum of Nature's collection.

Grice's interest in minerals began at age six. Born and raised in Mississauga (outside of Toronto, Ontario, he enjoyed highly inspirational visits to the Royal Ontario Museum. "As a kid, I always wanted to work in a museum with minerals," he reveals. His father hoped Grice and his siblings would become musicians. Respiratory problems took him away from the Toronto area to the mountain town of Banff, Alberta, where he spent several summers. There, he discovered a local mineral shop that further fuelled his interest in these geological wonders. For him, the "feeling of discovery" that harkens back to his childhood keeps him going.

"As a kid, it's like a treasure hunt. To find something is a thrill. We never grow out of that." He hopes that this guide, written for a broad audience—adults and keen mineral-collecting youth alike, will help further that feeling.

Now in his early 60s, Grice has had numerous accomplishments in his mineralogy career. Since joining the Canadian Museum of Nature in 1976 he has discovered more than 100 minerals. He even has one named after him—griceite—which is white to pale yellow. His fieldwork has taken him to several parts of Canada as well as to Greenland and northwestern Australia.

As a crystallographer, he solves the mystery of the atomic structure in minerals. It is said that his development of crystal structure analysis as a chemical analytical method has changed the science of mineralogy. The International Mineralogical Association's Commission on New Minerals and Mineral Names now often insists on this data being presented before accepting a new species. His research interests are varied: from studies of new mineral species and their systematics to the crystal chemistry of rare earth element minerals and the structural hierarchy of natural and synthetic carbonates. He loves working in the museum environment where it allows him to pursue his wide-ranging curiosity.

The release of the Beginner's Guide to Minerals and Rocks—Grice's second book—is a testament to the vast knowledge and experience that he has acquired over his long, distinguished career. (His first book was Famous Mineral Localities of Canada, 1989).

"As a senior scientist, the important thing to do when you have all that knowledge is to explain why things are the way they are," says Grice. This comprehensive guide does just that, and will make many folks who flip through its glossy pages want to grab a rock hammer, chisel and notebook and head into the field to search for their own treasures.

What Is a Mineral?

Mineralogists would define a mineral as one or more chemical elements, with a crystal structure and formed through a geological process. A rock is usually an aggregate of two or more minerals that are cemented or fused together.