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G1 - Mineral or Not

I can classify substances as mineral or non-mineral

You use objects that are made from minerals every day, even if you do not realize it. You are actually eating a mineral when you eat food that contains salt. You are drinking from a mineral when you drink from a glass. You might wear silver jewelry. The shiny metal silver, the white grains of salt, and the clear glass may not seem to have much in common, but they are all made from minerals (Figure below). Silver is a mineral. Table salt is the mineral halite. Glass is produced from the mineral quartz.


Silver is used to make sterling silver jewelry. Table salt is the mineral halite. Glass is produced from the mineral quartz.


Just looking at that list you see that minerals are very different from each other. If minerals are so different, what do all minerals have in common?

Can you SNIFC it?

There are 5 parts to the definition of a mineral. The acronym SNIFC can help you remember these
  • S - Solid
  • N - Naturally Ocuring
  •  I - Inroganic
  • F - Formula
  • C - Crystal Structure

What are Minerals?

A mineral is a solid material that forms by a natural process. A mineral can be made of an element or a compound. It has a specific chemical composition that is different from other minerals. One mineral's physical properties differ from others'. These properties include crystal structure, hardness, density and color. Each is made of different elements. Each has different physical properties. For example, silver is a soft, shiny metal. Salt is a white, cube-shaped crystal. Diamond is an extremely hard, translucent crystal.


Minerals must be solid. For example, ice and water have the same chemical composition. Ice is a solid, so it is a mineral. Water is a liquid, so it is not a mineral.


Minerals are made by natural processes. The processes that make minerals happen in or on the Earth. For example, when hot lava cools, mineral crystals form. Minerals also precipitate from water. Some minerals grow when rocks are exposed to high pressures and temperatures.

Could something like a mineral be made by a process that was not natural? People make gemstones in a laboratory. Synthetic diamond is a common one. But that stone is not a mineral. It was not formed by a natural process.


A mineral is an inorganic substance. It was not made by living organisms. Organic substances contain carbon. Some organic substances are proteins, carbohydrates, and oils. Everything else is inorganic. In a few cases, living organisms make inorganic materials. The calcium carbonate shells made by marine animals are inorganic.


All minerals have a definite chemical makeup or chemical formula. A few minerals are made of only one kind of element. Silver is a mineral made only of silver atoms. Diamond and graphite are both made only of the element carbon.

Minerals that are not pure elements are made of chemical compounds. For example, the mineral quartz is made of the compound silicon dioxide, or SiO2. This compound has one atom of the element silicon for every two atoms of the element oxygen.

Each mineral has its own unique chemical formula. For example, the mineral hematite has two iron atoms for every three oxygen atoms. The mineral magnetite has three iron atoms for every four oxygen atoms. Many minerals have very complex chemical formulas that include several elements. However, even in more complicated compounds, the elements occur in definite ratios.


Some solids are not crystals. Glass, or the rock obsidian, are solid but not crystals. In a crystal, the atoms are arranged in a pattern. This pattern is regular and it repeats. Figure below shows how the atoms are arranged in halite (table salt). Halite contains atoms of sodium and chlorine in a pattern. Notice that the pattern goes in all three dimensions.


Sodium ions (purple balls) bond with chloride ions (green balls) to form halite crystals.


The pattern of atoms in all halite is the same. Think about all of the grains of salt that are in a salt shaker. The atoms are arranged in the same way in every piece of salt.

Sometimes two different minerals have the same chemical composition. But they are different minerals because they have different crystal structures. Diamonds are beautiful gemstones because they are very pretty and very hard. Graphite is the "lead" in pencils. It's not hard at all! Amazingly, both are made just of carbon. Compare the diamond with the pencil lead in Figure below. Why are they so different? The carbon atoms in graphite bond to form layers. The bonds between each layer are weak. The carbon sheets can just slip past each other. The carbon atoms in diamonds bond together in all three directions. This strong network makes diamonds very hard.


Diamonds (a) and graphite (b) are both made of only carbon, but they're not much alike.

 A mineral’s crystal shape is determined by the way the atoms are arranged. For example, you can see how atoms are arranged in halite above. You can see how salt crystals look under a microscope in Figure below. Salt crystals are all cubes whether they're small or large.


Under a microscope, salt crystals are cubes.