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Quick Assays in Mineral Identification

Quick Assays in Mineral Identification

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Published by: AFLAC ............ on Aug 14, 2009
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Quick assays in mineral identification
A guide to experiments for mineral collectors and geoscientists in field work
Walter A. Franke
retired Professor of Mineralogy, Freie Universität Berlin, Germany
This manual is intended for use by persons with a basic knowledge of inorganic chemistry, they areadvised to follow strictly the safety instructions. The author does not accept liability or responsibilityfor any injury or damage to persons or property incurred by performing the experiments described onthis website, nor for the content of any outside material, including linked websites.
I General Part
Introduction 3The heat source 5The base and the vessels 8Sample preparation11The reagents12Safety hints15The classical tests17Heating in a closed tube17Heating in the open tube18Heating on Charcoal20The coloration of borax and phosphate beads23Flame coloration26Fusibility28The oxidation melt29The ammonium hypophosphite fusion29Some tests for anion forming elements30Treatment with cobalt nitrate32The charcoal-soda stick32Heating with sodium thiosulphate33Spot tests and the use of the wet separation process33The choice of fusion processes34Some hints to filtration38
II Special part
Identification tests for the different elements in alphabetical order of theirelement symbols39The preparation of test papers and reagents62Staining tests for carbonates64UV fluorescence65The solubility of some minerals66Miscellaneous hints69
III Appendix
A basic kit of chemicals and equipment76Annex I, comprises all chemicals and equipment mentioned in the General Part76Annex II, comprises all chemicals and equipment mentioned in the Special Part 77References78The periodic table of the elements 80Normal spectra of the alkali metals 81Glossary 82Subject index 85Acknowledgements 88
I General part
A quick assay is a qualitative chemical analysis; it is a test to prove the presence or absenceof a chemical element in the assayed matter. Normally, the test substance is heated by a smallhot flame to temperatures in some cases as high as 1200° C. Sometimes the finely groundmaterial is mixed with certain chemicals in order to obtain a melt. This procedure aims toproduce a colour of the melt, or a sublimate, or a metallic regulus which is specific to achemical element. Sometimes the produced melt is dissolved and certain chemicals are addedto evoke a coloration which is specific for the element in question. Such assays are done on asemimicro scale, only 0.1 to 20 mg of the tested matter are normally used.Most of these methods were developed by Swedish scientists (Cronstedt, Bergman, Gahn,Berzelius) in the 18
century when chemistry was developing into a modern natural science.Many reactions reproduce on a very small scale processes used in metallurgical work and oreprocessing since ancient times. Considerable improvements were achieved by Harkort, vonKobell, Brush, Bunsen, and Plattner in the 19
century, especially by the addition of wetchemical reactions. The entire combination of different methods was called blowpipeanalysis, since a blowpipe was used to produce the hot flame in almost all the tests.Approximately one hundred years ago it took well-trained geologists or chemists fromseveral minutes to 2 hours to complete a qualitative analysis of a mineral or a metallurgicalslack using this method. Even a quantitative determination of gold and silver was possiblewith a precision comparable to modern spectrographic methods. Significant improvements inthe quantitative analysis of gold and silver had already been introduced by Sir Isaac Newtonat the beginning of the 18
century, during his appointment as Master of the Mint in GreatBritain. Supplementary spot tests were triggered by the rapid development of organicchemistry early in the 20
century.Most of these methods were the required subject of university courses in chemistry,mineralogy and geology till approximately 1960. Since then in research institutes blowpipeanalysis has have been progressively replaced by physical methods such as wavelengthdispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry and by the combination of scanning electronmicroscopy (SEM) with energy dispersive X-ray fluorescence spectrometry (EDAX).Somewhat later the inductive coupled plasma torch (ICP) was applied to emissionspectroscopy. All these analytical methods yield quantitative analytical results simultaneouslyfor many elements. No wonder that the teaching of the old-fashioned blowpipe methodsvanished almost completely from university curricula parallel to these developments.Moreover, minerals have been identified exclusively by X-ray diffraction for the past fiftyyears. The file of d-values together with relative intensities achieved by this method permitsthe unambiguous identification of a mineral. Already the d-values contain informationconcerning the geometrical data of the unit cell; data concerning the symmetry of the crystalare provided by the systematic absence of some d-values. Thus it is not necessary to recordthe relative intensities exactly. The Debye-Scherrer method requires very tiny amounts of themineral powder; for the X-ray powder diffractometer generally used today, only skilful usersmanage with amounts of one cubic millimeter and less, if necessary.

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