The Elements Collection
Updated on December 14th, 2020

The Periodic Table

I gave my school aged grand children a calendar featuring selected elements as a present for Christmas 2019. My plan is to select an element every month for 2020 and provide a collection box and mineral samples of twelve elements or compounds which contain the featured elements. Hopefully, my grand children will learn important aspects about the "Element of the Month" by using the Internet to answer a few questions I will provide each month. Also, I plan to introduce terms such as atom, molecule, and compound in addition to element. I will introduce two groups of compounds; metals and non metals (with examples of metallic and non-metallic mineral examples. At the close of 2020, not only will each family will have a colorful collection of twelve mineral samples representing the "Elements of the Month", but they will have been introduced to the fields of inorganic chemistry and mineralogy.

Elements of the Month

January- Lithium

Element- Lithium (Symbol-Li) (Atomic Number-3)
Mineral- Lepidolite Mica
(from Minas Gerais, Brazil)

Lepidolite is a variety of a common type of mica called Muscovite.
Muscovite mica is composed of the elements; 
Potassium (K), Aluminum (Al), Silicon (Si), and Oxygen (O).

Lepidolite has the same composition as Muscovite except that it also contains Lithium (Li) which gives it its pale purple (Lilac) color.

1. What are three uses of Lithium?
2. What other mineral besides Lepidolite is a source of Lithium?
3. What is the hardness of Lepidolite on Mohs' Scale of Hardness?

February- Copper

Element- Copper (Symbol-Cu) (Atomic Number-29)
                                                                Mineral- Native Copper
(from Lake Superior, Michigan)

Native Copper is composed of only one element (Copper).
It is called native copper because it occurs naturally in the Earth's  crust.
The small greenish spots in this sample are either Malachite (a combination of copper, calcium, and oxygen) or Turquoise (a combination of copper, aluminum, potassium, hydrogen, and oxygen). These compounds are created when the pure Copper is combined with the other elements when exposed to the atmosphere and water.
1. Why is Copper used for electrical wiring?
2. Why is copper used in the bottom of high quality cooking pots?
3. What is the hardness of Copper in Mohs' Scale of Hardness?

Related Questions:
1. What does the Atomic Number mean?
2. What are protons. neutrons, and electrons?

March- Bismuth

Element- Bismuth (Symbol-Bi) (Atomic Number-83)
         Mineral- Rainbow Bismuth Crystal
(Synthetic-Grown in a Laboratory)

Naturally occurring Bismuth is an iridescent silvery white
crystalline, brittle, metal and is very rare.  It is usually a rainbow
colored crystal obtained as a by-product of mining and refining
lead, copper, tin, silver, and gold.

What does iridescent mean?
What does crystalline mean?
What does brittle mean?

What is the hardness of Bismuth in Mohs' Scale of Hardness?
What is Bismuth used for?

April- Zinc

Element- Zinc (Symbol-Zn) (Atomic Number-30)
         Minerals- Zinc Ore (Zincite and Franklinite)
(Zinc Ore from Sterling Hill Mine, Ogdensburg, NJ)

 I am using a sample of zinc ore from the Sterling Hill Mine to represent this moth's element element Zinc. They are:
Zincite, the red colored mineral which is a compound consisting of Zinc and Oxygen.
Franklinite, the black colored mineral which is a compound of Zinc, Iron, and Oxygen.

Google Question: "What is a compound" :-)

Zincite and Franklinite are zinc compounds. Zincite has a chemical formula ZnO which means it consists of one molecule of Zinc for every molecule of Oxygen. Franklinite has a chemical formula of ZnFe2O4 which means that it consists of one molecule of Zinc for every two (2) molecules of Iron and four (4) molecules of Oxygen.

What is the hardness of Zincite and Franklinite in Mohs' Scale of Hardness?
What is Zinc used for?
Zinc is of special interest in the COVID-19 pandemic. Why?

This is a picture of high grade zinc ore from the Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensberg, NJ.  It is made up primarily of a mineral called Sphalerite (ZnFeS).  The Sphalerite is the brownish red mineral. The black mineral is either an iron rich variety if Sphalerite called Marmatite or the zinc iron oxide, Franklinite (ZnFe2O4).

  Fluorescent minerals found in Franklin and Ogdensberg, New Jersey

There are many unique minerals found in the Franklin and Sterling Hill Mines. These mines are the home of some of the finest examples of minerals which have the property called fluorescence. Minerals exhibit fluorescence when they produce unusually bright colors when their molecules react to fluorescent light in specific ultraviolet frequencies.

The pinkish flesh colored mineral is Willemite (Zn2SiO4)- It fluoresces bright green
The white colored mineral is Calcite (CaCO3)- It fluoresces bright red

There are many less common minerals at Franklin and Sterling Hill Mines that fluoresce many different colors!

