The Standards Collection

The Standards Collection of the Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University. An expansive group of 650+ specimens used for geological research.

Cinnabar from Almadén, SpainMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Standards are mineral samples that are studied to establish an accepted chemical baseline for individual species of minerals. These chemical analyses are used for research purposes and allow for comparisons between the compositions of specimens. 

Hornblende from Sunnmøre, NorwayMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The Mineralogical and Geological Museum at Harvard University owns a collection of over 650 standards. This collection encompasses more than 250 different types of minerals, with specimens from localities across the globe. Common localities for these specimens include Sunnmøre in Norway, Kakanui in New Zealand, and Franklin in New Jersey, U.S.A.

The standards greatly vary in size from multiple centimeters to less than a millimeterMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University


The standards in the collection have unique characteristics. The minerals range from common specimens, such as diopside, to rare minerals, like hurlbutite. The sizes of the specimens span from smaller than a millimeter up to many square centimeters. Additionally, the majority of the collection is categorized into 23 groups: alkali feldspars, amphiboles, biotites, carbonates, chlorites, chloritoids, clinopyroxenes, cordierites, Fe-Ni alloys, garnets, glasses, muscovites, native elements, olivines, orthopyroxenes, oxides, phosphates, plagioclases, pyroxeneoids, silicates, staurolites, sulfides and sulphates.

Synthetic calaveriteMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

During the 1980s and 1990s, David Lange, an electron microprobe specialist, operated Harvard University’s Cameca MBX Microprobe. He used the microprobe to determine the chemical compositions of the standards and recorded this information in a collection of documents.

1969 USGS Professional PapersMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The standards were created from specimens in the Museum's own collection, as well as from objects owned by other institutions, such as the Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History.

Letter from David Lange to Dr. David R.M. PattisonMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

David Lange recalls exchanging standards with other organizations and scientists, in order to grow Harvard’s database. These communications between Lange and his fellow researchers are documented in the Museum’s collection, such as this letter between David Lange and Dr. Pattison from the University of Calgary.

X-ray-emission microanalysis of rock-forming minerals IV. plagioclase feldspars by J.V. SmithMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Many of the standards in the collection are referenced in published papers or journal articles. These research publications include The American Journal of Science, The American Mineralogist, The Journal of Geology and The Transactions of the Royal Society of Edinburgh. Prominent researchers who have referenced standards from Harvard’s collection are Joseph V. Smith, Jun Ito, Hatten S. Yoder and Brian J. Skinner.

Actinolite referenced by C. KleinMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Similarly, the standards have been utilized in PhD theses of Harvard graduate students. These PhD theses include Cornelis Klein’s 1965 study titled “Mineralogy and petrology of the Wabush iron formation, Labrador City area, Newfoundland” and Harrison H. Schmitt’s thesis entitled “Petrology and structure of the Eiksundsdal Eclogite Complex, Hareidland, Sunmøre, Norway”.

Diopside referenced by G. SwitzerMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

A PhD thesis referencing one of the Museum's diopside standards is George Switzer’s 1942 research titled “Glaucophane schists of the central California coast ranges”.

An individual sample container (left) and standard pellet (right)Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

The Museum’s standards collection also includes a set of approximately 70 pellets, each with the capacity to hold five sample containers.

Map for olivine standard pellet #1Mineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

A set of handmade, detailed drawings and maps identify the specimens housed within the sample containers.

New containers and labelsMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Many of the standards have recently been transferred into new glass vials, if deemed necessary based on the condition of their original containers. These new vials will preserve the minerals for future research and allow for organized storage.

Trays and containersMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

Presently, approximately 25 specimens from the Museum’s collection are used to create new standard material for research purposes. These standards are distributed by IAGEO Limited and can be purchased on their website,

Zircon 91500 StandardMineralogical and Geological Museum, Harvard University

One specimen in the Museum’s standards collection which is especially notable is the Zircon 91500 standard. This mineral is the individual zircon standard used for secondary ion mass spectrometry, as well as laser ablation inductively coupled plasma mass spectrometry (International Association of Geoanalysts [IAG], n.d.). Hafnium, U-Th-Pb and oxygen isotopes have been identified for this sample (IAG, n.d.). This zircon standard was initially referenced in the paper titled “Three natural zircon standards for U-Th-Pb, Lu-Hf, trace element and REE analysis” by Wiedenbeck et al. in 1995 (IAG, n.d.). Recently, the Museum’s zircon specimen became the source of this standard, replacing that of the Centre de Recherches Pétrographiques et Géochimiques (IAG, n.d.). Purchasing restrictions are in place to extend the zircon’s use and conserve the standard for future applications (IAG, n.d.).

Credits: Story

Exhibit made by Nicole Kutenplon, MGMH Intern from NorthEastern University, 2021.

Thanks to David Lange for answering questions regarding his work with the collection and the MGMH for images and support.

References -
Microanalytical Reference Materials Zircon 91500. International Association of Geoanalysts. (n.d.).

Credits: All media
The story featured may in some cases have been created by an independent third party and may not always represent the views of the institutions, listed below, who have supplied the content.
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