Halide Mineral Fluorite

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Barite (a sulfate) from Cumbria, England
Photo by Smithsonian Institution, National Museum of Natural History, Department of Mineral Sciences

About Non-Silicate Minerals

Despite the abundance of silicons in the Earth's crust, not all minerals contain silicon. The atoms of many metals, which tend to lose electrons and become positively charged, like to bond with other atoms or groups of atoms that tend to gain atoms and become negatively charged. For example, atoms of sodium, a metal, and chlorine, a non-metal, pair up in equal numbers to form sodium chloride, also known as halite (or common table salt). Other important types of non-silicate minerals include carbonates, with metals bonded to groups of carbon and oxygen atoms; oxides, with metals joined to oxygen alone; sulfides, which consist of metal and sulfur atoms; and sulfates, in which groups of sulfur and oxygen atoms are joined with metal atoms.

Measuring cup made of borosilicate, a glass resistant to thermal expansion
Photo by Daniel P.B. Smith

Minerals in Glass and Ceramics

Since antiquity, humans have made pottery from clay, which consists of fine particles of silicate minerals. Kaolinite is an aluminum silicate mineral, and it is the main component of porcelain, a particularly hard type of ceramic. Clay, which is used to make other types of pottery, may contain silica and grains from sedimentary rocks. Quartz, also referred to as silica or silicon dioxide, is a key component of another important solid material: glass. In the ancient Middle East, humans made glass by heating silica with alkali that was made from the ashes of plants. Other minerals such as calcium, lead, calcium, and manganese were added to improve the glass. Metals and metallic oxides were also added to color the glass or to make it clear, since natural glass tends to be slightly colored from impurities in the sand. Ruby red is made from powdered gold, while an orangey-red is produced by copper oxides. If the glass with copper oxide is heated too much, it will turn green. Cobalt and iron can make blue glass, and manganese is used for purple. Antimony or manganese oxide will produce clear glass. Glass for specialized purposes, like cookware and optical instruments, may require additives, such as boron oxide or lead oxide.

Related Resources
Fluorite, a source of fluoride for toothpaste
Photo by Department of Mineral Sciences, National Museum of Natural History, Smithsonian Institution

Minerals for Human Consumption

Have you eaten any minerals lately? Almost certainly! Halite is the formal name of the mineral we use as table salt. Humans use salt not just to season food, but also to cure (preserve) meats. Clay minerals, part of the silicate group, serve as mild abrasives in toothpaste, while the fluoride comes from the mineral fluorite. Finely ground silicon dioxide is an anti-caking agent in many powdered foods such as gravy mixes and non-dairy coffee "creamer." The mineral trona is the primary source of sodium carbonate, which helps baked goods rise and gives toothpaste that foamy feeling in your mouth. Calcium sulfate from the mineral gypsum coagulates (or solidifies) tofu, a soybean-based food. Many of the plants we eat depend on mineral-based fertilizers for robust growth.