The Virtual Microscope for Earth Sciences Project aims to make a step change in the teaching of Earth Sciences by broadening access to rock collections that are currently held in museums, universities and other institutions around the world. The intention is to engage and excite students in schools or higher education, and anyone interested in materials that make up the Earth’s surface. The virtual microscope allows users to examine and explore minerals and microscopic features of rocks, helping them to develop classification and identification skills without the need for high-cost microscopes and thin section preparation facilities.
We've tried hard to ensure that the sample locations and information are correct, so if you spot any errors, or have ideas for teaching resources, please help us to improve the virtual microscope by emailing us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Our biggest collection is called the UKVM and consists of more than 100 rocks from the United Kingdom (with a few from Ireland), digitised as an open educational resource with funding from the JISC as part of their Content programme. Other collections feature rocks collected by Charles Darwin during his voyage on the Beagle, meteorites that arrived from outer space, and moon rocks gathered by NASA astronauts. The collections can be explored in Place (location), in Time (geological age) or in Focus (an advanced text-based search using the metadata associated with each sample).
Every rock sample is accompanied by a virtual thin section so that you can study the mineral optical properties, grain size, shape and proportion, and also analyse the rock micro textures as if using a specialist polarising microscope. The user guide has full details of how to use the microscope.
Virtual hand specimens are available for many of the samples. Each hand specimen is a digital object that can be turned as if it was in your hand. The hand specimen can be examined as if using a hand lens, by zooming in to examine the minerals, grains or fossils in its surface.
The British Geological Survey (BGS) has kindly allowed us to link rocks in the UKVM to their online geology map of Great Britain so you can see the locations where the rocks were collected. The BGS map illustrates the geology of the local area and includes a key to the rock types. The map can be navigated and zoomed, and the transparency of the geological overlay can be varied.
If you would like to know more about the features you see in the virtual microscope, or how geologists identify and classify rocks and minerals, there are lots of resources available.