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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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The Hepar reaction for sulphur:
Mix the finely powdered mineral with sodium carbonate and melt the mixture on charcoal.
Any sulphur content, even the sulphate ion, is changed by this procedure at least partly to
sodium sulphide. Now remove the melt from the charcoal by means of a knife and place the
material with a drop of water on a clean silver surface. A black stain of silver sulphide is
readily formed. It should be noted that the rare elements Te and Se also produce black
staining. - To remove any stains on the silver, the surface should be cleaned by scouring with

Test for sulphides:

Put a small amount of the mineral in a test tube, add a piece of pure zinc and add 3 ml
concentrated hydrochloric acid. On warming the mixture, hydrogen sulphide evolves; a white
filter paper strip soaked with lead acetate solution turns black if it is placed on the open end of
the test tube. This test works also for sulphides which are insoluble in HCl. As, Se and Te
may also cause a coloration. Ensure good ventilation, hydrogen sulphide is very poisonous! -

It is possible to prepare the lead acetate paper and to store it after drying in any air-tight vessel till use.
Before use it should be moistened again.


Test for phosphorus by reduction with metallic magnesium:
A small glass tube of 8 to 10 cm length is intensively heated at one end till the flame turns
yellow, now the walls of the heated end are tweezed together by means of stainless steel
forceps. Cool this closed end slowly by waving it to the flame and back, eventually by setting
it down on charcoal. After complete cooling to room temperature place a piece of magnesium
ribbon about 20 mm long into the tube next to the closed end, add a minute amount of the
finely powdered mineral and tap the tube so as to bring the mineral powder as much as
possible in contact with the magnesium metal. The mineral powder should be heated before to
a low red glow on a magnesia furrow. Hold the tube with a clothes peg (spring-type) at the
open end in a nearly horizontal position and heat the portion with the magnesium ribbon and
mineral till the Mg ribbon is ignited. The use of goggles is recommended! Crack off the end
of the hot tube by dipping it into water. The disagreeable odour of phosphine PH3, somewhat
like the odour of garlic, is clear evidence for the presence of phosphorus in the mineral. The
burning Mg reduces any phosphates and Mg3P2 is formed, this compound reacts with water to
PH3. Ensure good ventilation!

Test for fluorine:

The finely powdered mineral is mixed with 5 parts of sodium metaphosphate, transferred to
a new test tube and some drops of water are added. Cotton wool is used to close loosely the
open end of the test tube. On melting and prolonged heating hydrofluoric acid will be given
off; it etches the glass. Some silicon tetrafluoride thus formed is decomposed by water vapour
and forms a white tarnish of silica in the upper part. Etching and tarnish are best seen after the
tube has been cooled and rinsed with water. The test tube should be discarded after use. This
test is applicable only if fluorine is a main constituent. No clear results are achieved for very
low F contents sometimes found in amphiboles and some micas.

Test for boron:

The mineral powder is mixed with some drops of concentrated sulfuric acid or some
ammonium hydrogen sulphate and approx. 4 ml methanol in a test tube. On gentle heating the
volatile trimethylester of boric acid is formed, this compound burns with a green colour if the
methanol vapor is ignited. The test can also be made in a potter's clay dish. If no methanol is
available it is possible to use ethanol instead. - This test is applicable only to minerals which
are decomposed by sulfuric acid. Any hard minerals may be silicates, they should first be
melted with the same amount of sodium carbonate on charcoal. The resulting bead is ground
and melted with potassium hydrogen sulphate. This melt is wetted with some drops of water;
dry carefully before adding H2SO4 and CH3OH, followed by heating and ignition.

Test for silicon:

Approximately 0.4 g of the mineral powder is mixed with a quarter of this amount of
calcium fluoride and placed in a plastic tube like that used for tablets in pharmaceutic use.
One millilitre of concentrated sulfuric acid is added and the tube is closed with the plastic lid,
in which a hole has previously been made by means of a hot nail. It is possible to use a sheet
of lead with an appropriate hole instead of the plastic lid. The hole is covered with a wet black
cotton fabric kept wet by placing some wet cotton wool on the lid. Now heat the lower part of
the plastic tube gently by dipping it into hot water for 10 minutes. Any SiF4, evolved in the
reaction of CaF2 + H2SO4 + silicate, is decomposed by the water according to the formula:
3 SiF4 + 2 H2O = SiO2 + 2 H2SiF6. After opening the lid the black fabric should have turned
white in the presence of any silicate in the tested mineral.


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