Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum receives significant collection and commitment for $1.6M endowment

Shelves housing gems and minerals

The Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum celebrated its grand opening on Feb. 3 in its larger, newly renovated space in the Pima County Historic Courthouse. This year's College of Science Lecture Series will delve into the importance of minerals.

Chris Richards/University of Arizona

The University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum has been gifted a collection of more than 9,500 micromount specimens and received a $1.6 million commitment to establish an endowment for conservation and education.

The collection donation and the commitment were made by the family of Arthur "Art" Roe and his wife, Barbara Roe. The endowment will be called the Arthur Roe Micromount Collection and Memorial Endowment for Conservation and Education.

"These transformative gifts are a testament to the enduring legacy of Dr. Arthur Roe. The collection and endowment will not only advance our academic and research mission but will also foster curiosity about the geological sciences in our community and beyond," said University of Arizona President Robert C. Robbins.

Arthur Roe sitting at a desk full of boxes of small minerals

Arthur Roe enjoying his mineral collection.

Courtesy of the Roe family

A master micromounter, Arthur Roe started collecting micromounts – which are collections of very small specimens – almost 90 years ago and was inducted into the Micromounters Hall of Fame in 1983. He died in 1993.

"Our father collected more than 9,500 specimens during his lifetime," said Nick Roe, son of Arthur Roe. "Many of the specimens are from sites that are no longer accessible. Dad loved micromounts and shared that love with others as often as he could. He would have been delighted to know of the museum's plans to use his collection to teach others and help them share his joy of the world of micromounts."

Micromounts are tiny mineral specimens mounted in half-inch boxes, using adhesives, to keep them in almost flawless condition. Micromounts are viewed under microscopes to reveal intricate details not visible to the naked eye.

The process of micromounting involves the careful extraction of tiny mineral crystals from a matrix, often using tools such as needles and brushes. Micromounts play a crucial role in advancing mineralogy, as many of the specimens are collected from locations where large crystals are not possible to collect.

The children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren of Arthur and Barbara Roe made the commitment to establish the endowment in Arthur Roe's name with a $1.6 million donation. The endowment will support expanded research opportunities, development of educational programming, specialized training for graduate and undergraduate students, and staffing for cataloguing and maintaining the collection.  

"The micromount collection is a stunning assemblage of specimens. Not only is the collection remarkably well documented and organized, but it has verified examples of a wide range of localities, many of which are no longer available for specimen collection," said Violetta Wolf, director of the museum. "These gifts represent a giant leap forward for the museum's research mission, allowing us to expand our educational outreach and provide valuable, hands-on learning opportunities."

The collection, she said, will be used for education, research and community engagement.

The museum, which includes specimens collected as far back as 1892, was officially established as the Mineral Museum in 1919. Now located in the Historic Pima County Courthouse in downtown Tucson, the museum has 12,000 square feet of exhibit space and three major galleries. Everything in its collection was donated or provided on loan.

"With this gift, the Roe family is preserving the work and legacy of an incredible man," said John-Paul Roczniak, president and CEO of the University of Arizona Foundation. "The collection and the endowment will ensure the University of Arizona Alfie Norville Gem & Mineral Museum will continue to educate and inspire for generations to come."

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