Waco Gem and Mineral Club, Waco, Tx

2.2 Minerals in the Home


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).