Minerals with high-tech applications


The first metal used by humans were pieces of native copper that were found lying around on the ground. People beat this into weapons, shaped it into bowls and made ornaments to be worn. Then they discovered that if they mixed it with another metal, called tin, they could make bronze and the Bronze Age began. We use copper in our everyday lives; in our computers, all the electricity that comes to our house comes down copper wires. We use lots of metals in the home, but there are lots of other minerals that have very useful properties that we use in our everyday life.

So these shiny little black crystals in this rock are a mineral called perovskite, and the crystal structure of perovskite has inspired the molecular structure of many superconductors that are used in a wide range of modern technologies. For example in MRI machines for doing scans of the human body, and also in developing superfast trains that will float upon a magnetic field above the track.

The very common mineral quartz has lots of interesting properties. It’s piezoelectric, which means that when it’s squeezed it generates an electric voltage, and that can be used in a wide variety of applications, for example in our quartz digital watches.

The gemstones ruby and garnet have interesting properties that can be used to generate laser light of different wavelengths.

This very rare mineral, wycheproofite, discovered by Bill Birch at Museum Victoria, is a zirconium phosphate, and some zirconium phosphates have very unusual properties. These unusual properties may be useful in developing high temperature zirconium ceramics for use in things like jet engines.

The spectacular zeolite minerals, many on display within the exhibition, have hundreds of industrial applications; they’re often referred to as molecular sieves, and are particularly useful in filtering heavy metals and radioactive waste out of water.

About this Video

Dermot Henry, Museum Victoria, describes applications of minerals in technology today.
Length: 02:06