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Optical mineralogy

Optical mineralogy is a specific focus of mineralogy that applies sources of light as a means to identify and classify minerals. All minerals which are not part of the cubic system are double refracting, where ordinary light passing through them is broken up into two plane polarized rays that travel at different velocities and refracted at different angles. Mineral substances belonging to the cubic system contain only one index of refraction.[2] Hexagonal and tetragonal mineral substances have two indices, while orthorhombic, monoclinic, and triclinic substances have three indices of refraction.[2] With opaque ore minerals, reflected light from a microscope is needed for identification. Optical mineralogy is the study of minerals and rocks by measuring their optical properties. Most commonly, rock and mineral samples are prepared as thin sections or grain mounts for study in the laboratory with a petrographic microscope. Optical mineralogy is used to identify the mineralogical composition of geological materials in order to help reveal their origin and evolution. Some of the properties and techniques used include: Refractive index Birefringence Michel-Levy Interference colour chart Pleochroism Extinction angle Conoscopic interference pattern (Interference figure) Becke line test Optical relief Sign of elongation (Length fast vs. length slow) Wave plate William Nicol, whose name is associated with the creation of the Nicol prism, seems to have been the first to prepare thin slices of mineral substances, and his methods were applied by Henry Thronton Maire Witham (1831) to the study of plant petrifactions. This method, of such far-reaching importance in petrology, was not at once made use of for the systematic investigation of rocks, and it was not until 1858 that Henry Clifton Sorby pointed out its value. Meanwhile the optical study of sections of crystals had been advanced by Sir David Brewster and other physicists and mineralogists and it only remained to apply their methods to the minerals visible in rock sections.[1] [edit]Sections A rock-section should be about one-thousandth of an inch (30 micrometres) in thickness, and is relatively easy to make. A thin splinter of the rock, about 1 centimetre may be taken; it should be as fresh as possible and free from obvious cracks. By grinding it on a plate of planed steel or cast iron with a little fine carborundum it is soon rendered flat on one side and is then transferred to a sheet of plate glass and smoothed with the very finest emery till all minute pits and roughnesses are removed and the surface is a uniform plane. The rock-chip is then washed, and placed on a copper or iron plate which is heated by a spirit or gas lamp. A microscopic glass slip is also warmed on this plate with a drop of viscous natural Canada balsam on its surface. The more volatile ingredients of the balsam are dispelled by the heat, and when that is accomplished the smooth, dry, warm rock is pressed firmly into contact with the glass plate so that the film of balsam intervening may be as thin as possible and free from air-bubbles. The preparation is allowed to cool and then the rock chip is again ground down as before, first with carborundum and, when it becomes transparent, with fine emery till the desired thickness is obtained. It is then cleaned, again heated with a little more balsam, and covered with a cover glass. The labor of grinding the first surface may be avoided by cutting off a smooth slice with an iron disk armed with crushed diamond powder. A second application of the slitter after the first face is smoothed and cemented to the glass will in expert hands leave a rock-section so thin as to be already transparent. In this way the preparation of a section may require only twenty minutes.

 
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