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Earth Systems Science

Laboratory 2
Exploring Minerals


Explore the differences between minerals and other natural- and human-formed substances.

Have practical experience with identifying and distinguishing different minerals based on their physical
and chemical properties.

Gain an appreciation for the diverse uses of minerals in our daily lives.

Key Terms and Concepts:

mineral crystal form color streak hardness

luster cleavage magnetism

PART 1: What is a mineral?

Divide into groups of three or four people. Each group will be given a box with the following substances:
plate glass, sugar, multivitamins, table salt, coal, wood, (ice), plastic, petrified wood, amber, sea shell,
quartz crystal, quartz with no external form. For this part of the lab you are to examine different
substances to speculate on whether or not they are minerals, and if not, why not.

1.1) Start by giving the definition for a mineral. Write your group’s definition on your answer sheet.

1.2) Based on your definition of a mineral, which of the following substances are minerals, and
which are not minerals? For each non-mineral, explain which part of the definition does not fit it.
Write you answers in the table on your answer sheet.


Plate Glass Multivitamins Sugar Table Salt Coal

Sea Shell Amber (petrified Wood Ice or Snow Plastic
tree sap)
Petrified wood Quartz crystal Quartz with no
external crystal
PART 2: Identifying minerals

Working in a group of three or four people, identify all the minerals in the tray you are given.
Fill out the form on the last page of this handout, and use the attached tables (in the appendix to
this lab) to identify the minerals. There will be a mineral identification QUIZ in lab later
this semester, so make sure you can recognize and tell apart all the minerals in your set.

General Order of testing/observing:

1. Luster – metallic or non? Light or dark if non?
2. Hardness – get general range testing with glass, knife, fingernail, etc.
3. Streak for metallic luster minerals
4. Cleavage for non-metallic minerals
5. Other properties

PART 3: Matching Minerals and Products

Select four of the household and industrial products listed below. Each product contains at least
one of the various minerals you studied in Part 2. Examine and test the products to determine
which mineral is in which product. Why do each mineral's properties make it useful for a given
application? Write a summary of your findings on the answer sheet.

Sandpaper (1 mineral from the list)
Tums (1 mineral from the list)
Drywall (1 mineral from the list)
Sparkle Crest (2 minerals from the list)
Table Salt (1 mineral from the list)
Wire (1 mineral from the list)
Beads (each bead is a different mineral)
Shower after Shower Powder (1 mineral from the list)
Fingernail polish (2 minerals from the list)
COVERGIRL Ultimate Finish (2 minerals from the list)
No. 2 Pencil (1 mineral from the list)
Chalk (1 mineral from the list)
Polished Slab of Rock (several minerals from the list)
Patching Powder (1 mineral from the list)

Appendix: Mineral Identification Tables

Step 1.  Is the mineral metallic or non­metallic?  If metallic, use Table 1 to identify the mineral.  
If non­metallic, use Table 2 or Table 3.

Step 2.  For non­metallic minerals, is the specimen light­colored or dark­colored?  For dark­
colored nonmetallic minerals, use Table 2; for light­colored non­metallic minerals, use Table 3.
Table 1.  Metallic minerals.

