Mineralogy is a type of geology focused on minerals, which are chemical compounds that form into often beautiful stones. It includes the study of their composition, their geographic locations, and their use. Minerals can take a variety of shapes and forms, and have complex and unique chemical structures. Mineralogy is essential to understand the uses of minerals and their importance in geology.
Where do Minerals Come From?
Minerals occur when natural compounds form into larger, more complex mixtures, like marble. These processes can take a very long time and are caused by a series of chemical reactions. This scientific origin does not make minerals or the things they create any less beautiful or useful; their complexity makes them even more unique! Some minerals, like magnesium, are even essential for all life on earth.
What are Minerals Used For?
Minerals are used in almost every aspect of life, making mineralogy of vital importance. From the alarm clock we hit snooze on in the morning to the television we watch in the evening (and the glasses or contacts many of us use to watch it through), to everything we eat and the coffee we drink, everything either has minerals in it, is held in something made of minerals, or is made using minerals! Minerals are used for almost everything and, like magnesium, many are essential for life.
- Utah Geological Survey: What are minerals used for?
- National Mining Association: Facts about coal and minerals
List of Common Minerals
There are a lot of minerals out there! There are, approximately, 3800 known minerals in the world, and we are discovering new ones all the time. As new elements are discovered, some are removed from the list for a variety of reasons, but the list is continuously evolving. Every new element discovered represents the possibility of new scientific discoveries and advancements! Here is a list of some of the most common minerals, including some that you may use every day without realizing it!
- Cobalt. A mineral that can add a blue color to glass, cobalt is frequently found in meteorites, and it can even be used in invisible ink!
- Asbestos. Although asbestos can be hazardous in some forms, causing cancers in those who breathe it, it can also be polished to a beautiful stone called Tigers Eye.
- Copper. You probably have copper in your house right now! Copper is used in pipes, for cooking utensils, for cups, for jewelry, even for electrical wiring.
- Gold. One of the most famous and mythologized metals in the world, gold is valued for its intrinsic value but also for its conductivity, its malleable nature, and its use in dentistry.
- Lead. Lead is often seen as dangerous, but lead poisoning is rare. Lead is used in a variety of products, but should not be held to the skin or breathed in for too long.
- Quartz. Quartz is hugely abundant on earth and is used in watches, to make glass, in scientific instruments, and in concrete pavement.
- Uranium. A highly radioactive element, uranium is used in cancer treatments, for x-rays, and in space travel.
- Zinc. Zinc is a mineral that is essential for human life. Zinc deficiencies can result in a variety of illness, from the common cold to macular degeneration.
- Iron Ore. Iron is a considerable part of human history, but it is still used widely today. Building projects depend on iron, as do many production and manufacturing industries.
- Talc. Talc is used in a significant number of products, including corn starch and baby powder. It is also often found in plastics.
- Turquoise. While turquoise is a blend of minerals, copper and aluminum, it is one of the most recognizable minerals in the world. Turquoise makes beautiful jewelry and has important cultural uses in cultures across the world.
- Feldspar. One of the most common minerals on earth, feldspar is often found in granite, an important part of many kitchens, many buildings, and many monuments.
- Lithium. A versatile mineral, lithium is used in medicines to treat bipolar disorder and in batteries of all sorts.
- Nickel. Nickel is used in money, but it is also used in jewelry, utensils, and several alloys.
- Potassium. Every time you eat a banana, you are ingesting a great source of potassium! Potassium is essential for life, working with salt to regulate cell pressure. Potassium is also used in soap making and in
- Silver. Silver is used for cutlery, for jewelry, and sometimes for currency. Silver is also used in medicine, as it is anti-microbial.
- Barium. Barium, like uranium, is used in x-rays, as well as rat poison, some rubbers, and even in fireworks!
- Mineralogical Society of America: Frequently asked questions
- Forbes: What are the most common minerals on earth?
- The Science Spot: Mighty minerals project (PDF)
Resources for Kids
Kids should learn about minerals and mineralogy, no matter what their larger interests are. Being aware of the world around us is important so that children know more about how science applies to their worlds, and knowing what minerals are, what they do, and where they are found is important for children, and luckily, learning about minerals can be fun! Minerals are all around, so knowing the foundations of mineralogy can help children understand a wide variety of other subjects.
- cK-12.org: Formation of minerals
- Minerals4Kids: Minerals in your house
- One Geology: Rocks and minerals
Resources for Educators
Educators teaching students about mineralogy can benefit from a wide variety of educational resources and activities. Lesson plans incorporating mineralogy can be used in almost any subject or grade level, incorporating this important study into a wide variety of lessons. Educators don’t have to be scientists to teach and enjoy mineralogy, especially with lessons plans and enthusiasm for this great subject!