What is rockPTX.com?
Hi, I'm Frank, and I'm a mineralogist currently based in Tucson, Arizona. Have a look at my LinkedIn page to learn a bit more about me and my academic and professional background.
Since 2015, I've been building a geology-focused educational website, specifically featuring content related to optical mineralogy, petrology and petrography; please check it out at: www.rockPTX.com .
The main content featured on my website includes scanned images of thin sections of rocks in regular light and under crossed polarizers, locality data for these samples linked to the wonderful mindat.org mineral database (mindat.org survives on donations too!), rock type and mineral assemblage information, and in many cases, compositional data I've collected myself on the electron microprobe at the University of Arizona. There's also an extensive video atlas of minerals in thin section (see above video for a striking example of dispersion of a BxA optic figure in the mineral lamprophyllite), some X-ray maps , and even a few of my favorite recipes for when you're done looking at rocks and need something tasty to chow on! The intro image at the top of the page here is also the intro image on my website's homepage: a photomicrograph of a thin section of a rare high-pressure rock from Tanzania featuring a photogenic bright blue mineral called yoderite. I tell the story of this rock's fascinating 550 million year old history on the homepage of rockPTX.com. This should give you an idea of what my website is all about.
My reason for starting a GoFundMe page is that the small amount of discretionary funding I've had in the past to purchase samples, prepare thin sections, and pay for electron microprobe analytical time has largely dried up. That unfortunately means fewer new samples to add to my website, and little new analytical work to further characterize the samples I already have. Honestly, I'm not especially keen to have to resort to begging for money on a crowdfunding platform to keep my website growing, but on the other hand, I'd be foolish to not explore all funding options out there, no matter how unconventional. After all, the viability of this project really does mean that much to me.
So that's why I'm asking for your help! Of course, I'd ultimately love to find a patron of the sciences who could provide a small endowment to help keep my website humming for many years to come (even just ~$100K would cover enough thin sections and analytical time to keep me very busy for several years), but until my "angel" patron appears, any individual donation, no matter how big or how small, will be greatly appreciated!
My itemized budget:
The $16164 ($13470 + 20% estimated tax) is my annual goal. I've lowered this a bit from my original goal in recognition that I'll just have to reduce the number of samples I try to acquire and analyze.
Let me summarize my budget to give you some insight into how I arrived at this figure, as well as some details on the costs I'm hoping to cover:
(1) I've traditionally acquired anywhere from about 20-40 new samples per year to feature online, and I'm currently at 317 prepared rocks (so as you can see, I've been working on this project since even before my website existed!). Although a few specimens are self-collected or were donated by colleagues, most I've had to purchase myself. I'm lucky to have the world famous Tucson Gem and Mineral Show right here in town every February. For this project, I'm not after the big showy museum quality specimens... these nice (and expensive!) rocks almost never make good thin sections. Instead, I'm primarily looking for small "thin section-sized" chunks of unusual materials that demonstrate interesting textures or assemblages. These small specimens come in at an average price of ~$15/sample, so a typical number of roughly 30 samples cost me about $450/year. I've always paid this expense myself, out-of-pocket.
(2) Once the specimens are acquired, sawn and ground flat (I do all this preliminary sample prep work myself), they need to be prepared as thin sections. So what are thin sections? As the name suggests, a thin section is an extremely thin slice of rock (30 microns thick... about 1/3 the thickness of a human hair and thin enough for light to pass through!) glued to a glass slide, specially made for study under a petrographic microscope. The sections have to be exactly 30 microns thick, perfectly flat, and impeccably polished, so making high quality ones by hand is very challenging. Needless to say, I have mine professionally prepared at a company that specializes in making them, which comes in at a cost of ~$40/sample, or about $1200 for the 30 samples. Ideally, because this is an educational expense, I've sometimes been fortunate to have had discretionary research funding available to pay for thin section preparation. However, the availability of this funding is extremely erratic; while at times I've had the funding, at other times I've paid for this expense entirely out of my own pocket. In fact, for two out of the last five years, I've had to pay for thin sections myself, and as you can see, it's not a trivial cost!
(3) The analytical work is done at the University of Arizona, where I work part-time as a researcher and occasional instructor. Each sample requires about 4 hours of analysis time (sometimes more and sometimes less, depending on how complex the sample is), and in 2019 the electron microprobe lab increased their rate from $19/hour to ~$31/hour. Hence, my future average analytical cost will be 30 samples x 4 hours/sample x $31/hour, for a total cost of $3720 (spread out over the entire year; as a practical matter, that's twelve 10-hour days, or roughly one day on the electron microprobe every month). This expense had always been covered in the past by my discretionary funding, but again, these funds are now extremely limited.
(4) Lastly, because I'm on "soft money" (= support for my research position isn't guaranteed by the university, but is subject to the success of outside funding... if that funding disappears, so does my job, and then I'm really in trouble!), and also because my research position is only half-time, I want to earmark some of the GoFundMe donations to pay myself a stipend for my time on the electron microprobe and for the additional out-of-lab time I'd spend on data reduction and adding website content. I've calculated 120 hours on the electron microprobe at $15/hour (=$1800) and an additional 10 hours/week for 40 weeks of data processing and work on the website itself, also at $15/hour (=$6000). $15/hour is actually less than my regular hourly wage, but because my work on this project is really more "labor of love" than what I would call actual labor, I felt that including the value of a modest stipend to supplement and assist my regular half-time official income would be a more reasonable and appropriate GoFundMe request than asking for what might otherwise seem like an actual salary. Perhaps I'm selling myself short here, but it seems like a fair compromise that hopefully the average GoFundMe donor would not balk at. In any case, if I need to adjust this value in the future, you can be assured I'll provide a detailed justification.
Everything added together gives $13170. I threw in the $300 for a year of website hosting costs, for a total of $13470/year. Of course, this initial figure doesn't include a possible tax liability, so I added an additional 20% estimate to bring the total up to the posted goal of $16164. Any money raised above this will go to either additional analytical techniques (for example, doing X-ray mapping, where useful), and/or will be saved to offset future years' costs.
Some concluding thoughts...
So please take a look around rockPTX.com and explore the many pages and features. Note that my website will always be free to use, and there'll also never be any advertising to distract you from the educational content; it is entirely intended to be an online resource for students, geoscientists, and anyone with an interest in science, nature or even simply the beauty of minerals in thin section.
Thank you for taking the time to check out this page, my website, and also of course definitely thank you for any donation you feel inspired to give! Please feel free to contact me if you have any questions about my background and interests, about this campaign, or about the rockPTX.com website. I welcome comments and suggestions.