Completed in 1984 to house Cornell's geological sciences, the building was named to honor William E. Snee and his family, who provided funds for construction.
Designed in the early 1980s by the late Mario Schack, (a former professor in Cornell's College of Architecture, Art,and Planning), Snee Hall is distinguished by a four-story high atrium which fills with space and light from a ceiling of glass. The Snee atrium houses a number of fascinating displays including the Timothy N. Heasley Mineralogical Museum, dinosaur footprints, a life-size plesiosaur cast, fossils from the Paleontological Research Institution that range from trilobites to mastodon tusks, a large working model of sediment transport by water flow, and a continuously operating seismograph station that records earthquakes.
The Timothy N. Heasley Mineralogy Museum is nestled into the apex of the Snee Hall atrium. Despite its diminutive size, it hosts a surprisingly diverse collection of minerals, fossils, lapidary works and antique instrumentation. The displays within its glass walls feature specimens representative of the thousands of known minerals. Many of these are from type localities and are of historic interest, including specimens from the Benjamin Silliman, Jr. "Cabinet of Minerals" purchased by Ezra Cornell in 1868 as the foundation of the University's original Museum of Geology and Mineralogy then housed in McGraw Hall.
Dr. William A. Bassett and gemologist Elise A. Skalwold, '82. Bassett and Skalwold are co-authors of the 415 page coffee-table book, "The Edward Arthur Metzger Gem Collection." This volume is available locally in the lobby of the Johnson Museum of Art or by mail order through Lithographie, LLC online bookstore here: http://www.lithographie.org/bookshop/the_edward_arthur_metzger.htm
While the Heasley Museum was originally organized on the Dana System, there are currently thematic displays designed to appeal to a wider audience. These include such themes as: minerals of New York State and the Finger Lakes Region; the seven crystal systems, unique characteristics of different species and groups (example: tourmaline, garnet, quartz); fluorescent minerals; optical effects in natural crystals and lapidary materials.
One of the most popular displays is that of minerals paired with lapidary works such as ornamental carvings and gemstones. Lapidaries take advantage of unique properties of some minerals to create extraordinary effects in faceted and cabbed gemstones. Gems themselves provide fascinating ways to explore not only optical mineralogy, but also serve as windows into geological processes. Central to the lapidary arts theme is the Allen and William Bassett Gem Collection.
The museum's 1920s Model A two circle reflecting goniometer was designed by Prof. V. M. Goldschmidt and was made by Stoe & Rheinheimer of Heidelberg. There are probably fewer than 800 reflecting goniometers predating World War II in existence, and only 10 of this particular model were manufactured in 1920. This style of goniometer was inspired by the need to measure some newly discovered pink crystals which were so large that they would not fit in the pre-1905 Goldschmidt models. With the new design, the crystals were then able to be positively identified as spodumene by George F. Kunz and are now known as the gem "kunzite." For the whole story, see Shen, A.H., Bassett, W.A., Skalwold, E.A., Fan, N.J., and Tao, T. (2012) "Precision measurement of inter-facet angles on faceted gems using a goniometer". Gems & Gemology, Vol. 48, No. 1, pp. 32-38.
Images provided by Elise Skalwold.