#MinCup 2017 – how Olivine became the greatest mineral of all (for one year at least)

This is the story of how an age old field discussion found its way onto Twitter; became a knockout voting cup, picked up 17,000 votes and crowned Olivine the greatest of all minerals.

“The Minerals Cup” or #MinCup as it quickly became known had a rather small beginning. A tweet containing a picture of some lovely strained quartz caught my eye. A pretty picture like this couldn’t go unshared, so I duly re-tweeted it with a somewhat flippant comment about why this picture proves that quartz is the best mineral. This comment was quickly pounced upon, leading to the following twitter exchange.

start tweets

That was it. That’s how the #mincup started.

However, it wasn’t really the spur of the moment decision it may have initially appeared to be. This is an argument I have had many, many times with colleagues on field trips. When Geologists ask each other, “What is you favourite rock?” they often receive a non-committal answer which doesn’t get debated much. Now when a Geologist asks another Geologist, “What is your favourite mineral?” things are a little different. We love our minerals and boy, oh boy, are we going to try and convince each other to like the same mineral.

Picking the contenders

Right, so following the tweets above I sat down to make a list of what minerals should be in the cup. Thirty-two seemed to be a fair number, similar to many sports competitions and if there was one head to head match each day then it would run for 1 month.

However, I hit a problem.

Thirty-two minerals; there are probably over thirty-two different types of feldspar alone!!! To start off I needed a set criteria which meant a mineral was eligible for the #MinCup.

  1. It must be a natural geological material. Man made minerals do not qualify.
  2. There must be a natural specimen on display somewhere in the world. 

It was clear that some minerals were going to have to be grouped, therefore the feldspars and pyroxenes were each split into two broad groups. I needed an example of each crystal structure, hexagonal, orthorhombic, monoclinic etc., there also needed to be examples typical of igneous, metamorphic and sedimentary rocks. Finally, there also needed to be some ore minerals. I decided to leave out clay minerals (there are so many of them and they incredibly varied that they should have their own cup). The other notable mineral which was omitted was ice. Ice now has its own #MinCup tale to tell but to cut a long story short it will be included in next years #MinCup.

Making the draw

Before long, I had a list in front of me. I knew that there were some notable absentees and not everyone would be happy but at this stage I didn’t think it mattered as I only expected 10-20 people to take part (little did i know eh!). But it was time to set out the cup structure and make the draw. It would be a thirty-two team knockout tournament with a new head to head twitter poll each day deciding which mineral would progress to the next round. Seeing as this was the first #MinCup I didn’t have ranking system yet to use so there were no “seeds”. The mineral names were written onto pieces of paper which were drawn randomly from a hat.

minerals cup

The lineup that would make up Round 1 of the 2017 #MinCup

Round 1

So this little endevour started on the 1st of September and as I said previously, I expected a handful of my friends on twitter to join in. Round one kicked off with two very popular minerals Olivine and Pyrite and it soon became apparent that it was more than just my friends that were interested.

Over 300 votes in the first match up and olivine prevailed to the 2nd round. 

With that many people voting, I knew I was going to have to see this through. As the round progressed, it became clear that people were really starting to engage with this cup and active “lobbying” for their favourite mineral was becoming commonplace.

People shared photomicrographs, opinions, experiences, and some seriously nerdy facts started to appear (I’m looking at you FaithfullJohn)

(I’m not going to give a match by match commentary of the #mincup with all the amazing facts and images you shared. After this blog I will post mini blogs of each of the 2017 #MinCup minerals “best bits” so we have a record of how awesome the Geo community is at sharing our science with each other.)

After 16 days of voting, debating sharing, crying, and Gif sharing, (incidentally kudos to JimmySantangeli on his volume of gif work during the cup,) we had decided which minerals were our early losers and which would progress. 

Round 1 final results:


If you want to read back through the twitter polls the follow the comments on this tweet:

Round 2 – the final 16

We had now gone from 32 to 16 minerals and accumulated over 6000 votes! At this stage, we had eliminated a lot of minerals that people didn’t really seem to care about (poor molybdenite) and our round two match ups were getting tasty….

Olivine (you’re gonna be hearing that name a lot) Vs quartz proved to be the big match of the round drawing in many comments, protestations, emotional blackmail and gif battles but ultimately it was olivine that marched on.

At this stage more and more people were joining in while others were still bitter about round one results – see this mini thread:

The matches were coming thick and fast and some big names were starting to fall by the wayside. here are the final results for round 2:

The Quarter Finals

We were down to our final 8 minerals and I think we can all agree there were no more weak minerals left, all of these had proven popular and had developed a strong following.

#MinCup started to get a bit more serious all of a sudden.

