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Testing mineral properites?
Posted by Henry Barwood
Henry Barwood July 02, 2007 04:12PMThe format of minerals in the database contains some physical/chemical properties, but a section on actually testing the mineral using those properties would be highly useful. The old Dana's System was unique in the type of tests suggested and outcomes for different tests. Any possibility of adding such information to the database?
Henry Barwood July 03, 2007 07:55PMYes, I supose there are not too many descriptive mineralogists around any more. Back when I first got started with minerals, we would run all sorts of tests to confirm the identity of a specimen. Very few people tend to do that these days.
jacques jedwab July 04, 2007 08:32AMIMHO, methods are too numerous. But a list of the latter (without going into the particularities of the best method applied to one given mineral) would perhaps be of some help to the lay(wo)men. Examples: transmitted pol. light, reflected light, spot tests, surface coloration, bead and flame tests, UV, radioactivity,... From there on, one could be directed to a more descriptive book or paper (Example: Short: Determin. of ore minerals. USGS Bull. 914). I am probably day-dreaming, in those times of XRD and EMP.
Donald Peck July 04, 2007 02:49PMI am heavily into determinative mineralogy. And, Jenna, it is not that difficult to learn nor does it take skills that cannot be mastered.
I use the common physical properties (including specific gravity), chemical spot tests, and occasionally optical properties. A simple specific gravity balance that is quite accurate and precise can be built. An ordinary used student biological microscope can be modified to *almost* do the work of a petrographic scope.
I am a micromounter, and testing minerals is,to me, a lot more interesting than simply gluing a specimen on a peg and then in a small box.
Don Saathoff July 04, 2007 05:30PMAt ten yrs old, my father gave me a can of rocks, a copy of Pough's handbook, and a Gilbert chemistry set (it even had a blowpipe!) and gave a table out in the shed....I've been in the "lab" ever since...Donald is right...the skills needed are NOT difficult and the rewards are great! Any local used bookstore will have copies of the older determinitive mineralogy textbooks and the older texts devote MUCH more print to techniques than later texts....my most dog-eared and worn is Brush & Penfield's text on beads & blowpipe. As did Donald, I modified an old brass-tube biological 'scope (added substage & tube polarizers & rotating stage) which was adequate until I could afford a REAL petrographic 'scope. dig in...it's as much fun as being on the outcrop!!!
Henry Barwood July 04, 2007 11:45PMHi Jenna,
Some simple techniques/procedures rarely used these days:
Blowpipe (bead) analysis (very simple tools needed)
Ring oven (more complex, but still easy to do with a little knowledge of chemistry)
Specific gravity (heavy liquid technique)
Charcoal and plaster block tests (usually combined with blowpipe analysis)
Refractive index (OK, you need a scope and some oils, but still pretty simple)
The amateur who has mastered these simple techniques can probably identify 80-90% of the mineral species. Notice that I didn't mention X-ray or microprobes of any kind.
Curt Segeler used to routinely chemically analyze samples with a ring oven before sending them to me to confirm with XRD. In a decade, he only missed a common mineral once, and it was a metamict zircon that would have fooled most people!
Uwe Kolitsch July 05, 2007 12:02PM"The amateur who has mastered these simple techniques can probably identify 80-90% of the mineral species."
I seriously doubt that (unless "mineral species" is restricted to the most common minerals and includes families and groups instead of single species).
I would also highly recommend microchemical spot tests (applicable mainly to non-silicates / secondary minerals) - they worked fine for me when I was a student.
Jim Ferraiolo July 05, 2007 12:53PMCurt learned and used the spindle stage technique for deteriming the refractive indices, and microchemical reagents for qualitative chem testing. I spent many hours at his home working on unknowns from various people. We did (self-)publish in the early 80's(?) a determinative table for pegmatite phosphates that included microchemical tests and optical data. It badly needs updating, but I should have a copy around somewhere...
