Thursday, September 18, 2008

How do rocks create everything? or do they?

First question:

"How do rocks create everything? or do they? I mean everything not animal or person."

He is not going to make this little experiment easy!

First, I'm going to assume he means on the Earth. Bad assumption, I know, but I've got to start somewhere... ;)

First, let's define a rock. Wikipedia has a decent definition. A rock is a naturally occurring aggregate of minerals or mineraloids. A mineraloid is a chemical substance that doesn't actually exhibit a crystalline structure, but perhaps would under different circumstances. Think opal or obsidian; amorphous structures that, in large aggregates, are often considered rocks.

Okay, so a rock is basically a (naturally occurring) collection of minerals. For now, I'm not going to go into how rocks themselves are formed. Let's explore how rocks (minerals and aggregates of minerals) "make everything."

  • Plants: Plants require a certain subset of minerals (actually, a certain subset of mineral-forming elements) to grow. There are about 13 elements that form minerals of various kinds that the typical plant can use. This site has a good description of which mineral-forming elements plants use (by absorbing the water into which the minerals have dissolved). I'm going to list the mineral-forming elements and then move on (there's just not enough room to discuss each element--follow the link above if you're interested). All of the minerals come from the soil, which comes from rocks.

  1. Nitrogen (N)
  2. Phosphorus (P)
  3. Potassium (K)
  4. Calcium (Ca)
  5. Magnesium (Mg)
  6. Sulfur (S)
  7. Boron (B)
  8. Copper (Cu)
  9. Iron (Fe)
  10. Chloride (Cl)
  11. Manganese (Mn)
  12. Molybdenum (Mo)
  13. Zinc (Zn)
  • Building materials: Nearly every kind of building material you can think of utilizes rocks in one form or another.
  1. Portland cement is the most commonly used cement in the industrialized world, and its basic components are often used unprocessed as a cheap cement. Portland cement is made up of calcium oxide, silicon oxide, aluminum oxide, ferric oxide, and magnesium oxide is specific concentrations. The minerals are usually quarried from local rocks.
  2. Drywall (wallboard, greenboard, etc.) has an inner core made up of gypsum (CaSO4 * 1/2 H2O), calcium sulfate.
  3. Shingles, roofing tiles, etc. Many materials used to keep the interior of a home or building are made from minerals of one kind or another. Much of Switzerland has houses with slate roofs, the common shingles you see on most houses (in the west anyway; I don't know anything about the east) are made from tar, fiberglass, and minerals of the desired color. The "mexican" roofing tiles are made from clays and other minerals and then baked.
  4. Bricks, cinder blocks, flooring tiles, etc. are generally made of either clays or ceramics, both of which are formed from minerals, which (of course) come from rocks. And don't forget the grout which is a fine-grained cement which often has sand and sometimes very fine gravel mixed in.
  5. Sinks, bathtubs, etc. are often made of ceramics or other mineral-bearing materials.
  6. Counters and tabletops can be tiled (with grout) or made of whole slabs of rock.
  7. Windows are made of glass (there are many different kinds of glass, many of which contain silica), which is an amorphous solid, rather than a crystalline solid. However, the minerals that are melted and quenched to make the glass almost always come from rocks.
  8. Lightbulbs are also made with glass and often metal.
  9. Wood, paper, etc. are made from plants that require minerals to grow.
  10. Nearly all metals are smelted from mineral ores. Aluminum and brass fixtures, iron pipes, copper pipes, door knobs, electrical wires, nails, screws, bolts, etc. all come from ores (or recycled metals, which originally came from ore).
  11. I'm sure I've missed a million things.
  • Personal Hygene/makeup: Lipstics, makeups, toothpastes (hydrated silica--opal, calcium carbonate--chalk, titanium dioxide) , etcetera, etcetera, etcetera all often have minerals as part of their basic composition, often for coloring or sparklies (mica) in the makeup.
  • Dishes, flatware, silverware, cookware, etc: China, ceramic, glass, metal, clay, etc. are all made of minerals or smelted from minerals or somehow derived from rocks.
  • Magazines: That shiny paper used in magazines? it's made by coating paper in clay.
  • Electronics: The metals in all electronics are originally derived from ores (rocks). The glasses used in computer displays, etc. are derived from minerals. The silicon used in the chips is derived from rocks. Solar panels, cameras, radios, etc., etc., etc., all contain silicon and metals, which are both derived from rocks.
  • Pigments: Many inks and pigments are made by crushing certain minerals and mixing them into a suspension. Those that don't come from minerals come from plants (which use minerals to grow...blah, blah, blah).
  • Everything else, practically. About the only thing that I can think of that doesn't come from minerals directly or through one generation or so is petroleum (and therefore plastics). Petroleum (etymology: "rock oil") is plant and animal matter that's been heavily altered by very high pressures and temperatures for very long times. At some point, one has to question if it hasn't changed so much that it's no longer even close to being similar to its original source. Of course, it's pumped out of the ground where it is intimately mixed with rocks... Water, atmosphere, and a few other things are also examples of substances that are removed from rocks by multiple-generations (although many parts of the atmosphere are derived--sometimes directly--from rocks). It really is true that if it can't be grown or hunted, it must be mined [linky]

Okay, I got lazy and didn't want to dig up more examples of how "rocks make everything." I also got lazy and didn't want to add more links. I'll probably come back here and insert reference links when I have a little more time.

1 comment:

Grumpator said...

Wow! Now my head feels like a rock!

Seriously, very interesting!