Geology Rocks the Web

Thursday, April 2 2009

April 2, 2009

Written by Ken Kingery

MOSCOW, Idaho – With three-dimensional, rotating graphics, innovative videos and virtual laboratories, the study of ancient rocks and minerals has never looked so modern.

Supported by a $500,000 grant from the National Science Foundation, a textbook on mineralogy co-written by Mickey Gunter, professor of geology at the University of Idaho, has captured 20 percent of the market just one year after its release. Part of the book’s appeal is the DVD included with each volume that features every image from the book, some in three-dimensional detail.

Now, the NSF has authorized funding for a second project to develop interactive, Web-based illustrations for introductory geology classes. Gunter and Darby Dyar of Mt. Holyoke College in Massachusetts, his co-author on the previous book, were recently awarded $80,000 to begin developing this material. They hope the mostly Web-based project will allow distance learning while keeping student costs low.

“We hope to develop two or three modules in the next year that deliver distance, interactive Web-based science,” said Gunter. “We want to incorporate virtual microscopes, virtual rocks and virtual maps, so you can distance-deliver the material to place-bound people who can’t come to a university.”

The DVD featuring graphics and one entire chapter online is part of the reason why Gunter’s previous book is so successful, and why the NSF has funded the beginnings of this second project.

The other reason the mineralogy book is so successful is its price.

To keep costs down, Gunter had the mineralogy book printed by a non-profit publishing company. Students who become members of the Mineralogy Society of America (MSA), which costs $10, receive a 25 percent discount on the book. Gunter also provides free copies of the book for his students at the University of Idaho.

With the broader project in the works to be digitally driven, Gunter hopes it will be even cheaper for students, especially if it is entirely Web-based. But, he cautions, someone still has to pay for Web maintenance and other associated fees. He’s hoping to look into advertisements to keep those costs down.

Either way, the prospect has allowed Gunter to enter an area of academia he never thought he would pursue.

“I used to say I’d never write a book because I didn’t want to get involved in that price gouging,” said Gunter, who also donates all of his royalties from the book to the University of Idaho and the MSA. “But then I had the chance to do it through a non-profit, and that made a big difference. And with this new grant for the new Web book, we’re researching ways to make the whole project sustainable and we’d like to provide all this for free. The catch is you have to find enough to pay for the costs to break even.”
# # #

About the University of Idaho
Founded in 1889, the University of Idaho is the state’s flagship higher-education institution and its principal graduate education and research university, bringing insight and innovation to the state, the nation and the world. University researchers attract nearly $100 million in research grants and contracts each year; the University of Idaho is the only institution in the state to earn the prestigious Carnegie Foundation ranking for high research activity. The university’s student population includes first-generation college students and ethnically diverse scholars. Offering more than 150 degree options in 10 colleges, the university combines the strengths of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. For information, visit

Media Contact: Ken Kingery, University Communications, (208) 885-9156,

About the University of Idaho
The University of Idaho helps students to succeed and become leaders. Its land-grant mission furthers innovative scholarly and creative research to grow Idaho's economy and serve a statewide community. From its main campus in Moscow, Idaho, to 70 research and academic locations statewide, U-Idaho emphasizes real-world application as part of its student experience. U-Idaho combines the strength of a large university with the intimacy of small learning communities. It is home to the Vandals. For information, visit