New Exhibit Opens in Vienna, Showcases Mineral Evolution on Earth

The next time you head to the rock or gems exhibit at a museum, you may be surprised at what you find.  Through the work of DCO Executive Director Robert Hazen, a revolution in museum exhibits is underway to recognize the important, changing roles of minerals through Earth’s long history.


“There’s a growing awareness of the dramatic changes in Earth’s mineralogy over the past 4.5 billion years. Remarkably, that epic “mineral evolution” story is as much about life as it is about rock. We now realize that minerals and life co-evolved,” says Hazen.

This revolution of mineral exhibits was launched with the opening of a permanent new mineral display at the Natural History Museum of Vienna on 4 April 2017. The opening was feted with a news conference and public lecture where Hazen shared his view of mineral evolution to a packed house.

In 2008, just as the Deep Carbon Observatory was taking shape, Hazen first published his observation that Earth’s mineral diversity is far greater than our nearest planetary neighbors. His theory of “mineral evolution” detailed the way minerals change due to environmental influences, recording planetary milestones such as the Great Oxidation Event and the emergence of life on land.

This work also highlights the interplay between Earth’s geosphere and biosphere over deep time, with life playing a major role in diversifying the types of minerals on our planet. Without life, more than 60% of minerals on Earth would not exist. Most recently, Hazen’s work has highlighted humanity’s indelible mark on Earth; a suite of human-created, or Anthropocene, minerals.

Hazen remarks, “The new Viennese exhibit traces Earth’s changeable appearance through a series of dramatic stages, from a landscape that was primarily black (owing to volcanic basalt), to rusty red, to white (a time of global glaciation), and ultimately to today’s green Earth. Dozens of beautiful mineral specimens, accompanied by explanatory text and dynamic visuals, illustrate each stage.”  

The exhibit illustrates the concept of mineral evolution by telling the story of 56 of Earth’s minerals. It includes objects and mineral samples that exemplify Earth’s evolution over the last four billion years.

“I’m optimistic that the Natural History Museum of Vienna will be first of many museums that reorganize a significant part of their mineral collections along the theme of mineral evolution,” added DCO Director Craig Schiffries (Carnegie Institution of Washington, USA). 







Images courtesy of Christian Koeberl, Director General, Natural History Museum Vienna

Further Reading

DCO Highlights MEET Project Looks Back in Time at Earth’s Evolution

A new project funded by a $14.2 million European Research Council Synergy grant, entitled…

DCO Research The Early Magma Ocean Turned Earth into a ‘Diamond Factory’

In conditions simulating early Earth’s magma ocean, iron performs an unusual chemical trick that…

Symphony in C Cover
DCO Highlights New Book Sings Carbon’s Praises

Just in time for the “Year of Carbon,” DCO Executive Director Robert Hazen has published a sweeping…

arly Extinctions Set the Stage for Life as We Know It
DCO Research Early Extinctions Set the Stage for Life as We Know It

By applying data science techniques to the fossil record, researchers have found evidence for two…

Back to top