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Petrology (Rocks), Mineralogy and Volcanology

Ultimately the majority of the solid Earth is made from rock, and so to understand some fundamentals of the planet in detail we must understand how the chemicals that make up these rocks interact with one another.

Calcite under the microscope
Calcite under the microscope
These chemicals - minerals - are generally crystalline, with definite atomic structures that govern their physical properties, in turn providing laws that tell us what the Earth can and cannot do. The study of these minerals is called Mineralogy.

Microscope work in a practical class
Microscope work in a practical class
Petrology refers to the study of the rocks that the minerals make up. In order to make magnificent conclusions about the Earth's deep structure, the earliest history of the planet, how the moon formed, and the role of mountain-belts in causing giant changes to rock properties, we examine igneous and metamorphic rocks from different areas of the world. We can then look at the minerals within them, analysing very thin slices of these crystals under the microscope to tell us about their processes of formation. Other techniques are also used, to determine the exact isotopic and chemical makeup of the minerals, which can shed light further on the processes by which they were formed.

Volcanology is the specific study of volcanoes - the exit point for many igneous rocks. 

See the Part IA Introductory Mineralogy and Petrology Course for the relevant first year content.

Earth Sciences at Cambridge

Saturday 22 September 2018: A one-day conference bringing together international scientists to mark 200 years since Adam Sedgwick was appointed to the Woodwardian Chair of Geology.

Further information