Donald Peck July 05, 2007 02:47PMI, too, spent many hours at Curt Segelr's home. He was a generous teacher. He taught me to use the ring furnace and the spindle stage. I built both of them and while I don't use the ring furnace a lot (I tend to use simple spot tests), I think the spindle stage is probably the single most powerful tool that the amateur mineralogist can use.
Donald Bloss and his students developed the spindle stage techniques and produced a computer program, EXCALIBR, which does all the hard work. It has gone through several generations and the latest EXCALIBR-W is available free. There is an article in "The Microscope" by Mickey Gunter that tells how to use the spindle stage and what it can do. For anyone interested, both the article and EXCALIBR-W (download) are available on his website at (Univ of Idaho).
Henry Barwood July 05, 2007 03:38PMPerhaps I was a bit optimistic about identifying minerals; however, outside the groups (like amphiboles) where even the professional mineralogists fear to tread, why would it not be possible to identify a mineral based on physical properties, optical properties and chemistry? Have we become so linked to our equipment that we cannot identify a mineral without single crystal data?
David Von Bargen July 05, 2007 04:53PMDon't forget that microprobes/SEM are also indispensible. I think that most advanced micromounters do a very good ID without expensive equipment (if for no other reason than it would be very expensive to get everything tested). These people supply professionals with about half of the new minerals described every year. I also have seen Don work his magic on a mineral ID table at local shows.
Alfredo Petrov July 05, 2007 05:01PMSome general articles on testing minerals would be useful, but I don't think there should be a testing section listed under each mineral individually. Firstly, that would get very repetitive (Do we want to describe the flame test for Sr under each Sr-bearing species?). Secondly, the tests that could be applied to any given problem vary enormously depending on factors like: Is the mineral an isolated grain or still attached to matrix? Is it transparent enough for optical tests? What impurities is it associated with? What elemental substitutions are possible? How big is the grain, or how much material is available to sacrifice? What equipment and chemicals does the user have access to? A large book could be written on this topic (perhaps downloadable from Mindat books?), but to include even the basics under each mineral description is simply something that will never get done, given the limits of our volunteer labour force.
Don Saathoff July 05, 2007 10:22PMIn our largest local used bookstore there is, in the geology area,a section of mineralogy texts at least 5ft long containing 8 or 9 determinitive mineralogy texts...most priced under $12.00. These range in date of publication or revision from the 1890's to the mid-1940's. With so much data already available why should mindat waste precious storage (and volunteer's time). And, yes, modern techniques are necessary tools - xrd, xrf, ramen spec.,etc, but many of the minerals presented in the "identity Help" forum could be quickly ID'ed with minimal expertise if a text w/ tables wwere available.
Pete Nancarrow July 06, 2007 02:20PMIn second-hand bookshops round here, you'll be fortunate to find ANYTHING to do with geology, let alone special interests such as mining, mineralogy or petrology. Books on crystal "healing" and astrology are unfortunately far more abundant; a sad sign of the times.
Jenna Mast July 06, 2007 11:40PMMy primary mineral identification book at the moment "Minerals: Identifying, classifying, and collecting them" by Rupert Hochleitner, I was fortunate enough to find at a used book sale at school for $5
It's not the most comprehensive but it's a neat little book, especially for the price I got it at, and it even has some Greenland minerals in it:-)
F. D. Bloss May 01, 2012 05:09PMDon, I enjoyed your reference to Curt's teaching you how to use the spindle stage. And also your recognition that the spindle stage plus my program EXCALIBR does all the hard work for you. I remember Curt being in the first workshop I taught on the spindle stage. I'm so glad he passed the info to you. You're right, the spindle stage (+ EXCALIBR) is the most powerful, relatively inexpensive device at the disposal of a mineralogist for studying transparent crystals.
At 92 I've just finished my memoir which the Mineralogical Society of America will publish.
My regards to Henry.
