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The MIM Museum opening, Lebanon

Last Updated: 16th Oct 2013

By Peter Lyckberg

The MIM Museum - official opening, 12th October 2013

by Peter Lyckberg

The MIM Museum, newly opened in Beirut, Lebanon

The Museum is situated at the Saint-Josephs University Entrance on Damascus road in central Beirut opposite the Lebanese National Security Headquarters, which hopefully will keep its treasures safe.

Glass sculpture

Visitors are met with a gift shop and to its left a small coffee shop. In between them there is a glass sculpture of three octahedrons twinned according to the Spinel law twin (twinning on octahedral faces) inspired by a beautiful Chumar Bakhoor Mountain pink fluorite specimen in the MIM Collection.

Entering the shop one is met with a beautiful staircase of dark labradorite with its characteristic blue flashes or should one so decide there is also a “mine” elevator down into the underground.

Space for interactive displays

Below the stairway one finds oneself in a large open space, the public part which may be rented for special occasions with seating, large screen displays for images and film. On the left are pillars with a first temptation of specimens for what is about to come inside the museum. Beyond these pillars is a wall made of a brushed golden three dimensional looking Penrose pattern illustrating an aperiodic/irregular quasicrystal structure made up two different tilings.

Museum founder, Salim Edde in front of the Penrose pattern wall

A dark opening is the entrance to the museum itself into what one could describe as the Alladins Cave of the Middle East. All walls, roof and backs, bottoms, roofs of display cases throughout the museum are black and somehow the lighting still manage to show also many black or dark minerals very well which is not an easy task to achieve.
The first wall to the left show 9 wall mounted display cases each with a single mineral specimen representing the 9 mineral classes from native elements to organics.

9 cases of minerals starting with elements to the left, out of view

To the right is wall mounted interactive screens with Mendeleevs Periodic System of the Elements. Here the visitor can choose for instance the element Beryllium (Be) and the elements properties are shown, to the left on can choose minerals in order to see which minerals containing Be in their formula are represented in the museum. If one for instance select the mineral Beryl, the elements making up beryl are highlighted on the screen. One can choose the finest aquamarine cluster on feldspar and manipulate it in three dimensions i.e. take a look of what it looks from behind, from above, from any angle.

Interactive display illustrating Mendeleev's Periodical Table of the Elements.

There is also a function with a temperature bar where one by increasing the temperature will see at what temperature each elements change its state from solid, to liquid to gas. There may have been more options such as showing each elements size in diameter where the periodicity is clear with Cs as the largest one. My own curiosity draw me further into the museum and a loooong breakfast with friends on Sunday morning decimated my plan to return to study the interactive displays contents and functionality more.

The non linear layout of the museum is such that any monotony is avoided.
Before entering the first huge mineral hall there is on the right side is a special exhibit with radioactive Uranium (U) and Thorium (Th) containing minerals as well as information of these elements isotopes and ability to fission and use for almost unlimited energy production in the nuclear industry.

Suddenly one enters the main hall with the HUGE systematic display where each class of minerals are represented by a number of species. All specimens exposed have been very well selected to show the best and variety of some 300 species from over 60 countries.

The systematic mineral collection. Here, native elements

In every section of each display case there are so many lovely world class specimens that one would think someone had brought the best of the best from many of the old classic European museums such as Freiberg, Wien, London, Paris, Stockholm, Prague, Budapest… all to one museum!

The geographically divided section

Jumping the case with precious metals we come to the second case where a circa 18 cm tall specimen of HUGE german bismuth crystals is right next to a 10 cm native lead with beautiful crystals of hoppergrowth also they of centrimetric size.

The collection contain so many fine and rare minerals, that one really need to make at least two complete systematic scans and still one has without doubt missed some goodies! The collection is additionally strong in that many species are exhibited by more than one specimen and sometimes much of an display case.

After my second few hour visit I honestly told my lunch friends that now there will not be much in comparison to see at the Munich show! Meaning that for sure the Gold exhibits will be incredible with Harvard, LA County and numerous museums and private collections displaying, but the dealers best specimens for sale will for sure be less impressive after this.

We all had high expectations and I can say that all our expectations were more then met. Now it must also be said that the small group of people who were invited from the mineral world all know many of the very best of specimens for the reason that they are so rare that to find an unknown killer is almost impossible. With this collection there are many many killer rare specimens and even I believe something even of the top ones which is unknown to most which I will mention later.

Along the right side of the systematic collection is the trophy display case exhibiting a well know huge Legrandite which is eaven much better in reality than any image can ever convey, the best large triple octahedral fluorite on muscovite, a great Spangolite and many many others. Fact is that great many specimens in the systematic cases could just as well have been shown here!

