Category Archives: Classifications

A Fascinating Legend of Alchemy

Alchemy was supposed to be the predecessor of modern day of chemistry. It has held an important place in medieval times. The subject majorly focused on the transmutation of matter, especially on the conversion of different base metals such as copper, tin, nickel and lead into silver and gold.

The Philosopher’s Stone, has now become limited to the fantasy and fictional work of art. In fact most people, especially generation Y, relate it to J.K Rowling’s book, Harry Potter. It was once the most sought-after substance in the field of alchemy for nearly 1000 years and was used to turn ordinary metals into gold.

Origination of the concept

The concept of the Philosopher’s Stone seemingly has its roots in the theories presented by Geber, a prominent alchemist in the 8th century. He proposed that each element can be categorized by four essential qualities of coldness, hotness, moistness and dryness. This hypothesis became the foundation of the concept of transmutation of metals where one metal can be transformed into another by rearranging these four basic qualities of an element.

The concept of stone turning inexpensive metals into pricey  gold sounded so fascinating that it attracted the attention of influential people who then heavily invested in the search of the Philosopher’s Stone. There was a fine example from medieval times when a Bohemian king, who was facing several financial difficulties, decided to invest in search of the Philosopher’s Stone. A large number of alchemists flocked to Prague, who were provided with sufficient material and financial support, to find out the origin of the Philosopher’s Stone.

What does the Philosopher’s Stone look like?

Since there is no definite trail of the Philosopher’s Stone provided by history, therefore different historical anecdotes tell us different stories. It was called ‘the powder’, ‘the tincture’ or a ‘materia prima’. Materia prima was considered a prehistoric amorphous substance as the original source material of the universe.

The authenticity of the Philosopher’s Stone

The authenticity of this stone or substance is still draped in the cloak of secrecy and mystery. No one can definitely say that there exists a substance capable of transforming cheap metals into gold. However, there are a few intriguing facts that make the history of the Philosopher’s Stone more interesting.

In the 14th century, Nicolas Flamel, a French bookseller and public officer claimed to turn lead into gold with the help of a Spanish scholar and expert of mystic Hebrew text.  He didn’t disclose his methods publically and we are not certain if there was any truth to the claim. However, no one can deny the fact that at the same point of time, Flamel accumulated considerable amount of wealth and donated most of it to several charities.

Isaac Newton, the man who has given the field of modern sciences many undisputed principles, was also lured by the fascination of alchemy, and the Philosopher’s Stone.

Similar to these examples, there are many other historical figures who quested for the Philosopher’s Stone. The obsession of intelligentsia of those times with the Philosopher’s Stone provides some basis to the fact that it may have existed.

Is it just a metaphor?

Since, the Philosopher’s Stone has been heavily studied under the subject of alchemy, and since alchemy itself was famous for using metaphors and symbolisms to associate physical and chemical phenomena to metaphysical and philosophical ones, the possibility of the Stone also being a metaphor exists.

In this mystic side of alchemy, the Philosopher’s Stone was considered to be a symbol of a person’s inner potential. It was believed that the Stone helped an individual develop a higher state of conscious, insight and perfection – something that gold also symbolizes. Against this backdrop, alchemy fused the concept of transmutation of metals, spiritual enlightenment and rejuvenation of the body with the idea of the Philosopher’s Stone.

The Philosopher’s Stone: Its place in modern history

The quest for the Philosopher’s Stone started to die during the 19th century. However, at the end of the 19th century, with the discovery of radioactivity, it became possible to observe that metals can be transformed into other metals by radioactive decay. Frederick Soddy, an English radiochemist, called this phenomenon the transmutation of metal, a concept that had formed the backbone of alchemy and the Philosopher’s Stone.

The truth about the Philosopher’s Stone remains inconclusive, but its legend continues to live.

Classification of Gemstones

Gemstones are precious mineral and rock formations that are extracted from within the earth and vary in terms of their size, color and structure. It is due to this diversity in their types that gemstones cannot be classified through a single classification system. There are many ways geologist classify rocks and minerals found. First way to classify gemstones is by categorizing them into natural, synthetic and imitated gems. Aside from that, they are also classified as organic or inorganic and crystalline or amorphous rocks.

Classification as Natural and Synthetic

The only difference between natural and synthetic gem is the way they are made. Natural stones occur naturally, in our geological system without any human interference in their formation. Natural gemstones are regarded as rare because no gemstone is same as the other. Each is formed under slightly different environmental conditions. It is this rarity that makes them precious and unique. To identify a real natural gemstone, one must look for inclusions in the stones as these gems are bound to have inclusions due to the addition of other minerals during the process of their formation.  