Donald Peck May 02, 2012 02:31PMDon,
Thank you for your response. I am continuously amazed at the ease of use and the forgiving nature of the spindle stage. I find that the most difficult part of using it is mounting a grain in a position that is useful. Thank you for your contributions to the science.
Dana Morong May 02, 2012 08:50PMI think Don Peck is being modest. I think that the first book that someone interested in learning about testing minerals should get is Mineral Identification: A Practical Guide for the Amateur Mineralogist, by Donald B. Peck. Is this still being sold by Mineralogical Record (one can go on their website and search under their Books section)?
After this one, one can get the other older books by asking others about them, and then, if the local used book shop doesn't have them (not all do, and they can be far and few, although interesting when one does find them), searching on used book websites such as abebooks.com and alibris and others like that. Sometimes even a fellow collector will have a spare copy of some spare beat-up old book (such as one of the Brush & Penfield Determinative Mineralogy) which he just can't bring himself to toss out. Sometimes such a person will ship one for the cost of shipping, just to get it to where it can be used and appreciated.
James Pool May 04, 2012 03:28PMDon't forget that you can get quite a few free older books regarding mineral testing via the internet archive at least for those in the USA. The Brush and Penfield book is available there for example. The scan quality isn't always the best especially for OCR which can give a lot of errors when you want to grab a text instead of actual scans. You should be OK if you are willing to use the actual PDF files despite the large size as they include the actual scans and the human eye is far better at figuring out a smudged letter than any OCR program.
I haven't had the best success in downloading the Kindle versions of some mineral related texts that I downloaded from there. I suspect if I spent enough time with Calibre and formatting and correcting errors, I can get a good usable Kindle copy of some sloppy OCRed books by comparing the PDF scan. A Kindle Fire or some other even larger format tablet device like the iPad may be good for straight PDFs. The regular e-ink Kindle is just a little bit too small to show many straight PDF files without having to zoom which is a bit awkward. Landscape mode works fairly well for the e-ink Kindles with some PDFs.
I would start with Peck's book though as it is easily available and it gives a good overview of mineral testing. I haven't used the CD that is bundled with the book yet so I don't know if it has the more detailed blowpipe and bead test results of an older work like the Brush/Penfield book.
Donald Peck May 05, 2012 02:51PMJames, MinSearch on the CD in my book, does not tell you how to do any tests. What it does do is list those minerals for which there is a match when any number of physical, chemical, and/or optical properties (observations) are input. So, if you know say, the color, luster, streak, and diaphaneity and the bead test indicates cobalt, you can input those properties and generate a list of the minerals that match (from more than 4000). You can use the locallity from included locallities database (3000) as one of the properties if the list of minerals for the locallity is included. MinSearch is extremely fast and isn't intended to replace reference books, but rather to winnow the list of possible minerals down to a handful or less so one know where to look in the books. The program can be used also for a quick lookup for the properties of a given mineral. I hope you try it.
BTW, MinSearch is a 32 bit fully compiled program and will run under the new Microsoft 64 bit systems. However the Install Shield installer will not. If you have a problem, contact me and I will provide a "work-around".
Ron Layton May 11, 2012 03:58PMAs far as Internet Archive, I find that the Google book scans are the worst with some being so poorly done that they are useless. I rarely download a pdf unless I am posting it on my Scribd page. My favorite and most space saving way to save my IA books is with the DJVU program. The documents take up a lot less space and they read a lot faster. The DJVU program is only a few megabytes compared to several hundred with Adobe and others.For Windows OS I use this one:DJVU If you use a Mac then go to this page: DJVU for Macs If you are familiar with downloading from Internet Archives, its easy to just choose DJVU from the list of available text formats of the desired book. I'll be glad to help if anyone has any questions.
James Pool May 12, 2012 05:40PMThanks for the info. I despise PDF for pretty much the bulk they take up and also for the very limited text reflowing for devices that don't match the actual sizes of the PDF text. PDFs are OK for printout though but I rarely do that sort of thing. I wasn't aware that DJVU could be used offline as for some reason I thought it was limited to online reading. I'll give Calibre a try and see how it converts DJVU files to the kindle format, at the very least the files should be smaller.
