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Commonly Mined Elements and Minerals
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Wednesday, January 14, 2015

With the popularity of “The Hunger Games” movies and books, many have learned about the prospects of coal mining. The Appalachian region may be the region best known for coal mining, but there are other heavily mined minerals and elements across the globe. Sure gold and silver caused a boom of mining towns in the U.S., but did you know about other precious minerals and metals that have been mined for centuries? Read on to learn what other elements people have deemed valuable enough to be mined.

•     Turquoise
One of December’s birthstones, this greenish-blue stone has seen a lot of popularity in jewelry over the past few years. Found across the world and highly prized by many civilizations including the ancient Egyptians, the Aztecs and a few Native American tribes, turquoise isn’t just a pretty color that can be painted on bedroom walls. To find this mineral, it must be mined. Turquoise is one of the first gems to be mined. That may be in part because turquoise can be found as a byproduct in large-scale copper mines. In the U.S. the Southwestern states and some of the turquoise found in U.S. mines is considered “chalk turquoise,” or a low grade. But there are mines in Nevada and Arizona where some of the highest quality of turquoise can be found.

•     Copper
As turquoise is sometimes discovered as a byproduct of copper mining, it was only fair to include copper on this list. Copper is so prevalent in the United States that the U.S. was ranked number four on the list of the top ten copper-producing countries in 2013. While there wasn’t exactly a copper boom as there were the gold rush and silver rush in the U.S., the first instance of mining this metal in the U.S. was in the 1840s in the Michigan copper district. Though copper isn’t as common in jewelry as gold and silver, this metal has a myriad of uses. It can be alloyed with tin to make bronze, copper wiring and cables are used in many electronic devices, currency, and it has some uses in sculpting; the Statue of Liberty is made of copper.

•     Gallium
As high school students trying to ace their chemistry class know, gallium does not occur in free form in nature. This element is silver in color and is softer than other metals. This is an element, like the mineral turquoise, that isn’t necessarily mined on its own, but rather is a byproduct of aluminum and zinc. Because of its ability to conduct electricity, gallium is a good semiconductor, so the majority of its applications are in electronics. Gallium is used in blue LED bulbs, computer chips, integrated circuits, neutrino detection, and even be alloyed with other metals to create mirrors. Next time you catch your own reflection, there is a possibility you’re staring at some gallium!

•     Sapphire
Another precious gem, sapphires are the birthstone for September and actually come in numerous other colors than their classic blue. Sapphire can also be found around in the world, but depending on where the gem is mined, the color and appearance can be different. Different chemical-impurity concentrations make the appearances vary in sapphires. Sapphires that do not undergo heat treatments are the color and appearance that many people recognize and vie for when purchasing jewelry. As it is a gemstone, the first application of sapphires that may come to mind is jewelry, but sapphires are also used in shatter-resistant windows (with other elements), body armor suits, and are used in semiconductor circuits with silicon.

Not everyone is situated near a mine or a mining town, but countless elements and minerals are mined across the globe for different application. Next time you glance in the mirror, peruse new jewelry or need some new wiring done, those components most likely have come from a mine somewhere on this earth.


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