When we think of minerals, normally the perfect crystals on display at museums or in somebody’s collection are the first thing that comes to mind. Transparent, colored, with peculiar shapes and properties, they surely are items that instill a sense of marvel but they look as nothing more than some rare or extravagant finding from some exotic location. This conclusion is wrong: minerals are everywhere around us. The bedrock where we live, our planet, and solid, extraterrestrial world consists of nothing else than minerals. Rocks, soil, even some solid parts of organisms like bones or shells are made of minerals. Every day we use items made of minerals and that exist because we, humans, have exploited some minerals. I am writing this page using a notebook with copper filaments and iron, chromium, zinc, and nickel components. Before that, I tried to remove the limescale of tiny calcite crystals off the dishwasher and I have prepared myself a healthy lunch, carefully dosing the crystals of table salt (halite) in my meal.
Most of us do not even notice how much we depend from minerals. Our ability to obtain resources from minerals shaped our history, starting from cave dwellers that learned how to carve tools of quartz (chert) and extract metals from the bedrock. Our modern life depends from the right mixture of clays in the soil to sustain crops. Buildings stand because we use materials, like concrete, consisting of minerals that give them the properties we need. Perhaps all these substances may appear dull compared to museum specimens, but they all are solid compounds with a specific chemical composition and whose atoms are arranged in an ordered, symmetric crystal lattice that make each of them unique and different from the over 5500 natural minerals known to man.
Minerals are fundamental to our society but they are also the building materials of rocks, mountains, continents, and our entire planet. Geologists, petrologists, and mineralogists study minerals or aggregates of minerals (rocks) at different scales and from different perspectives. These studies help us discover the resources needed to sustain our lifestyle, but also understand the properties of the materials that we use to build our houses… or that of the rocks where we built them! Through the study of minerals, we understand the geological processes that incessantly occur beneath our feet and continue to shape our planet. I personally see the usefulness of minerals in our life, in the end, as a by-product of basic research on these incredible substances that fills us with wonder where we see them at museums.
In this section, I hope to show field and microscope images of the most common rock-forming minerals that occur on our planet. Write me if you would like me to write pages of specific minerals. If you like what I am doing, consider following me on my socials or support me at the price of a coffee!