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How Jade Forms

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George Harlow

Jadeite is like a time capsule. It holds important clues about some of Earth's big events, like earthquakes, mountain building, and plate collisions.

Tools in the Lab

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scrapbook page with pictures of jade as prepared for analysis, jade under a microscope, and example of Scanning Electron Microscope
raw piece of jade

raw jade

When I look at a piece of jade, it's easy to tell its color, texture, and transparency. But figuring out its mineral makeup is another story!

chunk of jade next to an extremely thin slice of same chunk on a slide

preparing jade for analysis

I first cut off a small piece of jade and glue it to a glass slide. Then I cut off most of the jade and polish it until it's very thin.

Scanning Electron Microscope

scanning electron microscope

Today we have tools to get a closer look at jade and all its chemical elements. This helps me understand how jade formed. I may even be able to figure out where it was formed.

left side shows b/w image of jade under an electron microscope. right side shows colorful mineral grains under an optical microscope.

getting a closer look

The black and white image is what jade looks like viewed by a scanning electron microscope. The color photo is an optical microscope image of a similar piece of jade. See those tiny mineral grains? They can tell me which area in Guatemala the jade formed. How amazing is that?

Image Credits:

SEM: courtesy of AMNH; all other photos: courtesy of George Harlow