The research collections of the Department of Mineral Sciences originated with specimens donated by James Smithson, a chemist and mineralogist famous for bequeathing the money used to establish the Smithsonian Institution. While Smithson's collection was lost in a fire in 1865, the modern geological collections, begun in 1870, now include more than 600,000 specimens, most of which are available for study by qualified scientific investigators.
National Gem & Mineral Collection
The Smithsonian Institution mineral and gem collection consists of approximately 350,000 mineral specimens and 10,000 gems, making it one of the largest of its kind in the world. The collection is used for scientific research, education programs, and public exhibitions. Every year hundreds of specimens are loaned to scientists around the world for research projects in geology, materials science, health, chemistry, physics, and other disciplines.
The collection adds specimens in many ways: gifts, purchases using private endowments established for that purpose, field collection, and rarely by exchange. In particular, the gem collection has been built almost entirely with gifts from individuals. Continuing acquisitions of minerals and gems enhance the public’s awareness and understanding of the Earth’s basic building blocks, and expand a scientific research collection that will be used in perpetuity.
National Meteorite Collection
Meteorites provide invaluable clues to the origin and evolution of our Solar System, and meteorite scientists are almost completely dependent on a small number of major meteorite collections for research materials. The National Meteorite Collection is one the largest and most complete museum-based collections in the world.
The modern meteorite collection includes more than 45,000 specimens of more than 16,850 distinct meteorites, including almost 10,000 polished thin sections. While the collection contains examples of every type of meteorite, it is particularly strong in iron meteorites and includes 9 of the 50+ known Martian meteorites.
Questions about the meteorite collection? Please contact Meteorites collections staff at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Guidance for suspected meteorites
If you believe you have a suspected meteorite you may send photos to email@example.com.
Please attach clearly focused images of your specimen in proper lighting. It is helpful if you include close-up images focused on the texture (grains, crystals, potential fusion crust, exposed interior, etc.). Please also state if your specimen attracts a magnet and if you have conducted a streak test, what color mark resulted.
Given security concerns, the Division of Meteorites of the Smithsonian Institution does not accept suspected meteorites for examination or testing. While we understand the excitement you feel in thinking you have a meteorite, it is likely either a terrestrial rock or piece of slag (a byproduct/waste material produced by the smelting of metallic ore).
Due to limited staffing and security concerns, we are not able to accommodate in-person identifications. If you prefer to speak to a geologist in-person rather then send us photos you might try reaching out to a university, museum, or geology club in your area.
Staff will attempt to reply, however, as this is an unmanned resource account, it may take 6-8 weeks before we are able to read your email, identify the samples in your photos, and reply to you. Of final note, due to the high volume of inquiries received, only those objects that elicit further interest may receive responses from museum staff.
National Rock & Ore Collections
The National Rock and Ore Collections are divided into subcollections, and the specimens within each are indexed and retrievable by lithology, locality, museum catalog number, metal/commodity, or volcano name when appropriate, and many are retrievable by original field number and donor name. Many are mentioned specifically in publications, have thin sections available, and/or include a chemical analysis in the database. Because the collection is always expanding, the subcollection number estimates are subject to change.
The National Museum of Natural History (NMNH) complies with all U.S. export and sanctions laws, as well as fish, wildlife and other regulations applicable to the importation and exportation of specimens and research materials. Please consider the country of origin and nature of any specimen, sample, object or material shipped to NMNH, and if applicable, ensure that it is properly licensed and otherwise compliant with U.S. law prior to shipment.