A crystal the size of a school bus? Dr. Michael A. Wise is a geologist, and an expert on pegmatites, at the Smithsonians National Museum of Natural History (Smithsonian Institution)
A crystal the size of a school bus?
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In South Dakota, miners found a crystal of a mineral called spodumene that was 42 feet long and weighed 90 tons. While it's an extreme example, the massive crystal showcased one of the incredible qualities of the rock in which it was found, known as "pegmatite." Unlike most rocks, pegmatites contain unusually large crystals of a wide variety of minerals.

Why?

Pegmatites are igneous rocks that form as melted materials (magma) cool beneath the Earth's crust. Superheated water in the magma helps some chemical elements accumulate and allows the magma to crystallize many kinds of minerals, some of which are not found in most common rock types. Miners look to pegmatites for the beryl crystals that are cut into the gem aquamarine, the spodumene for kunzite and the spectacular and colorful tourmaline.

But pegmatites produce more than just beautiful gemstones.

Many minerals valued for industrial and commercial purposes are also found in pegmatites. Consider that your cellphone wouldn't work properly without the rare element tantalum that is mined from pegmatites, the only rock where it occurs in high concentrations. Spodumene is the source of high-purity lithium required for making rechargeable batteries used in electronics. The muscovite found in mica-rich pegmatites is used in many products, including cosmetics.

Find out more about why Smithsonian Geologist Dr. Michael Wise calls pegmatites "Nature's Giant Treasure Chests."

Join us on Thursday, April 16, 2015, for a Smithsonian Science How live webcast titled Mineral Dependence - Gemstones to Cellphones, airing at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. EDT on the Q?rius website. Mike Wise will appear live to discuss and answer questions. Get teaching resources to support your webcast experience.

Critical thinking challenge: How are we dependent upon minerals?

Assigned 10 times


COMMENTS (24)
  • Ashleypatt
    4/06/2015 - 01:31 p.m.

    We are dependent on minerals by when they form they use battery charging. So it runs with the electronics that everyone has now. Like phones, Tv's, Computers and lots more. Even like playing games uses electricy.

  • TreyvaunT
    4/06/2015 - 01:46 p.m.

    I wounder what the miners were thinking when they were doing their job when they see a huge 42 foot crystal. They should get a raise for finding it.

  • ratiaira
    4/06/2015 - 01:55 p.m.

    we are dependent on our minerals because we use them all the time even when they are not needed
    this is the critical thinking question because it is mostly true

  • JimmyPC6
    4/06/2015 - 01:58 p.m.

    Fascinating how a natural recourse can be like that. This crystal is probably the biggest ever found, according to my knowledge. This is a great read and knowledge for my brain

  • JasonB6
    4/06/2015 - 02:02 p.m.

    I cant imagine a crystal the size of a school bus. I like the example they give about the crystal because it gives me a good image of the size of the crystal in my head.

  • DavidBer6
    4/06/2015 - 02:03 p.m.

    this is cool i cant imagine finding a crystal as big as a school bus and weigh 90 tons, i wonder how much it is worth?

  • namelt-Che
    4/07/2015 - 01:50 p.m.

    I think that it is pretty cool to have find a crystal the size of a school bus. I don't know where you can even find that crystal at though because it seems hard to even find those anywhere in the world. The good thing is, is that it is a pegmatite crystal.

  • Julian10
    4/07/2015 - 03:50 p.m.

    Miners have found a crystal the size of a school bus. The crystal ways 90 tons and is 42 feet long. The crystal is made of the mineral called spodumene. Unlike most rocks, pegmatites contain unusually large crystals of a wide variety of minerals. Superheated water in the magma helps some chemical elements allows the magma to crystallize many kinds of minerals, some of which are not found in most common rock types.

  • caitlinl-Goo
    4/08/2015 - 10:36 a.m.

    Found crystal is the size of a school bus. The text states, "In South Dakota, miners found a crystal of a mineral called spodumene that was 42 feet long and weighed 90 tons." The text also states, "While it's an extreme example, the massive crystal showcased one of the incredible qualities of the rock in which it was found, known as "pegmatite"." The evidence from the text explains the massive size of the crystal and what type of rock the crystal is.

  • daltonm-Goo
    4/08/2015 - 10:42 a.m.

    Natural minerals are essential for many reasons. These minerals can be made into a finished good which we as consumers buy. These items can make our life more enjoyable, easier, e.t.c. Without these minerals we would not be able to do the simple things we do today.

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