James Di Loreto, Smithsonian Institution

If you’re feeling dreary — and it’s been a dreary time, hasn’t it? — my advice is to think about crystals. Unfathomably large crystals, if possible.

Big news from the crystal beat: A 7-foot-tall, 8,000 pound slab of quartz crystal from the Ouachita Mountains went up on display last week at the Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History in Washington, D.C.

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From the Smithsonian press release:

The Smithsonian’s National Museum of Natural History unveiled a stunning slab of quartz crystals today, Oct. 27. This is among the largest examples of quartz specimens on display in any museum in America. At 7 feet tall and more than 8,000 pounds in weight, the gigantic cluster of thousands of sparkling crystals stands in the front gallery, adjacent to the museum’s historic north entrance. The quartz was discovered at the Coleman Mine in Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains in 2016.

It is named the Berns Quartz in recognition of Michael and Tricia Berns, whose philanthropic support brought the specimen into the museum’s collection.

 

“We are thrilled to have the Berns Quartz join other Smithsonian icons—the Hope Diamond, the Nation’s T. rex and Henry the elephant—on display in the most visited natural history museum in the world,” said Kirk Johnson, Sant Director of the National Museum of Natural History. “The specimen’s research value is significant, but its dramatic appearance makes it one of the most striking visual experiences in the museum.”

More from the Smithsonian press release:

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“A cluster of clear quartz crystals of this size and quality is extraordinarily rare,” said Jeffrey Post, mineralogist and curator-in-charge of gems and minerals at the museum. “Quartz is one of the basic building blocks of our Earth, and we hope this amazing specimen will inspire a sense of awe in people and excite them to learn more about our world.”

And more from the Smithsonian magazine:

“This is the largest piece of quartz we have in our museum. It may even be one of the heaviest specimens we have,” said Jeffrey Post, mineralogist and curator-in-charge of gems and minerals at the museum.

The hefty and glittering mass of crystals, called the Berns Quartz after its donors, was originally discovered at the Coleman Mine in Arkansas in 2016.

“There are very few places around the world where you get this quality of clear quartz, especially in such a large cluster. At the national museum, this is the perfect specimen to share with visitors because it’s a classic example of an American mineral,” said Gabriela Farfan, an environmental mineralogist and Coralyn W. Whitney curator of gems and minerals at the museum. …

In the United States, Arkansas’ Ouachita Mountains are a hotbed for quartz. They were shoved up around 300 million years ago when the South American continent crashed against its North American counterpart, buckling up layers of oceanic sandstone.

“The overlying pressure from the resulting mountain of rocks squeezed hot silicon-rich water from the buried sandstone into deep cracks that were two miles beneath the surface,” said Post. “Quartz crystals grew in these fractures.”