Time travelling in the Tate Museum: How the ‘rock room’ helps researchers study rare collections

Students in the Tate Museum

Geology students in the Tate Museum

Have you visited the Tate Museum at the University of Adelaide’s North Terrace campus?

The museum exhibits unique samples of unusual earth materials and bustles with students pawing over the glass cabinets during semester. 

This heritage museum is at the entrance to the Mawson lecture theatre, on the ground floor of the Mawson building.

Most of the samples in the extensive collection are from sites that are no longer accessible. 

There are tens of thousands of samples collected over more than a hundred years by Earth Sciences staff during field expeditions, some purchased from commercial science organisations for teaching purposes, and others gifted by private individuals. Many are of special interest to current researchers. 

Rare and unusual specimens from world-class ore deposits that were once mined for a valuable metals, including Broken Hill (once one of the largest ever silver-lead-zinc deposit) and Olympic Dam (a huge current copper-gold-uranium orebody) are included in the museum.

In fact, samples from the Broken Hill mines were obtained in 1907 and are irreplaceable. 

Ore and mineral specimens obtained from many mines around the world in the 19th century are unique because most of those mines have been long closed.
The collections are frequently accessed and unique specimens sub-sampled by researchers both within and external to the university for new investigations using modern analytical techniques.

“The Tate Museum is an important resource for scientific research… the collections house many rare and special mineral and rock samples which are actively being used in research both at the University of Adelaide and externally.”Associate Professor Rosalind King, Head of Department of Earth Sciences
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The Tate Museum also exhibits collections that archive the emergence of Earth’s first multicellular life and the stratigraphic layers of rocks which make up the Australian continent.

Many significant geological events that were first detailed by University of Adelaide geologists in the 20th century remain the subject of continued University of Adelaide research efforts in 2021, such as the Acraman meteorite impact dated at 580 million years ago.

The Museum was formally named in 1902 after Professor Ralph Tate, the inaugural Professor of Natural Sciences at the University of Adelaide .  It started life as a collection of specimens used by Professor Tate for teaching Geology, Botany and Zoology.

The Tate Museum is open daily during University semesters. School students and others in the community are regular visitors and all are welcome.

If you haven’t had an opportunity to look at the museum treasures, take a few minutes to stroll through, but be warned you may lose more than a minute!

Tate Museum

Holly Cooke Flinders Ranges

Sciences research in focus

This article was written by emerging earth scientist and science communicator Holly Cooke (pictured) and Tate Museum curator Dr Anthony Milnes.

Holly is studying geology at the University of Adelaide and is also a STEM Educator, inspiring the next generation of young Australians with the wonder and power of Science, Engineering, Technology & Mathematics by facilitating interactive workshops and presentations to South Australian secondary school students.

Follow her on Twitter and also check out her recent takeover of the University of Adelaide Instagram account.

Tagged in Research, Engagement and Industry, School of Physical Sciences, Geology and Earth Sciences, Physics