Iridescence in metamorphic "rainbow" hematite

Xiayang Lin, Peter J. Heaney, Jeffrey E. Post

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review

2 Scopus citations


The authors investigated "rainbow" hematite from Minas Gerais, Brazil, using electron microscopy, atomic force microscopy, and synchrotron X-ray diffraction to determine the cause of its intense wide-angle iridescence. The study revealed that the interference is produced by a highly periodic microstructure consisting of spindle-shaped hematite nanocrystals containing minor Al and P impurities. The nanorods are 200-300 nm in length and 50-60 nm in width. They are arranged in three orientations at 120° angles with respect to each other and stacked layer by layer to form the bulk crystal. The distances between adjacent parallel spindle-shaped particles within the same layer fall in the range of 280-400 nm, generating a diffraction grating for visible light. The organized substructure is apparent on all freshly fractured surfaces, suggesting that it represents more than an exterior surface coating. The authors propose that this periodic substructure results from arrested crystal growth by the oriented aggregation of hematite nanorods.

Original languageEnglish (US)
Pages (from-to)28-39
Number of pages12
JournalGems and Gemology
Issue number1
StatePublished - Mar 1 2018

All Science Journal Classification (ASJC) codes

  • Geochemistry and Petrology


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