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Department of Mineral Sciences

Izalco Volcano

The mission of the Department of Mineral Sciences is to study the origin and evolution of the Earth and Solar System, Earth processes and their products, and the effects of geologic and meteoritic phenomena on Earth's atmosphere and biosphere. We disseminate the results of our research both to the scientific community through scholarly publications and to the public through exhibits, electronic media, and public lectures. We have in our care premier research collections of minerals, meteorites, rocks, ores, and volcano data/images. We strive to maximize their availability to the scientific community, and we use specimens from these collections to best effect in our own research and exhibits. The Department of Mineral Sciences also offers postdoctoral and predoctoral fellowship opporunities.

Division of Petrology and Volcanology


Rocks create the world around us – from buildings, to roads, to toothpaste and CoffeeMade™. For scientists, however, rocks tell the story of our planet’s past, present, and future. In the Division of Volcanology and Petrology, researchers study the entire solid planet, from the core to the crust, and try to understand the processes that have shaped our world. Central assets in the Department of Mineral Sciences include the National Rock and Ore Collections, the Global Volcanism Program, and world-class analytical and experimental facilities.

Research at the Smithsonian: Petrology & Volcanology

Division of Meteorites

Lafayette Meteorite

Meteorites provide both our best clues to the early formation of the Solar System and ground truth for comparison to results of missions to Mars, asteroids and comets. In the Division of Meteorites, researchers exploit the full potential of meteorites to understand processes ranging from condensation in the solar nebula through differentiation of asteroids to volcanological processes operating on Mars. At the center of all of this research are meteorites in the U.S. National Meteorite Collection and those collected by the U.S. Antarctic Meteorite Program.

Research at the Smithsonian: Meteorites

Division of Mineralogy

Rhodochrosite Minerals are the basic geological building blocks of the solid Earth and Solar System – studying the nature and behavior of minerals is essential for understanding the physical, chemical, and biological processes that shape our planet. In the Division of Mineralogy, researchers are examining the compositions and structures of minerals to understand a variety of processes, including how minerals control the distribution of chemicals and nutrients in the environment, the evolution of the Earth’s crust and mantle, and the causes of defects and impurities in the coloring of gems and minerals. Mineralogical research in our department is aided by the world-class National Gem and Mineral Collection, the National Rock and Ores Collection and state-of-the-art analytical facilities.

Research at the Smithsonian: Mineralogy

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