Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

2.1 Everyday Uses of Rock and Minerals


2.1, 2.2, 2.3:

Everyday objects and the minerals that went into them

You could conduct Activity 2.1 as a single group activity or make a competition of it, dividing the kids into two or more teams and seeing who can make the longest list in 10 minutes. To conclude the activity, you might unveil a collection of mineral specimens, revealing the actual raw materials that went into some of the things in the room.

Sitting at my computer when I first considered Activity 2.1, I quickly saw a brass lamp, windows made of silica, all sorts of things made of plastic derived from petrochemicals, bricks in the fireplace derived from clay, an old tin cup holding my graphite pencils, a gold wedding ring on my finger, walls made of plasterboard comprised of gypsum, steel nails in the furniture, and paint on the walls containing diatomite as filler. To get kids primed to think about what things are made of, you might hold up a couple common items that serve as good teaching examples:

an old watch you can take apart (especially one with luminescent hands) has a glass/silica top, a metal body made of brass, aluminum, etc., interior parts that might include gemstones, radioactive minerals for luminescence, etc.

a salt shaker with an aluminum top and glass body, filled with salt (halite) crystals.

an incandescent light bulb with its glass exterior (made from a combination of silica, soda ash, lime, coal, and salt), brass or aluminum screw-in base, tungsten filament, copper and nickel lead-in wires, molybdenum tie and support wires, aluminum heat deflector, etc.

There are several good web sites you can consult that provide handy lists and tables linking minerals to everyday objects. Two particularly good ones are the Mineral Information Institute and Women in Mining. (The MII web site provides a nice graphic illustrating all the minerals going into a light bulb; the ones I‘ve described above are just a few on their list.) Following are samples from those web sites:


Rock or Mineral Everyday Object
 Barite Glass; Paints; Textiles; Toothpaste; Green Color in Fireworks
 Bauxite (Aluminum Ore) Cans; Autos; Airplane; Building Components
 Borax Laundry Detergent
 Calcite Cement; Plaster; Glass; Steel; Toothpaste
 Celestite Fireworks; Caustic Soda
 Cinnabar (Mercury Ore) Batteries; Thermometers; Barometers
 Copper Pennies; Electrical Wiring; Electronics; Plumbing Pipes; Brass
 Corundum Ruby & Sapphire gemstones; Abrasives 
 Diamond Jewelry; Abrasives; Cutting Tools & Drills 
 Diatomite Swimming Pool & Other Filters; Toothpaste; Metal Polishes 
 Dolomite Magnesia for Medical/Industrial Uses; Crushed Road Stone 
 Feldspar Clay Products (Pottery, Ceramics); Glass; Gemstones 
 Fluorite Toothpaste; Hydrofluoric Acid; Steelmaking; Nonstick Pans 
 Galena (Lead Ore) Fishing Weights; Car Batteries; TV Screens; Machine Parts 
 Garnet Sandpaper & Other Abrasives; Jewelry 
 Gold Jewelry; Dentistry; Electronic Components; Money 
 Granite Ornamental Building Stone; Monuments; Gravel 
 Graphite Dry Lubricant; Brake Linings; Molds in Foundries; Pencil Lead 
 Gypsum Plaster-of-Paris ; Wallboards; Fertilizer
 Halite (Salt) Food; Highway De-Icing; Chemicals; Source of Chlorine
 Hematite (Iron Ore) Nails; Steel; Machine Parts; Chains & Fences 
 Kaolin (Clay) Tile; Kitty Litter; Brick; Dinnerware & Other Ceramics; Glossy Paper; Fiberglass; Stomach Medicine; Pencil Lead
 Kyanite Sparkplugs; Electrical Insulators; Porcelain Products 
 Lepidolite (Lithium Ore)  Rechargable Batteries; Electric Car Batteries; Ornamental Stone
 Limestone Cement; Crushed Road Stone; Building Stone; Steel-Making
 Malachite Ornamental Stone & Jewelry; Copper; Green Pigment 
 Manganese Used in Making Steel
 Marble Architectural & Ornamental Purposes 
 Mica Electronic Insulators; Joint Compounds; Paints; Plastics; Rubber Products; Toothpaste; Christmas Tree 'Snow' 
 Phosphate Fertilizer; Animal Feed Suppliments 
 Pumice Concrete Blocks; Abrasives; Lava-Brand Soap 
 Pyrite Sulphuric Acid; Decorative Rock sometimes used in Jewelry 
 Quartz (Silica) Glass; Gemstones; Spectrographic Lenses 
 Rutile (Titanium Ore) Ore of Titanium - Used in Jetliners & Artificial Hips & Knees 
 Sand & Gravel Concrete; Asphalt; Road Fill; Blocks; Bricks 
 Silver Jewelry & Ornaments; Silverware Utensils; Coinage; Photography; Solar Cells; Mirrors 
 Slate Roofing Shingles; Blackboards; Patio Slabs 
 Sphalerite (Zinc Ore) Metals & Alloys (Brass); Rust-Proof Coating on Other Metals; Paint; Rubber; Skin Cream 
 Sulphur Sulphuric Acid; Fertilizers; Chemicals; Gunpowder & Other Explosives; Rubber 
 Talc Talcum Powder; Cosmetics; Ceramics; Rubber; Plastics; Paper 
 Wolframite (Tungsten) Light Bulb Filaments; Cemented Carbides; Steel Additive 
 Zircon (Zirconium Ore) High Temperature Ceramics; Nuclear Reactors; Abrasives 

Activity. To illustrate a practical use, get diatomite from the swimming pool supply area of a hardware store. Poke a number of holes in the bottom of a large, sturdy paper cup. Line the bottom of the cup with a few layers of cheesecloth. Fill the cup a quarter- to half-full with a mixture of diatomite and pea gravel. Cut the top off a plastic water bottle and insert your cup. Pour muddy water into the cup and allow it to sit. You should end up with more-or-less clear water at the bottom of the water bottle (it will still be a little muddy, but not nearly as muddy as it began) as a result of the filtration properties of diatomite, which is composed of microscopic silica skeletons or tests of fossil diatoms that are peppered with tiny holes. The porous nature of these tests makes diatomite a perfect filter.

Note: Kids who write a report about minerals in the home for Activity 2.2 can simultaneously satisfy requirements toward earning their Communication badge (Activity 7.2).