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Earth Science

Minerals: Origin, Distribution

Introduction: (Initial Observation)

Gold, diamonds and other valuable stones are not the only minerals in this world. Minerals are the origin for all metals, glasses, most paints and some medicine that we use. Without knowledge of minerals, we could not have silicon and the world of electronics and computers would not grow like today. Without minerals we could not have metals, so we could not make today’s cars, trains and airplanes.
Learning about minerals, their origin and distribution is the subject of this research project. As your experiment you can find, collect and identify some minerals available in your area.


This project guide contains information that you need in order to start your project. If you have any questions or need more support about this project, click on the “Ask Question” button on the top of this page to send me a message.

If you are new in doing science project, click on “How to Start” in the main page. There you will find helpful links that describe different types of science projects, scientific method, variables, hypothesis, graph, abstract and all other general basics that you need to know.  

Project advisor

Project plan:

Before you start a project, you must write a project plan. A project plan is a list of tasks that you are planning to do about your project. In this project you are trying to find one or more minerals in your area and make a mineral collection. This is a sample project plan for someone who lives in new jersey.

  1. Search the Internet for “common minerals” or “common minerals in New Jersey”.
  2. For every common mineral, search for the name of that mineral in order to find pictures, properties, uses and methods of identifying that mineral.
  3. Try to find samples of that mineral in your area.

Information Gathering:

Find out about minerals that are mined in your state or your area. Search the Internet, read books, magazines or ask professionals who might know in order to identify different mines and minerals excavated in your area. Keep track of where you got your information from.

Search for the terms such as “YourState Geological Survey” or “YourState Geology and Mining”. Find a geological map of your state. The process of finding and extracting minerals is called rockhounding. It is a good idea to use the keyword rockhounding as well in your searches.

Following are samples of information that you may find:

LEARNING ABOUT MINERALS can be a lifelong task. The best way to start out is by getting to know someone else in the hobby. Get them to show you some different minerals and tell you the differences between them. There are over 900 rock and mineral clubs in the United States, and all of them welcome new members. Here is a link to the national list of rock clubs. Certainly one will be close to you! Some Geology Clubs gives free memberships to students. Ask about student discounts at a rock club near you.

What is a mineral?

A mineral is a natural substance which has its own distinctive structure and may have its composition expressed with a chemical formula. Some examples are quartz, calcite, and galena. Quartz has the chemical composition Si02.

A rock is usually composed of 2 or more minerals in some physical combination, although some rocks are composed of only one mineral. Examples of rocks are limestone, sandstone, granite, or shale.

(If you wanted to think of a comparison to food, a mineral would be like flour and sugar, and a rock would be a cake.)

How to identify minerals?

You can tell the differences between minerals by looking for certain properties. Because each mineral is unique both chemically and structurally, each has its own set of physical, optical, and structural properties which aid in its identification.
Chemistry refers to the basic building blocks that the mineral is made of. Optical properties are the way a mineral looks and what light does when it shines on it. Physical properties such as hardness and streak can be tested easily. Most geologists only do the most basic physical property tests for an identification, so we will briefly discuss some physical properties.

Physical properties
Let’s consider the physical properties that are easy to test. They may be divided into 2 groups: those concerned with the effects of light on the mineral, and other tests.

Light-dependent properties: The easiest tests to do are about how light interacts with the mineral. These are color, luster and diaphany. You can do all of these light tests using only your eye.

  • Color is the most obvious property of the mineral , but it is also the least usable because a given mineral, like quartz, may have a variety of colors (colorless, purple, blue, pink, black, violet, green, tan, et cetera).
  • Luster is easy to tell by looking at the mineral. Does the mineral reflect light like a piece of metal? If so, then it has metallic luster. If not, then it has non-metallic luster. Non-metallic luster is further subdivided into how brilliant the mineral reflects the light: vitreous (like glass), adamantine (brilliant, bright like metal), pearly, greasy, oily, dull, et cetera.
  • Diaphany means how translucent the mineral is. Can you see through it like a clear crystal, or not? Or maybe just a little. The answers for diaphany may be opaque, translucent, or transparent. This property is usually noted for a thin chip of the mineral because if the mineral is strongly colored, it may mask this property.