1. What is the  2.  What is the  3.  Compare the mineral's  4.  Mineral name

mineral's hardness? mineral's streak? physical properties to other 
characteristic properties 
HARD (H>5.5)  Blackish Color dark gray to black;  Magnetite (Fe3O4)
Scratches glass; not  magnetic; H=6.
scratched by masonry 
nail or knife blade
HARD (H>5.5)  Blackish Color brass yellow; tarnishes  Pyrite (Fe2S) – fool's 
Scratches glass; not  brown; no cleavage; H=6­6.5. gold
scratched by masonry 
nail or knife blade
Hardness near glass Red­brown Color silvery­gray, black, or  Hematite (Fe2O3)
brick red; tarnishes red; platy or 
globular appearance; H=5­6.5.
Hardness near or below  Yellow­brown Color yellow­brown to dark  Limonite 
glass brown; tarnishes yellow to  (Fe2O3nH2O)
brown; amorphous masses; 
luster dull or earthy; H=1.5­5.5
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not White to pale  Color usually yellow­brown to  Sphalerite (ZnS)
scratch glass; scratched  yellow­brown brown or black; luster 
by masonry nail or knife submetallic to non­metallic; 
blade cleavage excellent; H=3.5­4
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not Dark gray Color golden or brassy yellow;  Chalcopyrite 
scratch glass; scratched  tarnishes brown or iridescent  (CuFeS2)
by masonry nail or knife blue, green, and red; brittle; 
blade cleavage poor; H=3.5­4.
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not Dark gray Color silvery­gray; tarnishes dull Galena (PbS)
scratch glass; scratched  gray; cleavage good to excellent;
by masonry nail or knife breaks into cubes; high specific 
blade gravity; H=2.5.
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not Dark gray Color dark gray to black; can be  Graphite (C)
scratch glass; scratched  scratched by your fingernail; 
by masonry nail or knife writes on paper; feels greasy; 
blade H=1.
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not Copper Color copper; tarnishes dark  Copper (Cu)
scratch glass; scratched  brown or green; malleable; 
by masonry nail or knife H=2.5­3.
Table 2.  Dark­colored non­metallic minerals.

1.  What is the mineral's 2.  What is the  3.  Compare the mineral's  4.  Mineral name

hardness? mineral's cleavage? physical properties to the 
other distinctive properties 
HARD (H>5.5) Scratches Excellent or good; 2  Translucent dark gray, blue- Plagioclase feldspar
glass; not scratched by  cleavages at almost  gray, or black; may have
silvery iridescence; striations
masonry nail or knife  90º
on surface; H=6.
HARD (H>5.5) Scratches Excellent or good; 2  Translucent brown, gray, Potassium feldspar
glass; not scratched by  cleavages at almost  green, or red; exsolution
lamellae; H=6.
masonry nail or knife  90º
HARD (H>5.5) Scratches Excellent or good; 2  Opaque black; often has an Hornblende
glass; not scratched by  cleavages at 60º and  elongate crystal shape; H=5.5.
masonry nail or knife  120º
HARD (H>5.5) Scratches Excellent or good; 2  Opaque black; often has Augite (one type of
glass; not scratched by  cleavages at nearly  blocky shape; H=5.5-6. pyroxene)
masonry nail or knife  90º
HARD (H>5.5) Scratches Cleavage poor or  Transparent or translucent  Quartz (SiO2) 
glass; not scratched by  absent gray, brown, or purple; glassy  (variety smoky 
masonry nail or knife  luster; concoidal fracture;  quartz 
blade H=7. (black/brown) or 
amethyst (purple))
HARD (H>5.5) Scratches Cleavage poor or  Transparent to translucent red  Garnet
glass; not scratched by  absent or brown (usually); H=7.
masonry nail or knife 
HARD (H>5.5) Scratches Cleavage poor or  Transparent to translucent  Olivine
glass; not scratched by  absent olive green; usually small 
masonry nail or knife  glassy grains; H=7.
Hardness near or below  Cleavage poor or  Color yellow­brown to dark  Limonite 
glass absent brown; tarnishes yellow to  (Fe2O3nH2O)
brown; amorphous masses; 
luster dull or earthy; streak 
yellow­brown; H=1.5­5.5.
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not  Cleavage good or  Purple or green cubes or  Fluorite
scratch glass; scratched  excellent octahedrons; octahedral 
by masonry nail or knife  cleavage; translucent to 
blade transparent; H=4.
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not  Cleavage good or  Color usually yellow­brown to Sphalerite (ZnS)
scratch glass; scratched  excellent brown or black; luster 
by masonry nail or knife  submetallic to non­metallic; 
blade streak white to pale yellow­
brown; H=3.5­4.
Table 2 continued.