At the end of the systematics a display of some of each country’s best minerals is found. The average level is not quite as superior here but look carefully and you will be surprised! Here is also a huge table interactive display where one can rotate a globe, select a mine and it will zoom in down to the mine entrance/open pit.

A double sided wall is exhibiting a stunning array of color and pattern full Anjabonoina, Madagascar Liddicoatite tourmaline slices lit from behind. One huge externally red tourmaline

Behind this tourmaline wall is the hidden entrance to the innermost chamber of the museum, the Treasure Room with many specimens which would be the first to save in “case of a fire” i.e specimens which are truly unique and beautiful to perfection.

Some scenes from the opening event:

Guests at the opening party

President of Lebanon, Michel Suleiman, viewing the mineral displays

Large quartz crystal with cleavelandite at the base of pegmatitic origine (very likely the loaf shaped Sapo Mine, Minas Gerais, Brazil with its many large crystal lined cavity in its core section) marking the entrance to the MIM Museum.

Here are some specimens from the collection

Proustite from Chile

Bornite from Cornwall, UK

Hematite from South Africa

Kesterite from China

'Andrewsite' from Phoenix United Mines, Cornwall, UK

Apatite from Mexico

Clinoclase from Cornwall, UK

Stibnite from China

Some words from Mr Salim Edde, chemist, scientist, mineral collector, educator, creator of the MIM Mineral Museum in Beirut, Lebanon which was inaugurated on October 12th, 2013 with the presence of many esteemed guests including the President of Lebanon.


My training as a chemical engineer has led me to be curious about what makes up the matter that surrounds us. This matter is invariably composed of 118 basic elements that we call atoms. Then, these 118 atoms combine with each other to form molecules more or less complex. These molecules then organize themselves into incredibly regular piles that we call crystals. Finally, these crystals --large and small, aggregated or simple-- make up most of the natural, inorganic solid material (that is mountains, rocks, stones and metals).

Take for example a tiny grain of table salt with an edge of about one millimeter in length: it is a cube consisting of a perfect alignment of 1,770,000 sodium atoms separated by as many atoms of chlorine in identical fashion in all three directions. That makes a total of 44 quintillion atoms in perfect alignment! With a little imagination, the edge of this cube is the equivalent of 3.5 million soldiers marching in perfect rank and file, each 100 meters distance from the other, in a straight line stretching from the Earth to the moon. Not a single head rises above those of his comrades. And this same pattern repeats itself on the other two edges.

These crystals are usually small (such as for salt or sand, whose grains can only be seen with a magnifying glass), and are assembled into rock (think of the حجر رملي of the cities of the Lebanese coast). The same can be said for metals and all that makes up ordinary solid matter. What we call minerals are these solid forms found in nature and that have a determined chemical composition; the limestone of Lebanon, for example, is a conglomerate of tiny crystals of calcium carbonate called calcite.

In some cases, however, the crystals become quite large with perfect geometrical forms and astonishing colors visible to the naked eye, shedding a dramatic light on the microscopic geometry of the stacks of atoms from which they are made.
I have always been struck by the mystery of how such order could come from the chaos that surrounds us, by the amazing variety of geometric forms that is born of these crystals, by the perfection of the plane surface and the angles between them. I have never had a talent for sculpture or drawing, and so I found myself all the more intrigued by these wonders of creation that have formed without human intervention but, rather, under the sole influence of temperature, pressure and the incredibly complex work of water and especially time. I wanted to share this wonderment for the aesthetics of the mineral world on which life has built itself on this planet. Anyone who has not yet been exposed to this world naturally asks: “Who sculpted these marvelous shapes and polished the incredible flat surfaces; who composed this arrangement of different specimens; where do these colors come from?” They are convinced that such things could only be formed by the hands of an artist; they simply cannot believe that natural forces created them.
But through this exhibit of the aesthetic and geometric properties of crystals, I also wanted to take visitors on a journey through the different scientific, economic, historical and geographical landscapes that are so intertwined with these minerals :

• The crystals exhibited are often the most beautiful ore specimens of the utmost industrial importance because they provide us with iron, copper and all the other metals used in modern economies.

• Some are also gem stones, whether precious or fine, that usually end up as jewelry.

• Some others are the source of extremely rare elements having important physical and chemical properties. Still others are made from crystalline edifices whose properties, once understood by scientists, indicated how they could be synthesized to revolutionize electronics and the science of modern materials.

• Further, these minerals are closely intertwined with the development of ancient civilizations, as attested to by the trade routes between Phoenicia and the British Isles for tin, an essential element in the fabrication of bronze (ancient bronze was an alloy of tin and copper, or more rarely an arsenic and copper alloy.) Copper and tin ore are rarely found in the same place, and so the bronze civilization developed thanks to international commerce. We find evidence of this commerce between Burma and Mesopotamia (for rubies, 21 centuries ago) and again between Afghanistan and Egypt –a distance of more than 4,000 kilometers—for lapis-lazuli (55 centuries ago)! And other examples abound.