Other Properties of Minerals

Specific gravity is the measure of each mineral’s own unique density and how it compares to the density of water. The mineral’s density is what makes the mineral heavy or light. Some minerals are very dense, like the native metals copper, silver, or gold, and some are even lighter than water and will float! Volcanic pumice will float on water. You have to have a specially designed balance to measure specific gravity.
Quartz is always a good mineral to compare another sample to, since it has a specific gravity of 2.54. Minerals with a specific gravity higher than around 3.2 are considered to have relatively high specific gravity. They either contain heavy atoms, like those of the middle of the Chemist’s Periodic Table (titanium, manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel, copper, zinc, lead) or have a very dense packing arrangement of the atoms (like with carbon in diamond).

Streak is an easy field test to do. Interestingly, the powder of a particular mineral may or may not be the same color as the mineral! Using an unglazed piece of porcelain, like the back of a common bathroom tile, you can do a streak test. The color of the powdered mineral (the streak) may surprise you. Try it for a piece of pyrite (fool’s gold).

Hardness measures how hard the mineral is relative to other minerals. It is called the scratch or hardness test. Most minerals will not scratch a quartz crystal. Many years ago, a man named Moh took a lot of minerals and tried to scratch them with each other. From his experiment, he came up with chart of the relative hardness of his minerals, one to another. This chart is called Moh’s hardness scale. Talc is the softest, diamond is the hardest.

Moh’s hardness scale, an easy way to remember it:
The girl could flirt and flirt quickly though Connie didn’t.
Talc Gypsum Calcite Fluorite Apatite Feldspar Quartz Topaz Corundum Diamond

A chemical test allows us to determine if the mineral reacts with dilute acid. We use a drop of 10% hydrochloric acid to check for effervesence, or fizzing, and note if there is a reaction.

There are many other minor physical properties to note, such as magnetism, solubility, taste, odor, ease of melting (fusibility), and so forth. Get a basic book that discusses these properties so you can learn to do these tests yourself. Then you will not have to have an “expert” identify most of the common minerals you will find. Some books are available which present the physical properties information arranged in tables so you can use what you learn to identify the mineral yourself. One of the best of these books is an old textbook which you might pick up at a used book dealer: Mineralogy by Kraus, Hunt, and Ramsdell, 1936, McGraw-Hill Book Co. The tables are from pages 453-621, inclusive.

Location gives a really good clue as to what a mineral could be, because some minerals are well known to come from certain areas. Now that you know a little about identifying minerals, get your FIELD NOTE BOOK and MAP, and you are set to go do some collecting!

Additional Activities:

Small mineral collections are available at toys stores, book stores, 99¢ stores and souvenir stores of science museums. Visit such stores and see samples of different minerals.

Question/ Purpose:

What do you want to find out? Write a statement that describes what you want to do. Use your observations and questions to write the statement.

In this project you will learn:

  • What does a geological map show?
  • Which parts of your state has more minerals?

The purpose of this project is to identify the minerals in your local area (your state, province or country). Find out how much of each mineral is being extracted and how are they being used. Collect samples of minerals that you identify. Find out what is the most produced mineral in your state.

Identify Variables:

When you think you know what variables may be involved, think about ways to change one at a time. If you change more than one at a time, you will not know what variable is causing your observation. Sometimes variables are linked and work together to cause something. At first, try to choose variables that you think act independently of each other.

Independent variable is the type or the name of the mineral that can be found in your area.

Dependent variable is the amount of each mineral.

Constant is the time period or the year your study is based on. Only find and report minerals that are currently produced.


Based on your gathered information, make an educated guess about what types of things affect the system you are working with. Identifying variables is necessary before you can make a hypothesis.

This is a sample hypothesis:

I think calcium and zinc minerals are the most widely mineral found in New Jersey. My hypothesis is based on the information that I found on the Internet when I searched for “New Jersey Minerals”.

