When we are making use of a metallic object, we are not necessarily thinking about how the metal was extracted from its ore. Even if we do remember that the atoms that make up the metal object in question were once likely combined with oxygen or sulfur in a brittle (if not also hard) material, we might not take time to reflect on the beauty of the mineral forms. Yet taking the time to appreciate the natural world is beneficial to us as both simple humans and as people who work in a technology-influenced environment.
Looking closely at an object and noticing its features and details is a good way to increase our creative powers. Following up on our curiosity is a good way to build a solid foundation of knowledge. Studying natural objects in this way is an excellent entrance to the world of scientific facts.
My vacation to the Keweenaw Peninsula (pronounced Key-wi-naw) of Upper Michigan gave me a chance to reconnect to my early interest in geology, rocks and minerals (Fig. 1). Commonly known as pyrite, the individual crystals are large enough to show off their rectangular and triangular facets. The rectangular facets result from the near cubic crystal structure of pyrite. When a corner of the cube is “missing,” we get triangular facets. Careful inspection will reveal trapezoids and other odd shapes resulting from missing edges.
This beautiful crystal has some “colonies” of different types of smaller crystals attached. Note the whitish translucent crystals, which might be quartz. They are not regular or large enough to see if they have the classical hexagonal column structure associated with quartz. I did perform chemical analysis of the black crystals, and I found them to be made of manganese and sulfur. It’s interesting that even though manganese and iron are right next to each other in the periodic table of the elements (numbers 25 and 26), their sulfides look so different. This is true despite the fact that the opaque gold pyrite and the glassy-appearing black hauerite have two sulfur atoms for each metal atom.