On the other hands, synthetic gemstones are those, which are formed in labs by inducing the same environmental stimuli. Carbon and other chemical elements are used and treated under specific time, pressure and temperature setting to produce a gem. The gems produced in labs are chemically identical to those formed in earth.

Classification as Organic and Inorganic Rocks

Aside from classifying gemstones based on their occurrence, they can also be categorized into organic and inorganic gemstones.

Organic gemstones are those that are formed because of a living organism. It can include sea species, plants, shells, fossils, etc. The word ‘organic’ refers to something that involves organisms. Ivory, pearls, amber, coral, jet, ammonites, ammolites – they all are good examples of organic gemstones.

All other gemstones that are not formed through the organic way are categorized as inorganic. Whether they are found in earth, on its surface or beneath it, are known as inorganic minerals and comprise of almost all the gemstones we know of.  Inorganic gemstones, which are created in labs, are not considered as gemstones, and that is why they cannot be advertised as such.

Classification as Crystalline and Amorphous Rocks

Gems can be classified in the manner of differentiation between amorphous rocks and crystallized rocks. Amorphous rocks are those, which do not have a particular crystalline structure. They are naturally occurring and often called mineraloids.  Opal, amber and glass are all good examples of mineraloids. However, not all amorphous minerals are classified as gems.

On the other hand, crystallized minerals or crystals are those, which have a tight molecular structure with repetitive chains and formations. They are formed by three-dimensional arrangements of molecules. Diamonds and rubies are an example of crystals. Zircon is the world’s oldest found crystal. However, not all crystals can be classified as gems because crystals are pure substances that have a solid and definite structure, since their molecules are arranged in a specific three-dimensionally array.  

Classifications of Minerals and their Uses

Do you know that according to an estimate, each person living in the United States of America uses around three million pounds of metals, minerals, and rocks for one purpose or another?

While we know that minerals, metals and rocks are important parts of our daily lives, the figures are surprising, right?

Carl Ege from the Utah Geological Survey seemed to know this already. This is why, in his book “What are Minerals Used For?” he said that majority of people are not aware that minerals are important part of our everyday life.

Before we delve into the details of what role minerals play in our daily life and how they are used, let’s first understand what minerals basically are?

The Word Mineral

As we all know, the word ‘mineral’ is used in daily life for referring to two different substances; dietary minerals and elements that are found inside the earth. This article, however, is targeted towards the second type of minerals.

How Do We Define Minerals?

Minerals are natural, homogenous substances that have crystalline structure and are found inside the earth’s crust. In simple words, they can be understood as naturally occurring elements.

The International Mineralogical Association put forward a standard definition of minerals in 1965. According to it, “a mineral is a chemical compound or an element that is formed as a result of various geological processes and features a crystalline structure”.

The above given definition tells us that a naturally occurring substance must fulfill the following criteria in order to be considered as a mineral:

  • It is formed naturally, as a result of various geological processes. There is no such thing as a synthetic mineral. Even gemstones that are prepared in the lab are not considered minerals, for example cubic zirconia.
  • It occurs in solid state. A mineral does not exist in any other state, but solid only.
  • The crystalline structure is another criterion that a substance must fulfill in order to qualify as a mineral. Each type of mineral is formed by unique geometric arrangement of atoms that gives them a different crystal structure.
  • As DNA is the basic structure of human cells that differentiates each person form the other, a mineral is identified by its chemical composition. Each type of mineral features a unique chemical composition that differentiates it from other members of the mineral family.

How Do We Classify Minerals?

Mineral classification is a highly difficult process due to their abundance. A large numbers of minerals i.e. more than 4,600, according to the International Mineralogical Association, have already been discovered while the process of finding more is still going on.

For identification and classification of minerals, following characteristics are taken into account:

  • Color
  • Luster
  • Streak
  • Hardness i.e. its resistance to scratching
  • Density
  • Transparency or Clarity
  • Cleavage and fracture i.e. its breaking pattern; whether it breaks along smooth lines or unevenly.
  • Specific Gravity
  • Crystal structure

Categories of Minerals

Once a mineral is identified by taking into account the above mentioned factors, it is categorized either as a silicate or nonsilicate, according to its chemical composition

  • Silicate Minerals

Silicate Mineral
Silicate Mineral
Author: Lloyd.james0615 https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Chrysocolla.jpg#filelinks

These are most commonly found minerals; they make up almost 90% of the earth’s crust. Silicate minerals contain oxygen and silicon as basic materials and are usually formed as a result of the natural process of the cooling of melted rocks.

