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September 28, 2018

The Virginia Museum of Natural History has unveiled a dynamic new exhibit that highlights the intriguing fluorescent characteristics of a wide variety of minerals found throughout the United States.  The exhibit, which is made possible by the support of Bill and Mary Jane Henika and the Hermes Family Foundation, is the latest update in the museum's ongoing effort to refresh its permanent exhibit galleries, which were established in 2007.

A large display containing 30 different minerals looks mundane under common, incandescent light.  However, these minerals have a secret.  Under the proper lighting conditions, they fluoresce in a wide variety of striking colors.  Within the display, the minerals are shown under a variety of lighting conditions, including incandescent, longwave ultraviolet, shortwave ultraviolet, both, and a period of darkness, where phosphorescence - afterglow - is revealed. 

"Most minerals fluoresce due to the presence of trace minerals called activators," said Dr. Jim Beard, curator of earth sciences at the museum.  "Different activators are present in different places.  This explains why calcite from Franklin, New Jersey fluoresces red, but calcite from different locations may fluoresce green, white or blue.  Some calcites will not glow at all."

In addition to the mineral display, the exhibit includes a short video featuring Dr. Beard, as he explains the phenomenon of fluorescing minerals in detail.

The exhibit also includes a variety of mineral samples, which museum visitors are asked to determine which ones they believe will fluoresce.  They are then given the opportunity to place them under a longwave ultraviolet light to determine the answer.

On Thursday, September 27, the museum hosted an exhibit unveiling for museum members, in which Bill and Mary Jane Henika and Adrienne Hermes of the Hermes Family Foundation were in attendance.

Both Bill Henika and Adrienne Hermes addressed the crowd, noting their support of the museum and it's prominent role in scientific research and education.

"I really believe that this place is something special," said Bill Henika, as he addressed reception attendees.

The sentiment was echoed by Adrienne Hermes, who spoke of her commitment to education and how the museum plays an important educational role throughout Virginia.

"I really appreciate the Virginia Museum [of Natural History] and everyone who makes it happen," she said.

The fluorescent mineral exhibit is located inside the museum's Lee & George W. Lester, II How Nature Works gallery.

Admission to the museum is $7 per adult and $5 for children and youth ages 3-18.  Admission is free for children under 3, museum members, and members of ASTC Passport participating organizations.

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