+ What are Minerals?

Solid Crystals

Minerals must be solid. For example, ice and water have the same chemical composition. Ice is a solid, so it is a mineral. Water is a liquid, so it is not a mineral.

Some solids are not crystals. Glass, or the rock obsidian, are solid but not crystals. In a crystal, the atoms are arranged in a pattern. This pattern is regular and it repeats. Figure shows how the atoms are arranged in halite (table salt). Halite contains atoms of sodium and chlorine in a pattern. Notice that the pattern goes in all three dimensions.


Sodium ions (purple balls) bond with chloride ions (green balls) to form halite crystals.

The pattern of atoms in all halite is the same. Think about all of the grains of salt that are in a salt shaker. The atoms are arranged in the same way in every piece of salt.

Sometimes two different minerals have the same chemical composition. But they are different minerals because they have different crystal structures. Diamonds are beautiful gemstones because they are very pretty and very hard. Graphite is the “lead” in pencils. It's not hard at all! Amazingly, both are made just of carbon. Compare the diamond with the pencil lead in Figure below. Why are they so different? The carbon atoms in graphite bond to form layers. The bonds between each layer are weak. The carbon sheets can just slip past each other. The carbon atoms in diamonds bond together in all three directions. This strong network makes diamonds very hard.


Diamonds (A) and graphite (B) are both made of only carbon, but they're not much alike.