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LIMR folks in schools

Lowell Institute of Mineral Resources: Bringing minerals, rocks and mining to Arizona classrooms

Have you ever been asked by a young person holding a rock or sparkly mineral, “where does this come from?” I often have. And again, the next day!  It is easy to explain that the rock or mineral is dug out of the ground at a mine. After all, rocks are easily found on the ground outside. What is more difficult is communicating to young people that so many of the things they use every day, from sidewalks to smartphones, are made of many of those same rocks and minerals. Rocks and minerals which all had to be found, extracted, and then refined into a useful form to make living in our modern world possible.

           For more than 8 years the University of Arizona Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources (LIMR) Education Outreach program has engaged upwards of 10,000 Arizona students annually, thanks to the tireless efforts of Pam Wilkinson, the original program coordinator, and to generous funding from the Mining Foundation of the Southwest.  The Lowell Institute carries on Pam’s work serving our student clientele with in-classroom visits and hands-on activities (identifying minerals and their uses, exploring for an ore deposit, refining copper and more), field trips to the Mineral Resource Discovery workshop at Flandrau Science Center, and a new video-outreach series (eg.,Minerals and WiFi). As the outreach coordinator, I enjoy teaching students how we use minerals in our day-to-day lives, how we obtain them through mining, and what safe, modern mining really is.

           Virtual Outreach

           Is your 10-year-old bored? Do you know teachers looking for earth science material their kids can access at home? Share this link to our new video outreach program.

          As chemist Rosalind Franklin once said, “Science and everyday life cannot and should not be separated.”

Chris Earnest preparing outreach lesson for the classroom
Chris Earnest preparing outreach lesson for the classroom

          To promote this perspective, I bring viewers along on a journey to explore how mineral resources are used in their everyday lives in a YouTube Series called “Minerals Make It”. Tailored for 3rd to 7th graders, each short video focuses on one of the mineral resources in an everyday object. Viewers learn where mineral resources come from, and how they are used. “I never knew copper was in wires.” has been a common reaction to the first video in the series. If, after watching, you have any ideas for improving these videos please take some time to fill out this short questionnaire.

 In-classroom outreach

Do your students' or children's classrooms need a special day? Then sign up to experience our classroom program, free to schools and organizations. I present four different hands-on activities which  align with Arizona science standards.

In Class
Students drilling and logging core as part of the Exploration Geology station at the Mineral Resources Discovery Workshop.

Presentations are available for grades 5 to 12 and include: the properties and uses of rocks and minerals, mine design, chemistry and mining, and environmental science and mining. I also present career and academic opportunities in the mineral resources industries. I really love seeing student’s reactions as they come to understand that the minerals they hold in their hands aren’t just pretty rocks, but the source of the objects in their classroom.

          Mineral Resource Discovery Program at the Flandrau Science Center

         “I love the interactive, hands-on activities. They spark interest in many areas of rocks and minerals.” said a teacher from Fellowship Christian Academy who attended the Mineral Resource Discovery workshop at the Flandrau Science Center this fall.  Up to 30 students plus teachers and parents can enjoy a two-hour hands-on experience with the science and engineering of modern mining taught by UArizona students. The Flandrau program includes five stations: ore formation, exploration geology, mine engineering and planning, metallurgy, and environmental reclamation and monitoring. Progressing through each station, students are encouraged to connect the science concepts they have learned in their classroom with their applications in an activity that touches all our lives.

         The year ahead. Covid-19 presents formidable challenges to the 2020-2201 academic year. The Lowell Institute is meeting these challenges by exploring and developing virtual instruction methods and materials to supplement our in-person program. These new methods will allow us to continue to serve the students of Arizona during these difficult times.  We look forward to resuming in-person outreach once students and teachers return to their classrooms.

         To learn more about our classroom program and field trip offerings, don’t hesitate to visit the outreach website at

         Access our outreach videos our YouTube Channel .  Don’t forget to “like” and subscribe!

         Please feel free to share your ideas and comments with me at

 Christopher L. Earnest is the Education Outreach Coordinator at the Lowell Institute for Mineral Resources at the University of Arizona. Chris obtained his Bachelor in Science degree in Geoscience from the University of Arizona. He has more than a decade experience in primary education.