As can be guessed by the name, mineralogy is the study of the structure, chemistry, and physical characteristics of minerals. A mineral is a natural substance formed through a geological process. It possesses a highly ordered atomic structure with a characteristic chemical composition, and specific physical properties that are unique. It is a science that is considered a branch of geology.

History of Mineralogy

Minerals have fascinated humans for thousands of years, and many of the minerals have been held to be "precious" because of their rarity, brilliance, hardness, smoothness, coloration, and usefulness. Stone-age people used flint for making sparks and obsidian for making blades and arrowheads. Later peoples believed certain gems could not only adorn, but had healing powers. In the Epic of Gilgamesh lapis lazuli is frequently mentioned for its precious value.

Theophrastus who lived from about 370 to 285 BC is often called the father of mineralogy. Following in the footsteps of Aristotle, he attempted to analyse and categorize natural things. He wrote a book on mineralogy called "Concerning Stones" that was not all encompassing, but did reflect the spirit of empirical enquiry that is rooted in the age. Pliny the Elder wrote extensively on minerals in his Naturalis Historia, continuing and expanding the classification process begun by Theophrastus. Their ideas were prevalent until the middle ages, when mineralogy for a time melded into the "science" of alchemy.

It was not until the 1530s when Georgius Agricola (also often called the "Father of Mineralogy") produced his first work on metals that a rigorously applied a mineralogical system, theorized on mining, and the origins of various stones and metals.

Modern Mineralogy

Mineralogy has long been a field where classifying stones, or minerals, was the primary activity of the mineralogist. Thousands of different minerals of various chemical make-up have been cataloged, from very extravagant gemstones such as rubies and sapphires to the very common talc and gypsum. With advances in scientific understanding, the field has been able to focus on other important facets of minerals. Studying the crystal structure has aided in understanding of how minerals were formed as well as how they will act in different environments. For example, graphite and diamonds are both made up of carbon, but graphite is soft and diamonds are the hardest substance known on earth. The only difference between them is their crystalline structures.

Mineralogy has also opened additional fields of specialization that speculate on the effects on minerals of light, plants and animals, as well as other chemicals. Mineralogists also have an interest in how minerals affect living things. Mineralogy is a growing science that continues to contribute to our understanding of the world. Yet in many ways it remains a science of taxonomy where various stones are classified and cataloged.

Next Page: Mohs Scale: Measuring the Hardness of Minerals

Interesting Fact:

There are many minerals in common use in the average house. The spectrum ranges from table salt to quartz often used in electronics.

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