SOFT (H<5.5) Does not  Cleavage good or  Splits easily into thin sheets  Biotite mica

scratch glass; scratched  excellent along one cleavage plane; 
by masonry nail or knife  brown or black; translucent; 
blade H=2.5­3.
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not  Cleavage poor or  Opaque, tarnished brown or  Copper (Cu)
scratch glass; scratched  absent green; H=2.5; malleable.
by masonry nail or knife 
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not  Cleavage poor or  Opaque earthy red; red to red­ Hematite (Fe2O3)
scratch glass; scratched  absent brown streak; H=1.5 to 6.
by masonry nail or knife 
SOFT (H<5.5) Does not  Cleavage poor or  Translucent or opaque dark  Talc
scratch glass; scratched  absent green; can be scratched by 
by masonry nail or knife  fingernail; feels greasy or 
blade soapy; H=1

Table 3.  Light­colored non­metallic minerals. 

1.  What is the  2.  What is the  3.  Compare the mineral's  4.  Mineral name

mineral's hardness? mineral's  physical properties to other 
cleavage? distinctive properties below.
HARD (H>5.5)  Cleavage  White or gray; striations on Plagioclase feldspar
Scratches glass; not  excellent or  surfaces; H=6.
scratched by masonry  good; two 
nail or knife blade cleavages at 
about 90º
HARD (H>5.5)  Cleavage  Orange, brown, white, gray, Potassium feldspar
Scratches glass; not  excellent or  green, or pink; exsolution
lamellae; H=6.
scratched by masonry  good; two 
nail or knife blade cleavages at 
about 90º
HARD (H>5.5)  Cleavage poor  Colorless, white, gray, or  Quartz (SiO2)
Scratches glass; not  or absent other colors; transparent or 
scratched by masonry  translucent; glassy luster; 
nail or knife blade concoidal fracture; H=7.
HARD (H>5.5)  Cleavage poor  Pale olive green to yellow;  Olivine
Scratches glass; not  or absent transparent or translucent; 
scratched by masonry  forms short, stout prisms or 
nail or knife blade rounded grains.
Softer than glass, but  Cleavage good  Forms cubes; cleavage  Fluorite (CaF2)
harder than fingernail or excellent fragments form octahedral; 
colorless, purple, blue, gray, 
green, or yellow; H=4.
Table 3 continued.

Softer than glass, but  Cleavage good  Breaks into rhombohedrons; 3 Dolomite 

harder than fingernail or excellent excellent cleavages; white,  (CaMg(CO3)2)
gray, cream, or pink; 
resembles calcite, but only 
fizzes with HCl if powdered 
or scratched. H=3.5­4.
Softer than glass, but  Cleavage good  Breaks into rhombohedrons; 3 Calcite (CaCO3)
harder than fingernail or excellent excellent cleavages; colorless,
white, yellow, green, pink, or 
brown; fizzes in contact with 
dilute HCl; H=3.
Softer than glass, but  Cleavage good  Cubic crystals; breaks into  Halite (NaCl)
harder than fingernail or excellent cubes; colorless, white, 
yellow, blue, brown, or red; 
salty taste; H=2.5.
Softer than glass,  Cleavage perfect Colorless, yellow, brown, or  Muscovite mica
similar hardness to  in one direction red­brown; splits along 
fingernail cleavage into thin, flexible, 
transparent sheets; H=2 to 2.5
Softer than fingernail Cleavage good  Colorless, white, or gray;  Gypsum
or excellent  transparent to translucent; 
Softer than fingernail Cleavage absent Earthy white to light brown;  Kaolinite 
in hand samples commonly forms earthy,  (Al4(Si4O10)(OH)8)
microcrystalline masses.
Softer than fingernail  Cleavage poor  Bright yellow; greasy luster;  Sulfur (S)
or similar hardness to  or absent H=1.5­2.5.
Softer than fingernail Cleavage poor  Opaque white, gray, green, or  Talc
or absent brown; greasy or soapy feel;