Sharing Agate Appeal

Joe Dehmer
Joe Dehmer

By Antoinette Rahn

It’s not every day that wisdom from revered Chinese philosopher Confucius describes the life one has led, versus the life one aspires to lead.

However, retired physicist Joe Dehmer is someone whose approach to life and career aptly reflects the advice, “Choose a job you love, and you will never have to work a day in your life.” Now in retirement, Dehmer applies the same philosophy to his pursuit of acquiring specimens and knowledge about agates and jaspers. During the International Exposition of Agate, slated for June 6-9 in Austin, Texas, Dehmer will speak about one of his favorite subjects: agate genesis.

A Lifetime of Learning

“I’ve been fortunate to have had two compelling interests thus far in my life. The first is physics. Trained in theoretical and experimental physics, I spent about 30 years as a research scientist, another 15 or so years as a manager of federal science programs supporting the work of researchers all across the U.S., and, finally, as the director of a large sector of a major national laboratory overseeing about 1,000 Ph.D. scientists and a number of Nobel Prize winners,” said Dehmer, who retired in 2014 following a 50-year career centered around physics. “The second major interest began about 30 years ago with the study of the evolution of the earth and life on earth. Thus, earth processes and fossils of past life were of great interest. Ultimately, this led to the discovery of the natural beauty and the many mysteries associated with agates and jaspers.”

Patagonia agate
This agate from Patagonia helps illustrate the allure of agates. The half banded agate prompts consideration of three questions about agate genesis: How does the pattern of concentric bands form? What is the nature and origin of the radial channels that connect the exterior of the nodule with the interior (as indicated by arrows)? And how do the bands attain different intense colors? (Joe Dehmer)

Not only is it easy to see why Dehmer developed such an appreciation and interest in agates and jasper, but his explanation of their appeal is another explanation for their popularity.

“Agates and jaspers command the intense interest of a huge, international community because they represent one of the most striking, durable forms of natural art and because the chemistry, physics, and earth science of their development are still not well understood after decades of study,” he said.

Dehmer is part of an esteemed panel of seasoned agate collectors and experts scheduled to present during the June exposition, which is presented by Nature’s Treasures. The four-day event includes presentations regarding agate origins, history, mining, collecting, critical characteristics, and value.

Eyes on Exposition of Agates

As Dehmer explains, the International Exposition of Agate is the fourth in a series of foundational meetings in the field. The first exposition took place in 2008, and in addition to lectures by a variety of speakers, the exposition features more than 30 vendors offering for sale a variety of agates. There are exhibits of private collections presented by the Austin Gem & Mineral Society, some appearing for the first time. The curated exhibits to be featured during the 2019 exhibition include Laguna, Chinese Fighting Blood, Lake Superior, Thunder Egg, and Purple Passion agates, as well as dinosaur fossil agates.

There’s a lot to discover about agates, but as Dehmer explained, that’s part of the appeal.

“These agates have formed over long time spans in hard rock deep underground. Scientists have been unable to reproduce banded agate formation in the laboratory, and understanding their genesis involves a complex set of questions, involving chemistry, physics, and earth science. It is a worthy challenge that is closer to the beginning than the end of its history.”

For more information about the International Exposition of Agate, visit, email, or call 512-472-5015.


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