Virtual Microscope (VM) ( is a platform that hosts scans of thin sections of rocks. It is an amazing means to either train students that may not have access to certain, rare samples or even to engage the public into the magic of minerals and rocks.

As part of MetalIntelligence, I have studied samples from the Merensky Reef (Bushveld, South Africa) using conventional light microscopy (transmitted and reflected light) and then scanning electron microscopy (SEM) combined with X-ray mapping (energy dispersive spectroscopy or “EDS” for short) among others. Here, we are presenting an example of a practical which makes use of the data collected with the aforementioned techniques, written by Prof. Balz Kamber, which shows the potential of the resources provided by VM. It is an open-access tool that any tutor can use the way that suits most their teaching.  

In brief, the samples from the Merensky Reef are mostly made up of silicate minerals and sulphide minerals. There are different theories of how the deposit has formed and the discussion is still going on. The presence of platinum group elements (PGEs) adds more interest to the deposit from both a scientific and economic point of view. The deposit itself is classified as a layered intrusion and the sulphide minerals studied here are of magmatic origin. Besides Bushveld in South Africa, other layered intrusions are found in Stillwater (Montana, USA), Great Dike (Zimbabwe) Skaergaard (Greenland), Norilsk (Siberia, Russia) and that list is not exhaustive. The age of those deposits varies depending on the location of the deposit. Turing back to the Merensky Reef, the literature is already extensive and we hope to contribute with our work to the knowledge about the Merensky Reef and possibly to deposits of similar formation.

Follow the link to find a PDF and MS Word file formats of the practical:

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