fall term, 2017


general description and expectations


exams and grading; term project, etc.

Fall 2017 syllabus

Fall 2017 calendar


homework and exercises


Meeting time:   lecture -- TF 12:00-1:50

                           lab       --    T  2:00-3:50


Place:                 Science Center 3W13

                            (lab locations will vary)


Instructor:         Prof. E.B. Watson

                           Office: 1C31 J-ROWL

                           Phone:  8838


                           office hours:  Fri. 2-4



TA:                     Oliver Wolfe

                           Office:  BC01 J-ROWL



                           office hours:  W 2:00-3:00

                                                  F  2:00-3:00*


*Alternate times can be arranged by appointment if you are unable to attend office hours.


Overview of the chemical and physical properties of the material constituents of the Earth and terrestrial planets, including minerals, rocks, lavas, and supercritical water.  Topics include mineral structure and composition, bonding, optical properties, x-ray diffraction, phase transformations, and surface properties.  The role of minerals in the man-made environment is also discussed as appropriate.

Expected and useful background

There are no mandatory prerequisites for this course, but students who have taken introductory chemistry and/or geology will be familiar with some of the concepts discussed, and will find the going easier.  Some background in geology is assumed, and competence in basic chemistry is expected (some review will be provided where appropriate).  The course is not mathematically intensive, but an appreciation of the fundamentals of calculus is important.

Specific topics covered (not necessarily in order listed)

Course outcomes

Students who complete this course will have: 1) an understanding of the relation between atomic structure and properties of naturally-occurring solids and fluids; 2) an appreciation for the physicochemical principles that govern the composition and occurrence of these materials and how they interact; and 3) the ability to recognize the major rock-forming minerals in the laboratory and in the field, and to develop reasonable hypotheses concerning their formation.



Minerals: Their Constitution and Origin by H.-R. Wenk and A. Bulakh.  We will not follow this text exactly on a week-by-week basis, but having access to a copy will be essential for reviewing concepts introduced in class, as well as for supplementary reading.




There will be two (2) exams during the semester devoted to the material presented in the lectures: October 24 and December 12 (see calendar).  The second exam will focus on material from the latter half of the course, but will include extra-credit questions drawn from the entire semester.  The total weight of these two exams will be 75% of the final course grade, with the lower score having lesser weight (30%).  A portion of each exam will focus on mineral identification and chemical composition (see below).  The remaining 25% of your grade will come from homework assignments and lab exercises and projects.


Grades can be appealed in person or in writing, initially to the to the individual who graded the exam or homework exercise in question (usually the TA).  Prof. Watson will make final decisions on specific irresolvable issues related to grading.  Please see the 'late homework' policy below.




In order to realize course outcome no. 3 (see above), it will be essential for students to devote an appreciable amount of time to learning a key set of 30-40 rock-forming minerals.  "Learning" in this context means acquiring the ability to: 1) use recognizable properties of minerals to distinguish among them in hand specimen and under the microscope; and 2) associate chemical composition with mineral names.  To a great extent, this skill can be acquired only through self-study, for which ample lab time will be set aside.  Mineral ID questions will be included in the two exams (see above and calendar).



Labs write-ups and homework are worth 25% of the total class grade. Of that, 20% will be lab assignments and 5% will be homework assignments. Each individual assignment will be given a total point score based on the amount of work required for the assignment (i.e., shorter assignments will receive fewer points). Material will be returned within a week.

Due dates for homework and labs will be given on the assignments, and work will generally be due one week after it is assigned. The late policy for labs and homework is as follows:

1) Deadlines are all final -- i.e., no extensions granted without prior approval based on a reasonable explanation.

2) Printed/handwritten assignments are due in the lab period/class period of their deadline. Electronic submissions are acceptable until 5 p.m. on the due date. Please email to .

3) Unexcused late assignments will be docked 10% for each 24 hr period after the deadline; late assignments will not be accepted beyond 5 days after the due date.



Regular attendance and participation in class and labs are essential for students to gain adequate grasp of the course content.  Frequent absences from class without explanation will be noted and investigated.  While in class (and while taking exams), students are expected to refrain from use of smart phones, tablets and laptop computers.



