Smithsonian National Museum of Natural History

Mineral Transformations – Demystifying Microbes


Meet Dr. Cara Santelli, a former geologist at the National Museum of Natural History. She studies the relationship between minerals and microbes, such as bacteria and fungi. Did you know that microbes are a solution to pollution? Cara works to better understand how microbes can help clean up metal pollutants from old coal mines.  Take a journey from Pennsylvania coal mines to an X-ray diffraction laboratory. See how microbes are little machines for mineral transformations. Get to know the microscopic organisms that are essential to the health of our natural environment.

This program originally aired March 12, 2015, as part of the Smithsonian Science How webcast series, which is designed to bring natural history science and research to upper-elementary and middle-school students.

Teaching Resources

Minerals and Microbes

National Middle School Standards

Next Generation Science Standards (NGSS)

Earth Science

MS-ESS2 Earth's Systems

  • MS-ESS2-1 Develop a model to describe the cycling of Earth's materials and the flow of energy that drives this process.
  • MS-ESS3-3: Apply scientific principles to design a method for monitoring and minimizing a human impact on the environment.
  • MS-ESS3-4: Construct an argument supported by evidence for how increases in human population and per-capita consumption of natural resources impact Earth's systems.

Life Science

MS-LS2 Ecosystems: Interactions, Energy, and Dynamics

  • MS-LS2-1: Analyze and interpret data to provide evidence for the effects of resource availability on organisms and populations of organisms in an ecosystem.
  • MS-LS2-3: Develop a model to describe the cycling of matter and flow of energy among living and nonliving parts of an ecosystem.
  • MS-LS2-5: Evaluate competing design solutions for maintaining biodiversity and ecosystem services.
Resource Type
Grade Level
Earth Science