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What are Minerals?

Many people wonder, what are minerals? A mineral is a solid substance made of chemical compounds that have bonded together.

Collection of minerals.

Minerals come in all different shapes, sizes, textures, and colors.

How are minerals made?

Minerals occur as a product of geological processes. Some may form as a solid concentration during evaporation in mineral-rich water. This is a form of deposition. Other minerals form when a lava flow cools and hardens. Most form under extreme pressure and high temperatures.
A mineral deposit is a large concentration of a mineral found to be occurring in one area. If it’s valuable to humans, we call the deposit an ore. Additionally, mineral deposits often contain more than one mineral.
Gold is a mineral.

The discovery of a large mineral deposit containing gold sparked the California Gold Rush in 1848.

What are minerals made of?

Chemical composition determines what the final mineral will be. The mineral’s chemical composition is equal to the elements it contains. A mineral can contain only one element, like gold or iron. However, other minerals contain many different elements that have grouped together. Brass, for example, is a mineral made of both copper and zinc.
When different elements group together, their molecules form specific crystalline structures. These crystals form replicating patterns. The crystal patterns are what give a mineral a specific shape, hardness, color, and luster.

Why do crystal patterns matter?

A mineral’s crystalline structure is important. Not only does it provide a mineral’s shape but it also defines the mineral’s hardness. To show how important the crystal structure is, consider graphite and diamonds. Graphite is a soft mineral. Diamond is the hardest mineral we know. But both graphite and diamonds come from the element carbon. It is the structure of the carbon crystals that make the two minerals so different.
Graphite is a mineral.

Graphite is the part of the pencil that actually creates the markings on the paper.

The Mohs Hardness Scale is a 10 point scale used to measure a mineral’s hardness. This depends on how resistant it is to scratching. The higher a mineral rates, the more resistant it is to scratches.
Diamond is a mineral.

Diamonds have a hardness of 10. However, graphite has a hardness of 1-2.

How do we classify minerals?

In order for geologists to classify a substance as a mineral, it must meet five requirements:

  1. It must occur naturally. This means that humans can’t make minerals.
  2. It must be inorganic. An organism cannot make them.
  3. It must be solid. This means it cannot be a liquid or a gas.
  4. It has a definite chemical composition. All minerals of a specific classification contain the same combination of elements.
  5. It must have an ordered internal structure. This means it has a repeating pattern of crystals.

If a substance does not meet all five requirements, then we don’t consider it a mineral.

What is the difference between minerals and rocks?

A mineral is not simply a rock.

A rock is an aggregate (or combination) of one or more minerals. There are many different types of rocks including igneoussedimentary, and metamorphic. The type of rock depends on the geological process it took to combine the minerals.

How do we use minerals?

There are about 4,000 minerals known to humankind. But do you know what they do?
Most people don’t realize that they use minerals every day. The average person in the U.S.A. will use or consume about 40,000 pounds of minerals every year.
So where are these minerals and how so we use them?
Minerals exist in items that people use every day. Soaps and shampoos may contain minerals such as selenium or sodium chloride. Electrical wires used in construction consist of copper or aluminum. Computers contain some such as silica, nickel, and iron.
Minerals are in beauty products.

Minerals used in soaps and shampoos are good for healthy skin and hair.

Minerals are also in the foods people eat. Some common ones that people get from foods include calcium, magnesium, and potassium.
Food sometimes contains minerals.

Fruits, vegetables, legumes, and nuts are mineral-rich foods.

Other Great Resources:

Minerals and Crystal Structure: https://geology.com/minerals/what-is-a-mineral.shtml

The National Park Service: https://www.nps.gov/subjects/geology/minerals.htm

Introduction to Minerals:

Physical Properties of Minerals:

‘What do Minerals Do?’:

 

Written by: Stephanie Banh.