You can take as tour of the Sterling Hill Mine in Ogdensberg, NJ. One of the stops of the tour after entering the Edison Tunnel to the mine features a beautiful display of the fluorescent minerals in walls of the tunnel.

May- Iron
Element- Iron (Symbol-Fe) (Atomic Number-26)
         Mineral- Pyrite- FeS2
The Pyrite sample is from Peru in South America

I am using Pyrite for this month's sample because it is shiny and attractive. But is is not a primary source of iron.
What two minerals are the most important sources of iron? (We are talking sources of the metal iron; not dietary iron)
These two minerals are compounds of Iron and Oxygen.

What is Lodestone?

What is Iron used for?

What is Fools Gold?

What is the hardness of Pyrite
in Mohs' Scale of Hardness?

June- Lead
(Symbol- Pb) (Atomic Number 82)
Mineral- Galena-  PbS

I am using Galena PbS for this month's sample because it is a common form of lead which has been a primary source of lead for hundreds of centuries.

What is lead used for?

Why has lead been discontinued for use in water pipes and paint.

Galena is a compound consisting of one part _______ and one part of _______.  
What is the hardness of Pyrite
in Mohs' Scale.?

Smelting: In the last three months, I have featured minerals which consisted of metal elements (Zinc, Iron,and Lead) with Sulfur.  This group of compounds are called Sulfides.  The metals are separated from the Sulfur by a process called smelting. Use Google to look up "smelting" and send me a brief email about what you learned!

July- Sulfur
(Symbol-S) (Atomic Number 16)

We have already learned about the role of Sulfur as a Sulfide mixture of metals and sulfur where the metal can be extracted through a process called smelting.

But Sulfur is used in other ways.  What are at least two of them?

Use Google to determine "How does Sulfur occur naturally in the Earth". The most natural occurrence of Sulfur is near what __________.

What is the hardness of Sulfur i
n Mohs' Scale of harness.?

Check out this website about Elements:
When you get to the website, just double click on the Element you want to investigate in the Periodic Table. You will find some excellent pictures of different forms of the element and in some cases information about it's use.

August- Carbon
(Symbol-C) (Atomic Number 6)
Minerals- Graphite and Diamond- C

I have selected Graphite as the sample for Carbon because I couldn't afford to use Diamond !

Carbon occurs naturally at the extremes of Mohs' scale of hardness.   What is the hardness of Graphite i
n Mohs' Scale of harness.?

List five uses of Graphite!

Graphene is similar to Graphite but it is an "allotrope".
An allotrope is a form of an element (Graphene) of an element which has a different molecular structure of another form (Graphite) of the same element.

Graphene is an important new form of Graphite.  List some uses of Graphene.

What is the hardness of Diamond in Mohs' Scale of harness.?

Why is Diamond used in jewelry?
List some industrial uses of Diamond?

Where are Diamonds found in the United States?
Are Diamonds found in North Carolina? 

After you use Google to answer this question, is there anything special about the picture of the Diamond on the left.

What is Coal?
 Coal is a material which contains carbon in an organic form. The carbon atoms in coal are combined with hydrogen. Coal started with plants about 300  millions of years ago. When the plants died, their remains were preserved in sedimentary rocks.

Stages (types) of coal can be described is either four or five types. We will pick four. Briefly describe each of them.

1. Lignite-
2. Subbituminous-
3. Bituminous (soft coal)-
4. Anthracite (hard coal)-

The ranking depends on the types and amounts of Carbon each contains and the amount of heat energy each can produce.

September - Silicon
(Symbol-Si) (Atomic Number 16)
Mineral- Rose Quartz- SiO2

Silicon is the second most common element in the Earth's crust- 28%
When combined with Oxygen, it forms minerals accounting for 90% of all the minerals in the Earth's crust.

Quartz SiO2 is one of these minerals. Quartz is found in many colors: colorless (Rock Crystal), white (Milky), pink (Rose), gray to black (Smokey), yellow to amber (Citrine), lilac to purple (Amethyst), green (Prasiolite), blue (Blue Quartz), red (Quartz stained with iron)

What is the hardness of Quartz in Mohs' Scale of Hardness?
What products are made from Quartz?

Two Categories of SiO2 Minerals

Quartz Crystal

Macrocrystalline (relatively large size crystal structure): Quartz

Generally Quartz crystals exhibit six sided (Hexagonal) prism with pyramidal terminations.

Horizonal striations on the vertical faces are the feature which help identify quartz crystals.
Microcrystalline (relatively small size crystal structure): Chalcedony

Chalcedony is made up of very small radiating fibers. It occurs as crusts and cavity fillings.