(This was the round that broke my smart phone, notifications were coming in so fast it kept crashing!!) There were some big match up and the first of the round was no exception. Olivine vs Garnet. Both of these minerals has their dedicated followers and had sailed through to this round. But this really was a clash of the heavy weights. For the first time, almost a thousand of you voted in a single match up. There were so many amazing factoids being shot around as well as some suggestions of underhanded tactics by fans of other minerals (mini thread)

But ultimately it was Olivine that prevailed, living up to its reputation as a giant slayer and gaining it a new nick name – The Green Monster.

However, for me the highlight of the round has most certainly been the epic battle between Plagioclase and Zircon. This was a match up that will go down in #MinCup history as the proof that every vote counts!

Plagioclase vs Zircon Timeline

  • Zircon took an early lead with a substantial 20 point gap ahead of Plagioclase.
  • Over the next 15 hours, Plagioclase clawed it back vote by vote.
  • With 7 hours to go – voting was an even 50:50
  • With 2 hours to go – Plagioclase took a vital vote and went ahead with a 1% lead.
  • Within 30 minutes of Plagioclase taking the lead, Zircon was back to level pegging.
  • In the final hour,  people all around the globe were watching their phones/tablets/computer as the votes came in.

#Mincup HQ had to take action: Plans were being put in place for a sudden death style play off to decide a victor.

I know it was going to be close so I watched the votes come in 1 by 1 with seconds to go a vote was cast which sealed the deal. Zircon went through by the narrowest of margins. After 913 votes it won by 1 vote 457-456. there was despair, joy, shock, celebrations and exhaustion….

The other quarterfinal matches saw Magnetite and Apatite prevail against epidote and rutile

The Semi-Finals

So at this stage geotwitter had whittled the 32 starters down to a final 4.


The amount of commenting and sharing had exploded during the quarter finals but the semi-finals really saw the scicomm part of the #MinCup flourish, there were threads, gif battles, heated debates, and even #MinCup poetry had become a thing (mostly thanks to Rashaw_Rocks and VolColMac – who has coined the phrase “Poetrology”).

It was at this stage that mikamckinnon  started to treat us to some excellent threads (look out for some excellent ones in the final)

But ultimately, the point of the semi-finals was to pick our finalists and it was OLIVINE and ZIRCON that got through.


And then there were two…..

“The Green Monster” vs “The Time Lord”

From our 32 minerals were were down to OLIVINE  vs ZIRCON to decide the champion of #MinCup. The votes poured in, the gifs looped and looped, the threads were growing and Olivine took a massive early lead 75-25. By 20hrs to go, that lead was down to 62-48 and by 12 hours to go it was 52-47….. zircon was coming back.

Here are some examples of the fab info that was being shared far and wide in the hope of gaining votes:

the big guns were sitting on the fence

Some even took time to reflect on this as a #scicomm exercise and to point out how this proves that humans will have an opinion on anything!

After 32 days of voting and 16,953 votes cast (1,500 in the final alone) the people had spoken…


Final rankings

So after 17,000 votes, it was time to look back on how each mineral preformed. Ranking was done using 2 criteria,

  1. The round the mineral was eliminated.
  2. The total vote received by that mineral up to the point of its elimination.

Looking back on the #MinCup as a method of science communication #SciComm

Looking back at the early stages of the #MinCup I never expected it to grow into the massive entity it became.

What started off as a piece of fun became thoroughly engrossing. I would’ve considered myself a mineral nerd before this started, however, I could not believe the amount of new mineralogical information I was being exposed to. I wasn’t the only one. I read so many tweets by people saying that they have learned so many new things. This cup manged to attract a wide range of people, Geologists, other scientists, non-scientists and media. To have been picked up on the radar of groups like BritGeoSurveyEuroGeosciences and NatureComms highlights the reach of twitter and the #MinCup. During the 32 days that the #mincup ran, my own tweets gained over 1.6million twitter interactions from all over the world. However, I cannot take credit for the success of #MinCup – it was down to the hundreds of people who were retweeting, sharing facts, photos, papers, debating, asking for advice, and being extraordinarily enthusiastic that made the #MinCup work.

So thank you to everyone who got involved.

I can’t name drop you all but as I stated earlier I will be compiling all your awesome info into a series of smaller mineral dedicated miniblogs so keep an eye out for your tweets there.

The aspect of #MinCup, that pleases me the most, is that it has not just been an educational experience for those tweeting but even for some that did not directly take part on twitter. It was picked up by Geology teachers who took #mincup from twitter and brought it into their classroom. A great example of this was Geol_Greenhead who had her students researching the minerals and debating them in class. From this, they have launched their own #RockCup which is proving to be just as much fun. A final quirky off shoot of the #MinCUp has to be the detailed artwork by iamhazelgibson based on the minerals we voted on. Keep a eye out for some exciting news from Hazel regarding this in the next few weeks.

So to sum up, olivine won, I had fun, I think we all learned new things, running #MinCup is exhausting, and quartz will have its revenge next year.

Next up…. #DinoCup

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