• In our time, numerous adventurers have risked their lives in their quest for small stones (the Garimpeiros of Brazil, emeralds (the Guaqueros of Colombia), gold (the gold rushes of California and Amazonia) and diamonds in South Africa. Many started out in order to escape misery and poverty, while others succumbed to a stone fever as dangerous as gold fever.

If the tiny crystals invisible to the naked eye can be found in great abundance (as they make up the most of the solid matter that surrounds us), crystals large enough to be exhibited in a collection are very rare. As they are often extracted in mines, with the use of explosives, only to be transformed into metals, chemical products or gemstones, most crystals do not survive this destruction. Unlike the biosphere, where species in danger of extinction can be brought back thanks to environmental protection, our mineral heritage is destroyed forever and cannot be reconstructed. Still another goal of this collection is to conserve mineral samples in the same way that works of art are conserved in museums.
Thus, this collection was born in 1997 when I began to buy minerals, both from contemporary mines and from old collections, in different countries. I was greatly helped by several traders, as well as by the enlightened advice of Jean-Claude Bouillard, curator of the mineral collection of the Sorbonne (Université Pierre et Marie Curie) in Paris, one of the most prestigious. These purchases sometimes resulted in veritable “battles” between collectors eager to swipe up the most beautiful specimens. And sometimes luck smiled upon me in the form of inside information on new discoveries or specimens with which prestigious collections were willing to part.
Traditionally, the collector has two main options: either he specializes in a few well-known minerals with a strong visual impact (such as calcite, quartz, fluorite, rhodochrosite, tourmaline, beryl), or else he tries to collect all the mineralogical species (called a “systematic” collection). My choice was for the latter because, in my view, it allows for a much truer representation of the incredible richness of the mineral world. To be more precise, of some 4,500 mineral species established ,only 250 to 300 on Earth yield specimens that merit being exhibited (the others present microscopic crystals or rocky samples devoid of any visual interest). These are the specimens that I have collected. But as easy as it is to find quality specimens for classic species (tourmaline, calcite, quartz, etc.), it is all the more difficult to find such quality for the much rarer and less known species such as spangolite, geocronite, parahopeite, etc. And that, for me, was the challenge: how to harvest as many beautiful samples of this latter group as possible, so that they might appear in the exhibit alongside the so-named “beautiful” specimens? It was patience and tenacity that, as early as 1997, led me to hunt for certain pieces from prestigious collections (Sams, Romero, Wilber, Asselborn, Freilich, Smale, Weill, Horner), sometimes as far as the best-known museums (the museums of Houston and Tucson, the British Museum), and finally to buy them and add them as trophies to the MIM collection.

While I inherited my passion for collecting from my father --who collected oriental rugs, old coins, etc.-- it is probably from my grandmother that I got the idea for the museum. As the collection grew, I couldn’t stop thinking of what she often said of people accumulating material things:

“يا تيتا ما بعمرو حداً أخد شي معو ", that is to say: “My grandson, no one has ever taken anything with him (into the afterlife).” Guided by her words, and in particular by a desire to share my passion with the greatest number of people, in 2003 I began to consider creating a museum of mineralogy :

  • - that would be non-profit
  • - that would reach the greatest number of people
  • - that would highlight the following aspects:
    • • aesthetic and artistic
    • • scientific and mathematical
    • • historical
    • • industrial and economic
    • • academic
  • - adapted to the Arab world (and therefore trilingual: Arabic-French-English)
  • - with the goal of promoting the science, culture, language and image of Lebanon.

It was with this in mind that I thought that a university would be the ideal place to exhibit this collection in a permanent way. And I decided to follow the example of the collection of the Sorbonne (currently at the University Pierre et Marie Curie, Jussieu campus in Paris), which has always been my model and my main source of inspiration. When in 2004 I spoke of this ambitious project with Father René Chamussy, rector of the University Saint-Joseph in Beirut, he immediately came on board and reserved for the collection a 1300 m² space in the basement of a building then under construction on the Campus for Innovation, the Economy and Sports near the National Museum of Beirut.
I then asked myself what name I should give the museum. Rather than a French or English name, I was looking for an Arabic name since the museum is in Lebanon. I also wanted an original name, and I wanted to void the usual names like the Museum of Mineralogy of Beirut. I contacted a publicity agency in Beirut and they proposed MIM, the 24th letter of the Arabic alphabet. The Arabic MIM is also the equivalent of the letter M of the Latin alphabet, and in Arabic it is the first letter of the words for “museum”, “minerals” and “mines” (and it also works in English and in French). In addition, MIM is easy to pronounce in all languages. I immediately adopted the idea.

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