Thursday, October 22, 2020


Though assembled via Zoom because of Covid-19, the 64th annual Desautels International Micromount Symposium from Baltimore, Maryland, was a huge success. Chaired for the eighth time by Dr. Michael Seeds of Lancaster, Pennsylvania on behalf of the Baltimore Mineral Society, it happened October 10, 2020, at 1 PM Eastern Time. 

Despite the absence of both dealers and live minerals, this virtual Symposium drew a significantly larger crowd than live symposia of recent years.  Perhaps this could be expected sans the time and expenses involved in travel to Baltimore from destinations around the world. More significant was the glorious manner in which the event executed its intended purposes

After Dr. Seeds opened with a few pertinent introductions, he turned the proceedings over to Col. Quintin Wight of Ottawa, Ontario, Canada, the symposium’s perennial master of ceremonies and also the best known micromounter on the planet. The most definitive part of each year’s Desautels Symposium relates to the international Micromounters Hall of Fame. Quintin, of course, was one of the 40 per cent of living Hall of Fame members in attendance.

 He noted the criteria for selection to the Micromounters Hall of Fame by emphasizing the pre-eminent qualification of being “loudest for longest” within the community of micromounters. Since so many micromounters appear to be quiet people, “loudest” in this context bespeaks volume of involvement in terms of contribution and service to the micromounting niche of the mineralogical community.

 The day’s event, Quintin explained, would feature the induction of 2020’s two new Hall of Fame members: Dr. Michael A. Seeds of Lancaster, Pennsylvania, and Dr. Renato Pagano of Milano, Italy.  After their inductions, each was to give a presentation. Quintin also said that he was to announce two selectees for induction at 2021’s Symposium.

 He later named Dr. Anthony Kampf, Curator Emeritus of minerals of the Natural History Museum of Los Angeles County and Jean-Luc Designolle, the President of Association Francaise de Micromineralogie in France for 14 years, as next year’s (2021) inductees. He then made the point that the Micromounters Hall of Fame sought new inductees every year. He encouraged everyone to send in letters of nomination for potential candidates they considered to be worthy.

 Because Mike Seeds has chaired the Desautels Symposium since 2013, most who were Zoomed in were well acquainted with him.  Regarding his qualifications, Quintin noted that Mike has authored nearly 100 articles that relate specifically to micromounting and emphasized Mike’s Shoebox Adventures feature, which is published by mineral society newsletters around  the world.  He also mentioned Mike’s speaking engagements  about micromounting, especially a recent one he had attended at the Canadian Micro Mineral Association Symposium at Brock University in St. Catharines, Ontario.  Not mentioned were Mike’s collection, his distinct style of mounting, and unique method of labeling.

 Perhaps the reason was that, even though making and collecting micromounts are normal criteria for Hall of Fame selection, Dr.Renato  Pagano does neither. But when considering that most of the approximately 5,500 IMA approved species are microminerals, the 4,300 different species in Dr. Pagano’s personal mineral collection would in this case speak for these requirements by default---even if not trimmed and mounted by Renato in little boxes.  Widely published, he is regarded as a mineralogical superstar in Italy, and is well known throughout Europe as well as by mineralogists and curators in the United States and Canada. Very significantly, he was a founder of the Micromounters Meeting, a major annual event held in Cremona, Italy for bringing together Italian and foreign micromineral aficionados and collectors.

 Before delving into the specifics of his presentation about the sulfur mines of Sicily, Dr. Pagano expressed his views as to how mineral collecting is currently “going in two ways.”  One of them, he said, favors “typically sizeable, expensive and showy aesthetic minerals.” The other is species collecting, which is of greater interest to science and to micromounters.

 Dr. Pagano then described and offered slides relating to Sicily’s sulfur mines and the sulfur they produced. Through most of history, Sicily produced most of the world’s sulfur. He noted that the island’s well known volcanos were not pertinent to Sicily’s sulfur mining heritage and the great specimens they produced.  Instead, the sulfur for which Sicily is famous came mostly from underground sedimentary deposits. The conditions under which the miners, many who were young children, worked until well into mid-20th Century, were brutal.  Dr. Pagano wrapped up his presentation with slides of other notable Sicilian minerals that  included spectacular crystals of celestine, calcite, and hauerite.

 Before the next presentation by inductee Mike Seeds, Baltimore Mineral Society Treasurer and Micromounters Hall of Fame member Steve Weinberger added perspective to Quintin’s earlier introduction. Steve was present years ago when Mike first became discovered micromounting. He described how Mike, Professor of Astronomy at Franklin and Marshall University, after spending many years looking upwards at the stars through a telescope, became enthralled by looking down at minerals through a microscope.

 Mike’s presentation was entitled The Universe in a Micro Box. Noting that astronomy accounted for the source of all elements, atoms, and minerals, he clearly communicated verbally and with slides the most basic truths as to how this all happened. It spanned from hydrogen, the big bang, helium, stars, explosions in space that created atomic elements, then planets and ultimately some very exquisite micromounts. Mike amazingly conveyed this information within but a few minutes so that anyone could follow and understand. Particularly impressive was the exuberant response from participants, some well trained in science, others with less education. 

Nearly three hours had now passed. It was time for Al Pribula, President of the Baltimore Mineral Society to stage the Society’s annual voice auction.  It hardly mattered that the offerings were so much fewer than if the event had been in person. The high level of enthusiasm that had been apparent at the outset had persisted and grown as if to a crescendo.  Every minute had grasped the interest of those present, and it made the auction all the more fun.

 The 64th Annual Desautels Micromount Symposium, although virtual, proved to be tremendously successful. That could well prognosticate a bigger live conference than ever next year.

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