Helping humankind live with the earth not against it

Category: science

Borealis Meditation – S04E10 What is the difference between a crystal, mineral, rock and gemstone?

List to the episode here:

Show notes: 

Music included in episode
Fold of Evening by Aazav
Iron from Stone by Damh the Bard

Here are some of the definitions we discussed and links to the quotes I used for each section.

Elements are atoms, the smallest piece that we can split matter into (except for subatomic particles and other things that we’ll leave to the physicists). Different elements have different properties. Take two different elements: iron and helium. Iron is very different than helium. You wouldn’t fill a balloon with iron any more than you would try to build a bridge out of helium. (ASU)

A solid can be made of a single element, and as we will see that is not a mineral. The elements that are known are all listed in the Periodic table. They have different properties and are defined based on the number of protons and electrons. Periodic Table

Minerals are materials that meet five requirements. They are:
1. naturally occurring,
2. inorganic,
3. solids,
4. with a definite chemical composition, and,
5. an ordered internal structure


or from an “informal but practical definition”
A mineral is a chemical element or compound that:
1. has a more-or-less constant composition.
2. is usually a solid with an ordered three dimensional array of ions and molecules in its crystal structure.
3. is formed by natural geologic processes and without human or other biologic intervention.
4. is not a mixture of two or more blended substances.


The ordered internal structure is also called the “Crystal Structure”

Crystal structure is a continuous ordered arrangement of one or more elements. This is simply a fancy way of saying that minerals are composed of elements that are stacked in an orderly and neat fashion. You can think of elements as different sized marbles (except, in this case, the marbles are all very, very tiny!). Based on the relative sizes of the marbles, they can be stacked in different ways […].

A good example of a simple mineral is table salt (Yes, salt is a mineral.). The proper mineral name for table salt is halite, and a geologist will often identify it by tasting it. Salt is composed of two elements; Sodium (Na) and Chlorine (Cl). Sodium and chlorine are strongly attracted to each other and stack together into a cubic crystal structure (see figure). Individual salt (halite) crystals have a cubic shape to them, which is mimicking the way that the individual elements are stacking together. Even though the elements are much too small to be able to see with your eyes (or even most microscopes), you can tell how they are stacking together by looking at the shape of the salt crystals

“Most importantly, [a mineral is something that] has been exhaustively studied and characterized by mineralogists, declared unique in its composition and structure, and the original specimen(s) that was studied deposited for preservation in a professionally curated museum.” (


“A mineraloid meets almost all of the criteria of a mineral except the organized structure. Some can also lack the definite chemical composition. Minerals as we talked about are “crystalline” meaning they have an organized structure. Because mineraloids are “amorphis” they do not have an order structure.  I think this is better explained with examples. Opal, obsidian, pele’s hair, and tektites are all mineraloids. Now the last few are types of natural glasses where because of the heat and the quick cooling no crystals are able to form.” (

There is some controversy if organic materials can also be included. Remember that part of the definition of a mineral was that it was non-organic. This means some people include things like amber and jet as a mineraloid and others don’t. Jet is a type of coal which is made from plant material like leaves and amber is from plant resin. Also there are materials that are made in the deep ocean from the “ooze” made up of tiny organisms like diatoms and radiolarians shells called diatomite and radiolarite. For our sake I think we should also consider these mineraloids since they also lack an organized structure. 

So in that case a mineraloid is a solid, naturally occurring material without a defined interior structure and may or may not have a defined chemical composition, generally inorganic but some organic materials can also be included.

Anthropogenic substances:
“Anthropogenic substances are those produced by humans. They are not minerals. Crystals grown in a laboratory (or someone’s basement) or in laboratory or industrial furnace or retort are not minerals. Any crystals that are found on or in any man-made object are not a mineral.” (

“A rock is any naturally occurring solid mass or aggregate of minerals or mineraloid matter. It is categorized by the minerals included, its chemical composition and the way in which it is formed. Rocks are usually grouped into three main groups: igneous rocks, metamorphic rocks and sedimentary rocks.” (wikipedia)

“A rock is not a mineral, nor is a mineral a rock. However, the components of a rock are minerals. Most types of rock have multiple minerals, a few have only one. Single mineral rocks are termed monomineralic rock.” (mindat)

Igneous Rocks:
An igneous rock starts out purely as a melt. Everything is liquid and all the elements are there swimming around. Then it starts to nucleate minerals, some start growing before others and use up all the elements they want. It can either cool slowly and all the crystals will grow into an interlocking solid material like a granite, or can be brought to the surface and erupt and cool quicker with some small crystals and the melt freezing not having totally formed crystals. Obsidian is the extreme of this where basically no crystals have had time to form and the melt is just frozen. Of course it is a little more complicated but we can go into that another time.

