Conduct a Minerals Demostration

Theme and Purpose

Many products used in everyday life had their beginnings as rocks and minerals, produced from the Earth. The purpose is to show how minerals are used in familiar products. For instance, the mineral talc is the main ingredient in baby and body powders, while the metal copper is used to make electrical wire and brass fixtures.

Materials Needed

Up to 10 mineral specimens and the products made from or containing those minerals will be needed. When requested in writing, mining companies usually provide samples of the mineral they produce. Mining associations and companies can be found by searching the Internet by mineral name (salt, zinc, lead) or consulting a directory such as Randol's mining directory. Products can be purchased at the local convenience store.


Display the mineral specimens so that students can handle them. After discussing the minerals' properties and uses, ask the students to match each mineral with the corresponding product.

Sample Cart Talk

The Smithsonian's National Museum of Natural History has a "Discovery Cart" program where rolling carts are placed throughout the museum. These carts contain specimens of rocks, minerals or fossils, depending on the specific point being demonstrated.

One such demonstration is called "Dr. Rocks." Since many minerals are used in familiar health care products like toothpaste (fluorite) and table salt (halite), this topic provides a connection among students, their health care habits (brushing teeth), and minerals from the Earth.

While talking about the minerals - what they are and how they are used in health care products - let the students touch and observe the minerals. Place no more than 4 or 5 fist-sized mineral specimens out for the kids to handle, chosen from the list at the bottom of this page. For instance, place a sizable piece of talc on the table and let students scratch it, which creates a powdery residue on the fingers, since it is nature's softest mineral. Once they've handled all the minerals and listened to your discussion, then bring out the products and have the students try to match the mineral with the appropriate product.

Most of the demonstration should take no more than about three to five minutes. If there are several students in the class or museum, the demonstration can be extended beyond health care products. If you have a sample of graphite, then ask the question "What's in a pencil" while marking on a piece of paper with a pencil. Most people believe lead is in pencil, so ask them to try to write on paper with lead (galena), which is difficult to do. Then bring out the graphite sample and watch the excitement as they write their name with a rock.

Mineral Product Property
Calcite Tums w/calcium Neutralizes acid
Talc Baby/body powders Absorbs moisture
Sphalerite (Zinc mineral) Calamine lotion, Zinc oxide Soothes skin's irritation
Galena (Lead mineral) X-ray film Dense nature blocks radiation
Fluorite Fluoride Toothpaste/Mouthwash Anti-cavity agent
Halite Table salt Required by the body
Silver Photo of dental filling Antibacterial agent