Jolyon & Katya Ralph May 12, 2012 10:28PMDJVU or PDF are both based on scanned images rather than formatted text, so neither are really great for Kindle (Calibre won't really be able to do much with them).
I find PDF quite readable on the iPad, but not on Kindle - which is why I find the iPad a more useful ebook reader than Kindle for the things I normally read.
Ron Layton May 12, 2012 10:49PMAs Jolyon said, DJVU and PDF don't convert very well and are better on an iPad than a Kindle. I have even loaded the Kindle versions of certain mineralogy books from Internet Archives and still get corrupted files. Go figure. I guess if I really need to have some documents with me I'll end buying an iPad. Anyway, back to the topic of testing. Anyone can do a search on Internet Archive and come up with dozens of useful books by using keywords like assay, blowpipe, mineralogy, etc.
Edited 1 time(s). Last edit at 05/12/2012 11:09PM by Ron Layton.
Mineralogical Research Company May 13, 2012 01:11AMPerhaps one of the best books that I have found for non-professional mineral identification is Identification and Qualitative Chemical Analysis of Minerals by Orsino C. Smith, published by Van Nostrand. Unfortunately, it is now difficult to find. It has an introductory chapter on mineral properties and simple testing equipment. It then covers the blowpipe and its uses with highly detailed descriptions and photos of the reactions for various elements. Later in the book it covers simple qualitative chemical tests. Finally, there is a very comprehensive set of identification tables, though a bit outdated.
As a boy of 12, my first interest in mineralogy began with this book. My mother couldn't understand my lust for glassware, chemicals and other apparatus, but relented to my wants. I have to admit that my interest in chemistry took a sidetrack from minerals, which eventually let to some rather interesting misadventures. Eventually though, my interest returned to mineralogy. Sixty years later, I still keep a copy of this book on my bookshelf.
James Pool October 02, 2012 06:53PMDonald Peck Wrote:
> James, MinSearch on the CD in my book, does not
> tell you how to do any tests. What it does do is
> list those minerals for which there is a match
> when any number of physical, chemical, and/or
> optical properties (observations) are input. So,
> if you know say, the color, luster, streak, and
> diaphaneity and the bead test indicates cobalt,
> you can input those properties and generate a list
> of the minerals that match (from more than 4000).
> You can use the locallity from included
> locallities database (3000) as one of the
> properties if the list of minerals for the
> locallity is included. MinSearch is extremely
> fast and isn't intended to replace reference
> books, but rather to winnow the list of possible
> minerals down to a handful or less so one know
> where to look in the books. The program can be
> used also for a quick lookup for the properties of
> a given mineral. I hope you try it.
> BTW, MinSearch is a 32 bit fully compiled program
> and will run under the new Microsoft 64 bit
> systems. However the Install Shield installer
> will not. If you have a problem, contact me and I
> will provide a "work-around".
I finally got around to putting the CD into my laptop computer. However it will not install since I am running 64 bit windows. I sent you a PM a while back so check that so you can provide me a "work-around". Thanks!
Tony Nikischer October 03, 2012 06:56PMModesty probably stopped Don Peck from mentioning his excellent publication: "Mineral Identification - A Practical Guide for the Amateur Mineralogist", readily available from MinRec. If you are interested in developing your own little ID lab, Don's book would be a great start.
I, too, remember Curt Segeler's careful work sans XRD and EMPA, and his results were rarely incorrect when later checked by more elaborate means. We are, indeed, slaves to our machines, as they are fast and straightforward in most cases. But those willing to labor as the classical mineralogists did, certainly have plenty of hard copy resources to help teach them how to go about it!
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Copyright © mindat.org and the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy 1993-2018, except where stated. Mindat.org relies on the contributions of thousands of members and supporters.