Feature Stories

Rock Solid

A professor’s mineral kingdom comes to campus
  • Michael L. Williams, Chris Koteas, and Claire Pless with the Rausch minerals

These are eye-catching specimens. You can’t walk by and not have a look.”
—Michael L. Williams

Sparkling amethysts, softball-sized geodes, gleaming cubes of pyrite: these and hundreds more minerals from the outstanding collection of chemistry professor Marvin Rausch now have a home in Morrill Science Center.

Rock-filled cabinets previously stretched over the walls and even some windows of Rausch’s Amherst home. He gave some specimens to the Geosciences Department before he passed away in May 2008. After his death, a longstanding family friend and fellow mineral collector made it possible for about 200 more specimens to be donated to UMass Amherst.

Although Rausch was a leading researcher in organometallic chemistry, his love for minerals wasn’t sparked by their chemical properties. He classified his collection geographically and labeled specimens by name, not chemical formula. While the Rausch Mineral Collection is one of the finest in the country—broad in scope and including rare specimens—Rausch believed in “going big” and so his acquisitions are notable for their size (it takes two hands to heft most) and striking colors.

Geosciences professor and former department head Michael L. Williams says, “We’re just beginning to figure out how to use these great gifts.” Part of the collection will be accessible in Rausch’s own lighted cabinets in a teaching lab; Williams plans to showcase others in Morrill’s halls. “Thousands of students walk through Morrill every day. We want to bring the collection to the students and the wider public and have students involved in creating posters and changing displays. These are eye-catching specimens. You can’t walk by and not have a look.”

Marvin Rausch began teaching at UMass Amherst in 1963 and became a full professor in 1968. His wife, Jane Rausch, a professor of Latin American history, joined the faculty in 1969 and retired in May 2010. “I’m a humanist, more interested in people than in rocks,” she says, “but just sitting in his office and looking at the minerals gave Marv pleasure. He would love knowing they will be seen.”

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