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Minerals And Their Uses

Everything that humankind consumes, uses, or produces has its origin in minerals. Minerals are the building materials of our technological civilization, and a single mineral may have many unrelated uses.

The mineral corundum provides a good example. Corundum is an extremely hard substance. Small bits of corundum are part of the rock called "emery" which has been used since ancient times as an abrasive, to cut and grind metal and stone. Pure corundum is still used for this purpose today. Another property of corundum is that it remains solid and stable at very high temperatures, well past the melting point of iron. Therefore, masses of small corundum crystals pressed together are shaped into "alumina" firebricks, crucibles, and other apparatus to use in furnaces. Corundum is also the basis of several gemstones.

Pure corundum is colorless. However, as is the case with many other minerals, trace amounts of metal in the stone impart brilliant colors. Rubies are corundum colored red by traces of chromium. Sapphires come in shades of blue, yellow, green and violet; these varieties of corundum contain traces of iron, titanium or other elements.

Finally, corundum is indirectly a major source of aluminum metal. The ore of aluminum, called bauxite, is a mixture of several minerals containing aluminum together with oxygen and hydrogen. The first step in releasing the aluminum from the other elements is to convert the bauxite to corundum.

Table 2 lists a wide variety of familiar materials and the minerals that compose them. These and most other minerals will find even wider usage in the future as research in the field of materials science continues.



Bates, Robert L. Industrial Minerals: How They Are Found and Used. Hillside, NJ: Enslow Publishers, Inc., 1988.

Hazen, Robert M. The New Alchemists: Breaking Through the Barriers of High Pressure. New York: Times Books (division of Random House), 1993.

Hochleitner, Rupert. Minerals: Identifying, Classifying and Collecting Them. 1st English language ed. Translated from German by Kathleen Luft. Hauppage, NY: Barrons Educational Series, Inc., 1994.

Holden, Martin. The Encyclopedia of Gemstones and Minerals. New York: Facts On File, A Friedman Group Book, 1991.

Klein, C. The Manual of Mineral Science. 22nd ed. New York: John Wiley & Sons, Inc., 2002.


Ward, Fred. "Rubies and Sapphires." National Geographic 180, no. 4 (October 1991): 100-125.

Sara G. B. Fishman


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—A pure substance that consists of two or more elements, in specific proportions, joined by chemical bonds. The properties of the compound may differ greatly from those of the elements it is made from.


—A solid, homogeneous body composed of a single element or compound having a fixed and regular internal atomic arrangement that may be expressed by external planar faces.

Crystal system

—One of six mathematical models used to classify all mineral crystals.


—An accumulation of minerals or other Earth materials that has economic value.

Earth's crust

—The outermost layer of solid Earth, situated over the mantle and divided into continental and oceanic crust.


—A pure substance that can not be changed chemically into a simpler substance.


—A naturally occurring solid substance of nonbiological origin, having definite chemical composition and crystal structure.


—A mineral compound that is mined for one of the elements it contains, usually a metal element.


—A naturally occurring solid mixture of minerals.


—A mineral containing the elements silicon and oxygen, and usually other elements as well.

X-ray diffraction

—A method using the scattering of x rays by matter to study the structure of crystals.

Additional topics

Science EncyclopediaScience & Philosophy: Methane to Molecular clockMinerals - Chemical Bonding And Crystal Structure, Chemical Bonding, Crystal Structure, Physical Traits And Mineral Identification - Mineral groups