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Earth Science makes dollars out of stones

The Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) Department at MSU Denver is using a rock-solid method of fundraising with a tool that is popular among geology students and enthusiasts.

August 13, 2013

Assistant Professor of Geology Uwe Richard Kackstaetter is the originator of the MSU Denver Stone and Mineral Identification Kit, which is positioned to soon be selling nationally. Photo: Seth Baca.
Assistant Professor of Geology Uwe Richard Kackstaetter is the originator of the MSU Denver Stone and Mineral Identification Kit, which is positioned to soon be selling nationally. Photo: Seth Baca.

By Brett McPherson

The Earth and Atmospheric Sciences (EAS) Department at MSU Denver is using a rock-solid method of fundraising with a tool that is popular among geology students and enthusiasts.

The MSU Denver Stone and Mineral Identification Kit was developed by Assistant Professor of Geology Uwe Richard Kackstaetter and retails for around $40 at the Auraria Bookstore. So far, income from kit sales has been used for minor departmental expenses and product improvement, but proceeds are likely to grow under a plan to sell it nationwide.

Three years ago Kackstaetter saw an opportunity to raise money for the department and give students the ability to work at home as if they were in a lab.

 “I finally came up with the idea…why not have kits that students could buy…that they could take home and do the course exercises.”

Pages of charts, an acid bottle, a hand lens, scales – this kit has everything needed to make discoveries in the world of geology. It is similar to other kits but with one distinction: A way of identifying a stone or mineral using a process of elimination that includes a method of determining density. 

Kackstaetter and some of his professors devised the density-determination method when he was a graduate student at Brigham Young University nearly 20 years ago.

 “You basically weigh an object in air, weigh an object in water, and with a little physics, the displacement of the water equals the volume by weight,” Kackstaetter says.

Students who produce the kits are working overtime to stock the bookstore shelves for the fall semester.

 
The MSU Denver Stone and Mineral Identification Kit retails for around $40 at the Auraria Bookstore. Photo: Seth Baca.
The MSU Denver Stone and Mineral Identification Kit retails for around $40 at the Auraria Bookstore. Photo: Seth Baca.

In the future an educational supply company called Great River Technologies will be producing the kits to be sold across the country. “It has been very successful and good for us. We’re hoping it will be successful for other universities as well,” Kackstaetter says.

With sales of the kit expected to increase, Kackstaetter plans to employ more students and eventually establish an earth sciences scholarship.

The kit has been used mostly by students, but the customer-base is growing. At recent Denver Gem and Mineral shows, the kits were such a hit among rock enthusiasts that producers could hardly keep enough on-hand to sell, Kackstaetter says.

It’s a really neat and unusual thing,” he says. “If you are into the geological sciences, this kit should last you for a lifetime!”

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