For Your Success
What is a rock? What is a mineral? They all seem to look the same! To an untrained eye, minerals and rocks do look the same. Strictly defined, a mineral is the simplest, solid compound exhibiting specific geological characteristics. If you break a mineral down further, you are left with nothing but atoms and molecules, and you have lost the characteristics of that mineral.
Why study minerals and rocks? This fundamental question is important—not because this is an earth science course, but because minerals and rocks have significant importance to human history and civilization. If you are a student of human history, you know that minerals and rocks play an important role in the development of civilizations, economies, and wars, as well as in daily life.
The types of tools a civilization used help to identify its historical period. For example, the Stone, Copper, Bronze, Iron, Industrial, and Information Ages are defined by the rocks and minerals used at the time. Iron and coal were the foundation of the Industrial Age, and computer microchips are made of silica, which is quartz! Visit nearly any museum and you can observe how civilizations valued and used precious gemstones, silver, gold, bronze, copper, clay, and iron.
In the United States, the discovery of gold in California accelerated western development. The discovery of iron in the northeast spurred the development of the Transcontinental Railroad, the settling of the Great Plains, and the development of eastern cities.
Today, minerals and rocks can be found in jewelry, cosmetics, toothpaste, cooking, walls and wiring in your home, sidewalks, computers, and many other places. Minerals and rocks are everywhere; you just need to know where to look.