Crystals are everywhere in our world. In fact, nature has manufactured them for thousands of years. Generations of people discover crystals in mines like the Emerald Hollow Mines and the Cherokee Ruby Mines of North Carolina. They are also found in mountains like the Graves Mountains of Georgia. And some people like digging for crystals on their own in places like Jade Cover in Big Sur, California.
Are you aware that Mother Earth comprises 85% crystal? How’s that for magnitude? But, to talk about crystal science, we must begin with the crust of the earth. Interestingly, the crust of the earth is mostly silicon and oxygen, in combination with six other elements. Those elements are as follows:
Amazingly, from this casserole of chemistry derives the wide variety of crystal colors, shapes, and sizes of crystals that we all enjoy. Have you ever wondered about how crystals form? Or, have you ever been curious about what conditions are required to produce these beautiful, precious gems? Then read on. Today, we’re going to talk about the science of crystals.
Crystal Science & Mother Earth’s Natural Recycling
Crystal science also includes reference to Mother Earth’s inherent ability to recycle – naturally. A demonstration of this is when limestone changes to crystals. Of course, it must be the right conditions that include a variety of ingredients forming together under terrific pressure.
Conditions must be specific requirements for crystals to form. For instance, the conditions must be so specific that it explains why diamonds are only found in certain geographical regions around the world. A large number of diamonds come from Africa. Many African countries have the perfect conditions for diamonds to form. There are diamond mines in Angola, South Africa, the Democratic Republic of Congo, and Tanzania.
In the United States, only three states have the perfect conditions for diamonds to form: Arkansas, Colorado, and Wyoming. That’s the reason why some precious gems are more expensive than others. It is simply because the conditions to produce them are rare.
Even with a vast abundance of minerals on the earth, for specific technical projects, scientists must produce replicas of what nature offers to meet the specifications of their project. But this is no easy feat even with our modern technological advances.
How crystals form.
The science of crystals is very complicated. However, I will simplify it. The most precious variety of crystals is derived from molten rock or magma. Of course, magma comes from the intense heat melting rocks in the earth’s core in the upper mantle. When this soup of atoms cools, it solidifies and forms the symmetrical three-dimensional crystals that sparkle to our delight.
During the cooling process, magma forms the first crystals at the highest melting points with simple composition. Slowly, different minerals continue to form until only complex atoms are left. The complex atoms are the source of the more elaborate crystal production.
The amorphous material or rock comprising of tiny crystals form when magma reaches the surface of the earth and cools very quickly. You will most commonly find these rocks in the form of basalt. However, magma that stays underground solidifies at a slower rate and produces coarse-grain rocks such as quartz, feldspar, and mica – all ingredients of granite.
The table below shows the Moth’s Scale which is the scale of crystal hardness. Simply stated, the minerals below will scratch those below it and is scratched by those above it.
|1. Talc – scratched by fingernail|
|2. Gypsum – scratched by fingernail|
|3. Calcine – scratched by copper coin|
|4. Fluorite – scratched easily by pocket knife|
|5. Apatite – pocket knife just scratches it|
|6. Feldspar – scratched by steel file|
|7. Quartz – scratches quartz easily|
|8. Topaz – scratches quartz easily|
|9. Corundum – scratches topaz easily|
|10. Diamond – hardest natural material known|
5 requirements to form a crystal.
As I mentioned earlier, conditions must meet specific requirements for crystals to form. The crystal science must be exact. If even one of the conditions is off slightly, you will have a normal, dull, grey rock instead of a crystal. There are 5 critical requirements to form a crystal:
- Ingredients – Some mixture of mineral ingredients must be present for crystals to form. The most common minerals are listed above.
- Pressure – A large amount of pressure is necessary to form crystals. This pressure is the reason that crystals are often found underground. The weight of the earth helps them to form.
- Temperature – If the surrounding region is too hot or too cold, crystal cannot sustain surfaces.
- Space – Crystals need space to become large. Minerals inside a solid rock may have the right ingredients, pressure, and temperature, but they lack space to grow.
- Time – The longer the crystal takes to develop, the larger the crystal will become.
A good example of this process is to consider a well-known science project. Most grade-school classes have performed the experiment where you make crystals from sugar. In the experiment, you dissolve three cups of sugar into one cup of water. Then, put a string in the water suspended by a pencil or Popsicle stick. Finally, let it sit for weeks. Eventually, if you’ve satisfied the requirements, sugar crystals will form on the string.
However, in nature, Mother Earth satisfies the requirements. The temperature to produce crystals occurs naturally and the earth supplies the pressure. The time it takes to produce crystals is thousands of years. And Mother Earth supplies a whole host of minerals as ingredients. In the case of crystallized sugar, you must supply the pressure, temperature, space, and time. Moreover, the only ingredients necessary are sugar and water.
Crystals from dissolved minerals.
Technically, according to science, crystal is a solid mineral with flat surfaces. Some crystals such as quartz and rhodochrosite form from chemical solutions within rock cavities. Rhodochrosite is a chemical composition of a carbonate mineral. Rhodochrosite is beautiful in its purest form. It is rose-red. Then, water dissolves minerals into component ions or charged ions which produces an aqueous solution. Examples of aqueous solutions are:
- Acid Solutions
- Base Solutions
- Salt Solutions
Again, the conditions must be right in terms of time temperature, and ingredients. Next, when the right combination happens the solution over saturates and the precipitation of crystals begins. What’s more, the slower the precipitation, the larger the crystals grow. Every crystal’s existence is because of this crystal science.
Crystal science & metamorphism.
As before, the right range of conditions must be in place for alteration to take place. In fact, the changes in pressure, temperature, or chemical conditions may cause a new species of mineral to form to accommodate its immediate environment.
Interestingly, some crystals recrystallize in their solid-state when extreme subterranean changes in temperature and pressure rearrange the atoms without any resulting melting. One example of this is the metamorphosis of limestone into marble and shales. These materials are altered to garnet-studded mica schist. But, the fascinating fact remains that the variety of minerals from the original rocks produces a diversity of crystals.
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