Varieties: Agate, Chryoprase, Jasper, Opal, Carnelian, Onyx

October - Silicate Minerals

  Mineral- Amazonite
(Potassium Aluminum Silicate)
Madawsaska, Ontario, Canada

Silicate minerals (Silicon and Oxygen) are 90% of the minerals in the Earth's crust! Feldspar is 51% of theses silicates.
Feldspar silicates are compounds made up of of Silicon and Oxygen (SixOx), Aluminum (Al), and a combination of Potassium (K), Calcium (Ca), and/or Sodium (Na).
Amazonite is a variety of what are known as Potash Feldspar. Potash Feldspar's chemical composition has Aluminum and Potassium in addition to the silicate but little to no Calcium or Sodium.

What products are Feldspar used for?
What is the harness of Feldspar on the Mohs' Scale of Hardness?

More information about Feldspar!

How can we identify the different types of Feldspar?
All types of Feldspar have the same hardness; 6 in Mohs' Scale of Hardness. 
All types of Feldspar
break along two of the three dimensions at same angle (90 degrees) when hit with a hammer.  This characteristic is called cleavage.

This is a sample of Spruce Pine Pegmatite from the Sink Hole Mine in North Carolina

The gray color is Smoky Quartz and the lighter whitish color is Feldspar.
But, what type pf Feldspar is it? From my research, I have learned that the chemical composition
of this Feldspar is Potassium Aluminum Silicate (very little or no Sodium or Calcium).
That means that this Feldspar is Potash Feldspar; either Microcline or Orthoclase.

The only way that we can tell which is to measure the specific gravity of the sample or study the structure
of a sample; none of which we can do in the field.

So, for our purposes, we can only determine that it is either Microcline or Orthoclase.
By the way, Amazonite is Microcline.

The chemical composition of Types of Feldspar

(The daughters may need to help the grandkids with this one!

Microcline or Orthoclase are called Potassium Feldspar or Potash Feldspar because they are Potassium Aluminum Silicates with little or no Sodium (lower left corner of the triangle or Calcium (lower right corner).

Feldspar with Potassium and Sodium (but no Calcium) is called Alkali Feldspar (along the right hand side).

Feldspar with Sodium and Calcium are called Plagioclase Feldspar (along the bottom). 

Sodium Aluminum Silicate (little or no Potassium or Calcium is Albite (lower left corner).

Calcium Aluminum Silicate (little or no Sodium or Potassium is Anorthite (lower right corner).

The most common Plagioclase feldspars are Oligoclase, Andesine, and Labrodorite.

This sample of Labrodorite is easily recognized because of it's Iridescence.

          I have two small cabs of Labrodorite.
     If you want one,  let me know and I'll send it to you!!.

90% of the Earth's crust is composed of silicate minerals!

Alkali Feldspar-               12%
Plagioclase Feldspar-       39%
Quartz/Calcedony-          13%
Other silicate minerals-   26%
Total                               90%

Oliver, Stacy, and Nora discussing
the Elements Project during a Zoom Meeting with Grandpa Bo on November 13th, 2020. Oliver and Nora told Grandpa what their three favorite samples were in the collection.

This was our second Zoom meeting and is a great example of lessons learned during the requirement to have virtual learning and conferences during the COVID 19 pandemic.

Other Earth's Crust Elements
Mineral- Apatite


Silicates make up 90% of the Earth's crust minerals.

Many important minerals make up the remaining 10%. These less common minerals contain very important elements.

Apatite is one of these minerals.  It is a phosphate mineral in that instead if Silicon and Oxygen (silicates), it is made up of Phosphorous (P) and Oxygen (O) (phosphates) in addition to two other important elements; Calcium (Ca) and Flouride (Fl).

What is Apatite used for?

What hardness is Apatite on the Mohs' Scale of Hardness?

Other Earth's Crust Elements
Rock Salt
Halite (NaCl)
Windsor, Ontario, Canada


Rock Salt (AKA Salt Stone) is a sedimentary rock with Halite as the major mineral.

What are the uses of Salt?

What is the hardness of Halite on Mohs' Scale of Hardness?

Rock Salt (AKA evaporites) are formed by the precipitation (look it up !) from salty water in warm climates. Sedimentation takes place in lagoons/bays which are only partly cut off from the sea.  Thick salt deposits are produced when ocean water flows in to these partly cut-off lagoons/bays and evaporation takes place. Quite often all the water is evaporated leaving behind salt deposits when these lagoons/bays become completely cut off from the ocean.

"Salt: A World History" by Mark Kullansky
describes the importance of salt in cooking as early as 3000BC in China and throughout history and salt's significant importance in the economic development of the modern world.

When European Catholic nations (France, Spain, and Italy) decided to require two days of eating fish a week instead of one (Circa 18th Century), the increased demand for fish created a need for more salt to preserve the fish for transport. This resulted in an economic boom for England and other nations that provided the ships to transport salt and salted fish.

Check your dictionary for words that start with sal.
For example: Salary- Based on salarium (Latin for salt money).  The soldiers of Roman Legions were paid in salt.


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Robert S. "Bo" Smith