Twenty-four new display cases filled with gems, fossils and minerals that date from every era of Earth’s history are now housed in an exhibit at Santa Fe College.
The collection, one of North Florida’s largest, is part of a new Santa Fe effort to provide an intriguing natural history exhibit to its students and the public, and it include a 4.6-billion-year-old meteorite from Namibia, petrified wood, dinosaur fossils and various minerals.
“Since the Florida Museum of Natural History doesn’t have minerals,” said Santa Fe College geology professor Mike Patrick, “we’re the big boy in town now.”
A geological timeline, painted to scale, sits on a column in the exhibit’s lobby, which is located at Santa Fe’s Building X .
Patrick, 66, spent the summer putting the exhibit’s minerals display together. About 80 percent of the collection was donated from the former Earth Wonders Geological Museum in Flagler County, he said.
Earth Wonders closed about two years ago, and its collection was housed for display in Flagler County office space, where school children could visit, according to Patrick.
Over time, children stopped visiting.
“They just lost interest,” he said. “But we saw what an incredible collection it was.”
Patrick said he competed with many other organizations for the Earth Wonders collection, including the Jacksonville Gem and Mineral Society.
He managed to finally acquire it in June with the help of donations and loans, which laid the groundwork for the exhibit.
Geology professor Greg Mead, 57, helped Patrick organize the exhibit and loaned part of his own personal collection of minerals.
The collection is still a work in progress, Mead said. He expects an increase in donations.
“We have things that a major university down the road doesn’t have,” Mead said. “Students that are taking classes here are absolutely noticing it.”
Cody Cole, 21, a student in one of Patrick’s geology courses, said the exhibit has students talking.
“This is my favorite building,” he said, adding that once he got the chance to hold the meteorite.
“I think (people will) get more interested in the science programs,” he said. “It gives them a reason to come in here.”
The exhibit is set to join the Teaching Zoo, the Kika Silva Pla Planetarium and the Jean Klein Rock Cycle Garden at Santa Fe, a location informally known as the “Circle of Science.”
Patrick, who also created the rock garden, said he will continue trying to get funds and donations to upgrade the exhibit.
“I think you’re seeing the maturity of Santa Fe,” he said. “The campus is starting to get collections like a major university would have, and we start to have graduates giving back to the school.”
“It’s a cooperative effort. Santa Fe is proud of this.”