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What does a Mineralogist do?

Mary McMahon
Updated Mar 02, 2024
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A mineralogist is someone who studies minerals. He or she can work in a variety of settings, ranging from state laboratories which analyze mineral samples for the purpose of assay to private industry, where mineralogists determine the value of claimed land and mineral finds by looking at samples from the site. People who work in this branch of geology spend a lot of time in the field, sometimes in very remote locations, and they also work in lab environments where they can analyze minerals.

One of the key components of a mineralogist's job, no matter where he or she works, is accurate identification and classification of minerals. A variety of techniques can be used to test and examine a mineral to determine what it is, including chemical analysis to study its chemical composition. Once a mineral has been identified and classified, a mineralogist can use that information to draw additional conclusions and turn that data into something useful.

For example, a mineralogist who works for a diamond company might take samples from newly claimed land to look for so-called “indicator minerals” which usually accompany diamonds. Without actually finding any diamonds, the mineralogist may be able to determine whether or not diamonds are likely to be present, and conclusions may be drawn about the quantity and quality of the diamonds at the site, based on existing information about indicator minerals and diamond mines.

Some mineralogists focus on high temperature mineralogy, which is concerned with the minerals which form at high temperatures such as those found deep below the Earth's crust and in volcanoes. Others study low temperature mineralogy. Many mineralogists work with professionals such as engineers and geologists, pooling their knowledge and resources. Cooperative effort is often extremely important, as multiple fields of knowledge may be required to make sense of a mineral claim, and to determine how it should be used.

Companies which utilize minerals rely on mineralogists for exploration, with an exploratory team checking an area to determine whether or not it would be lucrative to acquire mineral rights. Mineralogists also develop new uses for minerals, and study minerals to see how they are used, and how their use might be made more effective and efficient. Mineralogists can also opt to focus on a particular mineral, developing extensive expertise and acting as consultants to a variety of companies and industries, or working exclusively for a particular company to make its products better.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a PracticalAdultInsights researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments

By allenJo — On Mar 17, 2012

@Mammmood - I think that you’ll find the mineralogist working a lot in the oil industry. Oil comes from fossils in the bedrock of the earth. You need someone with knowledge of the different rocks that are there in my opinion.

Actually I think that a mineralogist working for oil prospectors could stand to make a lot of money in that profession, for obvious reasons. Mineralogists working for academic institutions would make less money.

By Mammmood — On Mar 17, 2012

It’s amazing to discover that there are thousands of minerals in the earth’s crust. You can go online and study some of these minerals, along with their unique properties and where they tend to be located.

The American mineralogist database is one such resource but there are others like it. Of course we only know about the few famous minerals like diamonds because of their outstanding properties, but there are others that are just as interesting, like amethyst and quartz.

Where we live we have a place called Quartz mountain, appropriately named because of its rich Quartz stores. Sometime we rent a cabin there during the summer and study its rich minerals.

By sunnySkys — On Mar 17, 2012

I think it's a smart idea for an American mineralogist to specialize in one mineral (although, since I'm not a mineralogist, I'm not sure which mineral is best to specialize in.) I've found that in a lot of fields, it's better to be an expert in your niche, rather than be a generalist.

If you can position yourself as an expert, you will be the go-to person for any company that wants to do something in your area of expertise. I imagine an expert mineralogist would probably be able to command a pretty high fee for consulting, especially if there aren't very many other experts on that particular mineral.

By SZapper — On Mar 16, 2012

@Azuza - That does make sense from a monetary perspective. I guess that makes mineralogists a very important member of any mining company!

Anyway, I'm amazed at all the career options that are available to mineralogists. They can work for a private company or work as a state mineralogist. Also, they can travel or stay in one place!

Personally, if I had the choice in my field to work for the state or for a private company, I would pick the state. Most state employees have great benefits, good retirement, and more job security than the private sector!

By Azuza — On Mar 16, 2012

I always wondered how one would even figure out where to mine for diamonds. After all, diamonds aren't everywhere. There are a lot of places where you could mine and mine, and you would never even find one diamond (or other valuable gem.)

It makes sense that companies would take an expert in mineralogy to certain areas to test to see if they should mine. I'm sure this is much more cost effective than just mining areas at random. If the mineralogist determines that the area probably doesn't have diamonds, the company doesn't lose money on useless mining!

By cloudel — On Mar 15, 2012

I really wanted to become a mineralogist when I was a child. I got a mineral identification kit for Christmas one year, and I studied it faithfully.

The kit came with a booklet that showed how to identify minerals by their hardness and luster. I could do scratch tests to determine a mineral's position on the hardness scale, and all I had to do was look at it closely to see the level of luster.

This kit had minerals such as talc, pyrite, quartz, and obsidian. I thought I was the luckiest kid around to have these in my possession.

As I got older, my desire to become a mineralogist faded. I had looked into it further and discovered that it wasn't as simple as playing with the kit, and also, I wasn't prepared to travel to a location with an abundance of minerals.

By Mor — On Mar 15, 2012

@croydon - I don't think it's always so advanced. They still go out and wander around canyons and deserts in order to try and identify places where coveted minerals might exist.

And there are also plenty of amateurs who carry out mineralogical studies. Often they are hoping to find areas where there are lots of fossils, because that tends to be the most exciting thing (aside, I suppose, from diamonds!) that a person can find in the earth.

Really, they are using the exact same tools humans have always used to look for exciting rocks. Keen eyes and knowledge.

By croydon — On Mar 15, 2012

Mineralogy is one of those fields which has existed for a very long time, but currently makes use of the most up to date technologies.

You could argue that there have been mineralogists since the stone age, as it would have taken the skills of that field in order to identify which rocks were suitable for making into tools. It might seem like crude work to us, but the right kind of rock made all the difference to the sharpness of the blade back then, and a sharp blade must have meant much less work when skinning an animal.

People who could identify whether a rock was suitable, or even where suitable rocks could be found must have been invaluable to the tribe.

Now, they use sonar gear and satellite imaging as well as advanced computer technology in order to find and analyze the areas where important minerals might be found.

But it's continuing the work of our ancient ancestors and I think that's kind of cool.

Mary McMahon

Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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