Experiment Design:

Design an experiment to test each hypothesis. Make a step-by-step list of what you will do to answer each question. This list is called an experimental procedure. For an experiment to give answers you can trust, it must have a “control.” A control is an additional experimental trial or run. It is a separate experiment, done exactly like the others. The only difference is that no experimental variables are changed. A control is a neutral “reference point” for comparison that allows you to see what changing a variable does by comparing it to not changing anything. Dependable controls are sometimes very hard to develop. They can be the hardest part of a project. Without a control you cannot be sure that changing the variable causes your observations. A series of experiments that includes a control is called a “controlled experiment.”

Experiment 1: Find Calcite for your collection

Introduction: Calcite or Limestone is one of the most common minerals on the face of the Earth, comprising about 4% by weight of the Earth’s crust and is formed in many different geological environments. Calcite can form rocks of considerable mass and constitutes a significant part of all three major rock classification types. Limestone becomes marble from the heat and pressure of metamorphic events.

Why would a collector be interested in such a common mineral? Its extraordinary diversity and beauty!

With calcite so abundant and so widely distributed it is no wonder that it can be so varied. The crystals of calcite can form literally a thousand different shapes. There are more than 300 crystal forms identified in calcite and these forms can combine to produce the thousand different crystal variations.

Uses of Calcite: Uses are numerous. Limestone is a basic building block of the construction industry (dimension stone) and the chief materials from which aggregate, cement, lime, and building stone are made. 71% of all crushed stone produced in the U.S. is either limestone or dolomite. As a source for lime, it is used to make paper, plastics, glass, paint, steel, cement, carpets, used in water treatment and purification plants, in the processing of various foods and household items (including medicines).


  1. With the help of an adult visit mountains, rivers, mines, construction sites, construction material distributors or any other place that you may be able to find while rocks. In your collection include any light brown, light green and light blue rocks
  2. Label each rock with date and location where you found the rock
  3. Use a dropper and place a few drops of muriatic acid (Hydrochloric acid) on each rock and see the reaction. If the mineral that you have collected is calcite, you should immediately see bubbles of gas forming where the acid and rock contact. Otherwise you will see no reaction at all.
  4. Save the samples that responded positively to the acid test and dispose of the others. Record your results in a table like this:
Date Sample location Sample color Test Result (+ or -)

Experiment 2: Find Mika for your collection


Mica is one of the most interesting minerals that you may find. Mica is formed of thin clear layers that are heat resistance and flexible.

Mica is found in many different shapes, sizes and shades of color.

Some types of mica are used in constructions and large mica slabs may be purchased from sellers of building stones.



Mica flakes have been used as a decorative substance to give an attractive sparkling effect to places and products. Mica is still used in some makeup products and art products.

Mica was once used for windows instead of glass. It still is used for iron-stove windows. It is also used as an insulator for electrical equipment such as electric irons. Scrap mica has many uses, from lubricant to Xmas Tree “snow”.



Part 1: Find a sample of mica for your collection and your experiments. Any of the following may help you to find a sample. This part requires adult supervision and support.

  • Find a stone distributor in your area that sells mica slabs. Get a small sample (if possible) for your collection.
  • Find an “abandoned mica mine” or an “active mica mine” in your state. Visit the mine and get or collect samples.
  • Purchase a sample of mica. Some book stores, gift stores, craft stores and hobby stores have a rack just for minerals. That is where you can find mica as well.

Part 2: Examine the physical properties of your mica sample and record your observations in your note book.

  • Try to split your mica block to get thin clear mica sheets that you can see through them. Layers can be separated using a sharp object such as a knife.
  • What is the size of the largest sheet that you were able to separate?
  • What is the color of the sheet that you were able to separate?

Experiment 3: Find Talc for your collection


Talk is A fine-grained white, greenish, or gray mineral, having a soft soapy feel and used in talcum and face powder, as a paper coating, and as a filler for paint and plastics.

Talk mineral is also known as soapstone. You may have a talk mine in your state near you. To find out search the Internet with keywords such as “Talk mine in New Jersey”. Talk mineral may also be found in mineral racks of hobby stores, craft stores and gift stores.


