SITE VISIT: Mineral Data Mining

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Science  11 Jun 1999:
Vol. 284, Issue 5421, pp. 1731
DOI: 10.1126/science.284.5421.1731a

Blood-red crystals of cinnabar, frosty white calcite, eggplant-purple chunks of azurite. These are among the nearly 4000 known minerals—inorganic solids formed in the heart of erupting volcanoes, for instance, or deep below the surface where colliding plates meet. For an excellent reference, try the Mineralogy Database, created as a hobby by David Barthelmy, a geology consultant in Houston.

Barthelmy says visitors range from industry types looking for clues to how much oil may be trapped in particular rock formations to academics seeking data on zeolites, which are used in catalysis and other chemical processes. The Mineralogy Database sorts its rocks in all kinds of ways: by element, name, or color, or even how they fracture or whether they're streaked. (A typical entry: Wulfenite, also known as yellow lead ore, consists of orange crystals made of molybdenum, lead, and oxygen and was named after the Austrian mineralogist F. X. Wulfen.) You can also look up a mineral by its so-called New Dana ID number. A section on crystallography describes structural classes—such as orthorhombic and tetragonal—and links to other Web pages on crystals. The site is picture poor, but it can send you to visually rich sites such as the Ecole des Mines de Paris.∼daba/Mineral

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