Sedimentary Rocks:
Sedimentary rocks are formed when the rocks at the surface break down either physically by breaking apart into smaller pieces or chemically. These small bits can be redeposited and smoshed and get cemented together and this forms our sedimentary rocks. Generally speaking when a rock physically breaks apart you can end up with either pieces with several minerals, or a single crystal and anywhere in between.

Metamorphic Rocks:
Metamorphic rocks can be formed from either sedimentary or igneous rocks. These are rocks where the original rock is subjected to higher levels of pressure and temperature and the minerals can start to change into other minerals. This can happen to a small or large degree and rocks can also start to flow and make cool patterns. Then this smooshed and heated rock is brought back to the surface for us to marvel at. The minerals in the original rock can change their composition and/or structure at these different conditions so one rock can be turned into multiple different types depending on how much pressure and temperature it experienced. Some minerals are only formed through this process.

Safety information: gem society

“A crystal is a regular polyhedral form, bounded by planes, which is assumed by a chemical element or compound, under the action of its intermolecular forces, which passing, under suitable conditions, from the state of a liquid or gas to that of a solid. A crystal is characterized first by its definite internal molecular structure and second, by its external form.” (mindat)

From merriam-webster:
1. a clear, transparent mineral or glass resembling ice.
2. the transparent form of crystallized quartz.

“A crystal consists of matter that is formed from an ordered arrangement of atoms, molecules, or ions. The lattice that forms extends out in three dimensions. Because there are repeated units, crystals have recognizable structures. Large crystals display flat regions (faces) and well-defined angles. Crystals with obvious flat faces are called euhedral crystals, while those lacking defined faces are called anhedral crystals. Crystals consisting of ordered arrays of atoms that aren’t always periodic are called quasicrystals. The word “crystal” comes from the Ancient Greek word krustallos, which means both “rock crystal” and “ice.” The scientific study of crystals is called crystallography. “ (thought co)

So then what is a gem? 
“A gem is a rare mineral that is prized and used in jewelry.” (

“difference between gem and crystal is that gem is a precious stone, usually of substantial monetary value or prized for its beauty or shine while crystal is (countable) a solid composed of an array of atoms or molecules possessing long-range order and arranged in a pattern which is periodic in three dimensions.” (WikiDiff)

“A gemstone is a crystalline mineral that can be cut and polished to make jewelry and other ornaments. The ancient Greeks made a distinction between precious and semiprecious gems, which is still used. Precious stones were hard, rare, and valuable. The only “precious” gemstones are diamond, ruby, sapphire, and emerald. All other quality stones are called “semiprecious,” even though they may not be any less valuable or beautiful.” (ThoughtCo)

I will be making a formatted reference post shortly as a quick guide. Let me know if you have any questions!

Borealis Meditation S04E03 – Foundations

Foundations – “You don’t understand something until you have to teach someone else”

Welcome to something new. Unscripted Kathleen!

In this episode we cover some concepts I started going over with a friend of mine I am currently teaching. This is a very personal episode because it dives into my thinking. Please let me know what you think.

Get ready to welcome into your life:
Sparkle Body!
Conservation of Sparkle!

Photo: Kaimera Studio

Listen to the episode: Here

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Podsafe Music included:
David Miles Huber – Oceanis
Podcast Troubadour – Science Nature Space 23

Borealis Meditation S04E02 Palu Earthquake and Tsunami

Well, we have our first event episode! This episode covers the earthquake and tsunami on September 28, 2018 that hit Palu Indonesia

Listen here:

I have lots and lots of additional information for this one.