  1. Find or purchase one or two small samples of talk mineral for your collection.
  2. Try to use your talk sample to scratch different objects around you. Which objects can be scratched with talc? Objects such as glass, coins, wood, and other stones may be tested.
  3. Try to scratch your talk sample with your nail, a piece of wood, a coin, and a piece of glass. Which items can scratch soap stone? Record your observations in your notebook.

Experiment 4: Find pyrite for your collection


Pyrite is the classic “Fool’s Gold”. There are other shiny brassy yellow minerals, but pyrite is by far the most common and the most often mistaken for gold. Whether it is the golden look or something else, pyrite is a favorite among rock collectors.

Pyrite is an compound of iron and sulfur. The chemical name for pyrite is Iron sulfide.



  1. Find or purchase one or two small samples of pyrite for your collection.
  2. Try to use your purite sample to scratch different objects around you. Which objects can be scratched with pyrite? Objects such as glass, coins, wood, and other stones may be tested.
  3. Try to scratch the pyrite sample with your nail, a piece of wood, a coin, and a piece of glass. Which items can scratch pyrite? Record your observations in your notebook.

Need a graph?

Find out how much of each mineral is produced in your state each year. Record your results in a table like this:

Mineral name  Calcite  Mika  Talcum  Pyrite …….
Annual production (tons) ……

You can then use the above results table to make a bar graph. Make one vertical bar for each of the minerals you include in your table. The height of each bar will represent the amount of minerals produced annually. Write the name of each mineral under the bar it represents. Also write the production amount above each bar.

Materials and Equipment:

Material you need while studying minerals are:

  1. Diluted hydrochloric acid (Also known as muriatic acid is available in hardware stores, paint stores. It is used for cleaning bricks & other masonry)
  2. Magnifying glass (for better observation)

Results of Experiment (Observation):

Experiments are often done in series. A series of experiments can be done by changing one variable a different amount each time. A series of experiments is made up of separate experimental “runs.” During each run you make a measurement of how much the variable affected the system under study. For each run, a different amount of change in the variable is used. This produces a different amount of response in the system. You measure this response, or record data, in a table for this purpose. This is considered “raw data” since it has not been processed or interpreted yet. When raw data gets processed mathematically, for example, it becomes results.


If you do any calculations, write your calculations in this part of your report.

Summery of Results:

Summarize what happened. This can be in the form of a table of processed numerical data, or graphs. It could also be a written statement of what occurred during experiments.

It is from calculations using recorded data that tables and graphs are made. Studying tables and graphs, we can see trends that tell us how different variables cause our observations. Based on these trends, we can draw conclusions about the system under study. These conclusions help us confirm or deny our original hypothesis. Often, mathematical equations can be made from graphs. These equations allow us to predict how a change will affect the system without the need to do additional experiments. Advanced levels of experimental science rely heavily on graphical and mathematical analysis of data. At this level, science becomes even more interesting and powerful.


Using the trends in your experimental data and your experimental observations, try to answer your original questions. Is your hypothesis correct? Now is the time to pull together what happened, and assess the experiments you did.

Related Questions & Answers:

What you have learned may allow you to answer other questions. Many questions are related. Several new questions may have occurred to you while doing experiments. You may now be able to understand or verify things that you discovered when gathering information for the project. Questions lead to more questions, which lead to additional hypothesis that need to be tested.

Possible Errors:

If you did not observe anything different than what happened with your control, the variable you changed may not affect the system you are investigating. If you did not observe a consistent, reproducible trend in your series of experimental runs there may be experimental errors affecting your results. The first thing to check is how you are making your measurements. Is the measurement method questionable or unreliable? Maybe you are reading a scale incorrectly, or maybe the measuring instrument is working erratically.

If you determine that experimental errors are influencing your results, carefully rethink the design of your experiments. Review each step of the procedure to find sources of potential errors. If possible, have a scientist review the procedure with you. Sometimes the designer of an experiment can miss the obvious.


List of References

Mineral Gallery–This is an on-line guide to minerals (complete with descriptions, images, and physical characteristics). Note that this is a commercial site, although it is fairly low key.

Common Minerals and their uses

French Creek Mines in Pennsylvania

Stove Mica

More about mica