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Rochester Symposium 2009

Last Updated: 29th Apr 2009

By Jolyon Ralph

The Rochester Mineralogical Symposium 2009

Last Thursday (23rd April) I was fortunate enough to find myself again back in the US, this time as an invited speaker at the 36th Annual Rochester Symposium.

Here's organizer Steve Chamberlain opening the event on Thursday evening...

Opening the Symposium

The symposium is composed of four important aspects.

1. The presentations, some longer and less formal (such as mine), other short formal presentations as part of an afternoon of technical mineralogy presentations.

2. A series of mineral displays in the room next door.

3. Mineral dealers operating from hotel rooms in the fourth floor.

4. The fourth floor hospitality suite and the legendary late-night mischief associated with this.

My talk was first thing on Friday morning, and despite the intercontinental travel and a serious lack of preparation, the talk seemed to go pretty well and received a very good reaction from everyone who spoke to me afterwards. I don't have any photos of me giving my presentation, sadly, perhaps someone else took one and can upload it?

One thing I talked about in my presentation was my very first mineral specimen, collected when I was six that got me interested in the hobby. Here's a photo of me after the presentation showing this to Jim and Gail Spann.

Showing my first specimen to Gail and Jim

After my presentation, Dr André Lalonde from the University of Ottawa gave a really fascinating talk about sheet silicates. Yes, I'll say that again, a fascinating talk about sheet silicates. By comparing the various building blocks that are common across the different sheet silicates to Lego blocks, he made it easy to understand how these minerals can have similar properties in some ways, but very different in others (the differences between the flexible and brittle micas for example).

Dr André Lalonde

The technical presentations included our very own Philippe Belley giving a presentation on two localities exposed during highway construction north of Ottawa, Canada. You can read his article used as the basis of the presentation here. His presentation won the Mandarino Prize, a cash price bestowed on the student presenting the best technical paper at the symposium - and by doing so became the first high-school student ever to win this. This was announced during the auction dinner on Saturday evening to very strong applause. Well done Phil!

Other presentations included two from Jeff Scovil, one on his mineral travels over 18 years and the other a 'what's new' report. Another presentation was from John Betts, who gave an exhaustive report on the mineralogy of New York City and the history of mineralogy and collecting in the region. It's impressive to note how many different species have been found there, and how many excellent gem minerals too. It's a shame the only thing found here in London is clay. And finally, Gail Spann, known to everyone who uses the mindat messageboard, gave a super talk on Saturday about Women and collecting - aimed equally at getting women to feel more comfortable about proudly joining in with what is often seen a male-dominated hobby and also to change some of the preconceptions that some men have about women within the hobby. Excellently illustrated with photos of women collectors hard at work, I think Gail achieved her goals admirably.

Onto the presentations...

Here's a few of the cabinets on display at Rochester this year.

Minerals of New York City

Minerals of the Marmoraton Mine, Canada

Ugly Feldspars from Quebec


One of John Ebner's Micromount Displays

The last photo is particularly interesting - it shows part of John Ebner's fantastic collection of thumbnails that are mounted and signed by the person for whom the mineral is named!. This is just part of it, it spread over multipled cabinets! So, if you have a mineral named after you and you haven't yet been hunted down by John, rest assured, you will be.

And while on the subject of hunting, after the presentations had finished, it was time for everyone to rush up to the fourth floor to descend on the dealers to hunt out bargains. And many were to be had, I came back with minerals that I wasn't expecting to buy (I only took $200 with me for the time I was away, that went before the end of the first evening!).

Here's an example of a mineral that I didn't buy, but I would have liked to if I'd had the money, a super Calcite from the Bigrigg mine in Cumbria, offered by John Betts.

Calcite from Bigrigg, Cumbria, UK

And this isn't a mineral, but it's fascinating none the less. Samples of a Potassium Sodium Silicon Hexafluoride which have crystallized out from the waste water output from a phosphate processing plant in Florida. As it's come from man-made waste water, it can't be classed as a mineral, but the material appears to be identical to a natural mineral found recently at the Hekla stratovolcano in Iceland, the mineral form of this is now called Heklaite. But it's unlikely that the natural Heklaite would ever look as good as these:

Artificial KNaSiF6 from Florida

And finally, there is the hospitality suite, open in the evenings on the fourth floor. Run efficiently by Al Mura, along with his daughter and other helpers, this was truly wonderful. Grab a drink and wander off around the dealer rooms looking at rocks. If you find something you can't afford, go back and have another drink. Repeat this until either you forget about the rock or decide to pull out your credit card (or, in my case, use my iphone to do a PayPal transfer). The alcohol affects people in different ways. It seems to make canadians want to play guitar.

David K Joyce strumming along on Friday evening

Note to people attending the symposium in future - if you're in the room where people are playing guitar and singing, it's not polite to try and talk over it, either join in or go to another room!

Americans, however, find their own creative ways to mix minerals and drunken behaviour. This year it involved the resurrection of another RMS past tradition - Topaz bowling. This involved several beercans arranged in a pyramid in the hallway, several drunken people and a chunky topaz crystal. The whole topaz crystal bowling kit, including crystal and empty cans, was auctioned off on the following day.

And me? I ended up drinking a little more than I normally do, standing in the hallway talking to a bunch of very drunk university students about implementing XRD searching in Mindat. I have no idea if they remember anything about the conversations, but some of the ideas were pretty good. None of this impressed John White (past curator of the Smithsonian and founder of the Mineralogical Record), who came out of his room around 3.30am to tell us in no uncertain terms that our chatting loudly in the corridor wasn't helping with his desire to get some sleep. I've apologised to John, and will try to be quieter next year.

And yes, this is the worrying thing. My good friends Justin and Brandy from 'The Vug' were at the Symposium...

Justin and Brandy

... but it was ME who was the noisy one! Now, if any of you know them, you'll know why that's something to be very concerned about! Let's just say I've learnt my lesson! And I can't wait to get back to Rochester next year.

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Discuss this Article

29th Apr 2009 04:14 UTCGail Spann Manager

Jolyon, I have a lovely photo of you presenting. Your talk was really well done and informative. It was great to see you and spend time chatting. And to find you on the same plane to Chicago was an extra added bonus.

29th Apr 2009 12:44 UTCWoodrow Thompson

Thanks, Jolyon, for a well-balanced, informative and entertaining account of the Rochester Symposium. And many thanks to Steve Chamberlain and the rest of their committee, who have kept it going strong for many years! Hope to see you in Rochester again next spring.

Woody Thompson
Maine Geological Survey

29th Apr 2009 17:08 UTCAlfredo Petrov Manager

I think we have Jolyon hooked.

12th May 2009 11:50 UTCChris Mavris Manager

Bravo Jolyon, great resume!

I'm quite curious to know more about the presentation made by Prof. Lalonde...

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