  • Non-silicate Minerals

Non-silicate minerals also make a large group. They are sub-divided as:

  • Oxides
  • Sulfides
  • Sulfates
  • Carbonates
  • Organic Minerals
  • Native Elements

Non-silicate minerals are formed as a result of different natural processes:

  • As a result of the process of mineral decomposition
  • Due to cooling of magma
  • Evaporation of water from earth that leaves behind the crystals of minerals

Ten Commonly Used Minerals

Last August, we discussed the most commonly used minerals and how they are used. Now, we will elaborate on them some more, as well as additonal common elements in the mineral category. Despite the fact that thousands of mineral have so far been discovered, not all of them are being used by human beings. Only 100 minerals are commonly found due to their abundance and as many as 40 have diverse usages in our daily lives.

Here, we are highlighting the ten minerals that we commonly use in everyday life:

  • Aluminum

One of the most abundantly found metallic mineral inside the earth’s crust, Aluminum is widely used in various industries. Its biggest use is in the manufacturing of airplanes and automobiles. Around 25% of aluminum is used is canning and bottling industries, whereas 14% is used for electrical and building purposes.

  • Asbestos

Asbestos is a class of minerals that include six fibrous minerals. They are, actinolite, chrysotile, anthophyllite, amosite, tremolite, and anthophyllite.

We all have heard about asbestos being used for insulation due to its heat resistant property. However, it is also used in manufacturing of cement sheets and pipes, various friction products, paint filler, chemical filters, gaskets, etc.

Although asbestos is dangerous for human health, it is used because the minerals can easily be converted into flexible, strong, and heat resistant, fibers.

  • Beryllium

Beryllium is an important mineral for aircraft and defense industry because it’s light, yet very strong alloys are used in aircrafts manufacturing. The mineral is also used in bronze metallurgy, as a deoxidizer, in fluorescent lights and X-ray tubes. However, Beryllium is a highly toxic mineral.

A widely used precious gemstone emerald also belongs to the category of Beryllium.

  • Copper

Copper is another highly useful mineral that is widely used in a range of industries. From jewelry, electric wires, cables and machinery to plumbing, transportation and in making of currency, copper is abundantly used by humans in manufacturing of products that are used on a daily basis. Since copper is a good conductor of electricity, it is widely used all over the world in electrical industry.

  • Clays

Different types of clay minerals are used in the manufacturing industries. From household products, such as crockery, and pottery, to sanitary products, tiles, firebricks, fire clay and various construction materials, clay minerals play the key role. Additionally, they are used to make certain products that are very commonly used in everyday life, such as paper and rubber.

  • Gold

Gold is one of those minerals that everyone is aware of. Apart from its key usage i.e. to make jewelry, gold is also used for making medals, coins, computer circuitry, for electroplating, for manufacturing certain applications used in aerospace industry, and for various electronic and scientific instruments.

Gold is also used in the field of dentistry for making artificial replacement teeth. Gold is an easily malleable metal that adds value and diversity to its usages.

  • Iron Ore

Manufacturing of steel is the biggest purpose Iron ore is used for. The fourth most abundantly found element in the earth’s crust is also used for making auto parts, magnets, catalysts and numerous other metallurgical products. Modern world largely owes its development (in terms of construction and production) to the Iron ore.

Iron ore makes up the 5% of earth’ crust.

  • Lead

Do you know that the United States is not only the biggest producer, but also the recycler and consumer of lead?

It is mainly used in manufacturing of ammunitions, nuclear shielding, containers, television tubes, ceramics, batteries and in the construction industry. Previously, lead was also used in manufacturing of household utensils, in pencils and paints, but these uses have largely been terminated because of its harmful effects. Upon contact, Lead can poison food and water.

  • Quartz

Quartz is the name that has been given to a family of rocks. Silica (a type of Quartz) is the most abundantly found mineral on earth. In crystal form, it is highly popular as semi-precious gemstones. These include smoky quartz, amethyst, rose quartz and citrine. It is also used for manufacturing of paints, glass, precision instruments, watches, abrasives and silicon semiconductors.

Quartz can generate electricity when mechanical stress is applied thus, it is use to make oscillators, pressure gauges, wave stabilizers and resonators. Also, it is used in making pictographic lenses, prism and heat ray lamps.