Good student-teacher relationships are built on trust. Students should have confidence that we have made appropriate decisions about the structure and content of this course, and that we will make a strong effort to accommodate the varying needs of a diverse group of students. Teachers, in turn, must have confidence that the assignments and exams you turn in represent your own work.

The Rensselaer Handbook defines various forms of Academic Dishonesty and procedures for responding to them. All forms are violations of the trust between students and teachers. Students should familiarize themselves with the appropriate portion of the Rensselaer Handbook and note that the penalties for plagiarism and other forms of cheating can be quite harsh.

In this course, collaboration or group work in the completion of recitation exercises and homework is encouraged. However, the final paperwork (or electronic file) you hand in should be written by you in your own words. Collaboration of any sort on exams will be considered cheating.





The syllabus below is a reasonable estimate of how the course will develop over the term. Deviations may arise if additional time is needed on specific topics.


Sept.      1        Overview of Earth; States of Matter; States of Earth Materials; Mineral evolution


              5        Nature of the Atom (review)


              8        Ionization; Ionic Radii


             12        Bonding I: The ionic model

                        (lab: Getting oriented with hand-sample ID and basic microscopy)


            15        Bonding II: deviations from ionic character


            19        Symmetry and bonding

                        (lab: x rays and crystals)


            22        Structure of crystals I: packing of atoms; space lattices


            26        Structure of crystals II: Pauling’s rules

                        (lab/recitation: symmetry; faces, forms, and Miller indices)


Oct.       3        Polymorphism; structural transformations

                        (lab/recitation: IR spectroscopy)


              6        Crystal growth


            13        Defects in crystals                       


            17        Rock-forming minerals I

                         (lab/recitation: introduction to optical properties)


            20        Rock-forming minerals II


            24        EXAM I


            27        Rock-forming minerals III


            31        Mineral aggregates (rocks I)

                        (lab/recitation: more on optical properties)


Nov.      3        Mineral aggregates (rocks II)


              7        Free energy and phase diagrams

                        (lab/recitation: the electron microprobe)


             10        Origin and evolution of magmas


             14        Properties of water on and in the Earth (“normal” to supercritical)

                        (lab/recitation: working with phase diagrams)


             17        Solubility of minerals in water


              21        Properties of Earth and Planetary fluids

                        (lab/recitation:  Fourier Transform IR spectroscopy) 


            28        Mineral surfaces; mineral/water interface

                        (lab/recitation:  Raman spectroscopy)       


Dec.       1        Clay minerals; zeolites; biominerals


              5        Economic mineralogy and mineral resources 1

                        (lab/recitation: Ore minerals; accessory minerals; opaque oxides)


              8        Economic mineralogy and mineral resources 2


            12        EXAM II     



Class meeting calendar









  Course introduction (9/1)      Mineral evolution (9/1)   Atoms & Bonding 1 (9/5)      Atoms & Bonding 2 (9/8)


  Crystal structures 1 (9/12)      Crystal structures 2 (9/15)      X rays & Crystals (9/19)      Nucleation & Growth 1 (9/19)      Nucleation & Growth 2 (9/19-22)


  Polymorphs (9/26)      Spectroscopy supplement (9/26)      Defects (9/29)      Electron Microprobe (10/3)      Mineral Genesis 1 (10/3)      Mineral Genesis 2 (10/6)


  Water in Earth (10/17)



To get the class handouts for the date you want, click on the appropriate PDF icon to obtain file you can print or download...


   Homework 1 (due 9/22)      Homework 2 (due 10/6)      Homework 3 (due 10/27)

  Exam 1 (2015)          Exam 2 (2015)


READING assignments

week 1:  Chapter 2 of text.

week 2:  Chapter 3 of text.

Suggested reading in text to supplement lecture notes (by topic)

x-rays and crystals:  chapter 7 (this provides a more in-depth treatment than we need)

crystal structures, symmetry, unit cell, Bravais lattices:  chapter 3

Miller indices:  pp. 44-49  

crystal nucleation and growth:  pp. 84-92 (not as detailed as lecture notes)

electron microprobe:  pp. 231-232

vibrational spectroscopy:  pp. 233-239

polymorphism and isomorphism:  chapter 6 (similar to lecture notes)