The use of microscopes to study optical properties in order to identify crystals, the science known as petrology, was first developed in Sheffield by Henry Sorby in the late 19th century. Today petrology remains one of the key skills in geology, and most students learn to use polarising microscopes to study the optical properties of polished rock slices just 30 microns (0.03 mm) thick.
While the striking colours and intricate textures revealed by polarising microscopes are inherently beautiful, there is a great deal of geological information contained in those colours and textures. Learning to recognise, identify, and classify minerals and rocks under the microscope is a skill that takes a great deal of practice. Moreover, as with much of science-based learning, the practical skills of petrology are not primarily related to learning facts, but are actually concerned with learning how to discriminate and classify within the paradigms of the discipline. The problems of teaching with complex visual materials, in effect of teaching students 'how to see' from the scientific perspective, is thus a skill that can be taught using a virtual microscope.
In this section you will find resources for both educators and students to help develop these skills while using our Virtual Microscope for Earth Sciences. These resources will expand over the months and years as we add more learning materials.