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Comparing Silicate & Non-silicate Minerals

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  • 0:01 Silicate or Non-Silicate?
  • 0:47 Silicates
  • 1:42 Examples of Silicates
  • 2:20 Non-Silicates
  • 2:50 Examples of Non-Silicates
  • 5:13 lesson Summary
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Lesson Transcript
Instructor: Kevin Newton

Kevin has edited encyclopedias, taught middle and high school history, and has a master's degree in Islamic law.

Believe it or not, more than 90% of minerals belong to the silicate group. Still, that 10% or so of non-silicates are more common than you'd think. This lesson focuses on both types of minerals.

Silicate or Non-Silicate?

There are literally thousands of minerals present on the earth. Chances are you've seen a collection of common minerals in a science classroom in the past and have wondered how geologists could keep them all straight. Luckily for them, only a handful are really common. In fact, you could count them all on both hands. Still, two major types of minerals exist: silicates and non-silicates. Silicates are those minerals that have silicon as a component, while non-silicates do not have silicon. As silicates form more than 90% of the earth's crust, we'll start with them. However, don't think that just because there are fewer non-silicates that they are not important.

Silicates

Every silicate has oxygen and silicon atoms; that's what makes them special. However, they're not just any oxygen and silicon atoms. In fact, this particular molecule comes in the shape of a pyramid. Imagine a silicon atom surrounded by a pyramid of four oxygen atoms, with each side of the molecule looking like a triangle. The name of this molecule is the silicon-oxygen tetrahedron, which means it's a four-sided molecule of silicon and oxygen. Now with such a regular molecular structure, the silicon-oxygen tetrahedron is very prone to forming crystals. Also, this whole molecule has a negative charge, which means it is an anion. Therefore, we often call the resulting mineral by whatever positive ion (or cation) is combined with the silicate anion.

Examples of Silicates

This is most true for feldspars, which are the most common type of silicate found on Earth. In potassium feldspar, for example, the crystal is often very opaque and really only resembles a crystal in how cleanly it cuts. Meanwhile, quartz is much more translucent and is only made up of silicon and oxygen. Still, not every silicate forms a crystal in the pattern of quartz. Take mica, for example. This mineral forms large sheet-shaped crystals. This helps to make it a relatively soft rock. This is because there are relatively weak bonds holding together sheets of mica.

Non-Silicates

Like I said, silicates make up the vast majority of the minerals on the earth. Still, that doesn't mean that the rest are unimportant. The only requirement for being a non-silicate is that the molecular structure cannot contain silicon. Still, that leaves quite a bit of potential possibility for the resulting non-silicates. As a result, we tend to group non-silicates into six groups, each of which is based off what underlying ion is found in common between other minerals in the group.

Examples of Non-Silicates

Have you ever marveled at a marble floor? Or, perhaps you're enchanted by the limestone that encased the Pyramids at Giza? Maybe scuba diving is your thing and you love the appearance of coral reefs. If any of those are the case, then you have found yourself looking at the most common form of non-silicate: carbonates. Carbonates are all connected by the presence of a carbonate molecule. Carbonate molecules include one carbon atom bonded with 3 oxygen atoms. One of the oxygen molecules has a double bond, but overall, the molecule has a negative charge. That means that carbonates bond with other atoms and molecules easily. In fact, marble, limestone, and coral reefs are all formed by calcium carbonate, as are pearls, snail shells, and even egg shells.

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