Where: Sulawesi Island, 78km N of Palu city in Indonesia
When: Friday September 28, 2018 10:02 UTC
How Big: M 7.8
How Deep: 10.0 km depth

(figure from the second article listed)

USGS Event Page


Here is why earthquake magnitude is not what you think it is

Palu 2018 science and surprise behind the earthquake and tsunami

IRIS teachable moments slides

First hand account of the Ferry boat
Video from another boat

Video from the parking structure



animation of before and after satellite images of the area of liquefaction


(music used in this episode is podsafe and is Oceanis by David Miles Huber)

Peer Reviewed Magic: Moringa

Moringa is everywhere in Singapore it is THE superfood right now. Moringa also known as drumstick tree is native to northern India up into the foothills of the Himalaya. It is widely cultivated in the tropics where the young seed pods and leaves are eaten. Benzoil is derived from its seeds, a powder of its leaves is seen as a super supplement, used as herbal medicine and water purification.
Wait what? Water purification? No…..

That was my reaction when I was reading a description at Bollywood Veggies this weekend. It can be used to make dirty water drinkable? You have got to be kidding me. So when we got home we looked it up. Crushed moringa seeds are put in cloudy water, reduce bacteria and other impurities and within hours it is drinkable.


Dirty water + Moringa seed = clean water?????

That is a pretty impressive claim. That is the idea but does it work and if yes… how?

Moringa in action!

I found a press release on a study at Penn State. On the use of Moringa seeds to purify water the article says:

“That has been known for some time,” says Stephanie Butler Velegol, environmental engineering instructor at Penn State. Women in ancient Egypt reportedly rubbed Moringa seeds on their clay water pots, and dried powder from crushed seeds has been used as a handwash for many years.”

So how does it work? It appears that when you crush the seeds a positively charged protein called Moringa Oleifera Cationic Protein (that is the scientific name of the plant, cation means positively charged ion, and protein pretty descriptive) MOCP from in the seeds is introduced to the water. This protein kills some of the microbial organism and causes them to clump together and settle to the bottom of the container. You can’t however then store this water, the organic matter from the seeds will remain and become a food source for bacterial that haven’t been killed.
So. The protein in the seeds causes clumping and kills bacteria (but maybe not all of it) and then settles to the bottom leaving clear water at the top. Wanna see it in action? I did!

How cool is that!? Sounds like that is some serious magic that actually is backed up by peer review and now we know a little more how it works.

Here is the Penn State article

Here is the paper it is talking about (if you are interested in the PDF of this and can’t get a copy just contact me and I will download one and pass it along!)

The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm

I was inspired to look into and share the chemistry behind the silver dime charm this week. The first flash of  inspiration was my lesson in powders (I have been taking very informal classes in hoodoo recently and love it), and the  second was a post by Candle Smoke Chapel that they had a new etsy listing of silver dime charms. So thank  you both for the inspiration! Now on to the science!

The science behind the Mercury/Silver Dime Charm 

The mercury dime, or silver dime charm, if you are not familiar with it goes like this: If you wear a silver dime around your ankle and if you walk through a powder (ex: hot foot) the dime with absorb the hit and tarnish, keeping you safe.

Image from Lucky Mojo

For the sake of example let’s look at what happens if you are wearing a silver dime and walk through hotfoot powder. Hot foot powder is made primarily of sulfur and crushed hot peppers with the option of other nasties. The key ingredient here in terms of what is going to physically happen to your silver dime is the sulfur.  The sulfur in the powder will react with the silver on the surface of the coin, causing it to “tarnish” in a RedOx reaction. I found this awesome old school video about the reaction:

For the sake of repetition here is the reaction again:

2Ag(s)+S(s) -> Ag2S(s)

Sulfur (S) basically wants two more electrons… wants them REALLY BAD, and Silver (Ag) has an extra that it isn’t too attached to. Sulfur takes one electron from two silvers making it S(2-) and each silver Ag(1+) causing them to  the  two silver and the sulfur atom are now sharing, and create a black solid Ag2S, which is the tarnish you see on silver.

Silver doesn’t need solid sulfur to tarnish. In fact Hydrogen Sulfide gas that can be found in the atmosphere can also react with silver. H2S (hydrogen sulfide gas) can be the result of the decomposition of plants and animals, or some industry of some sort. In fact just about any sulfur compound can cause tarnishing including hardboiled eggs, mayonnaise, mustard and even rubber bands. If you have ever worn silver jewelry into a hot springs you will have also seen this same reaction.

In conclusion:

The roots of this charm seem to be the fact that several popular powders that are used when throwing against someone ( crossing powder, goofer dust, and hotfoot powder) have sulfur as a main ingredient. This sulfur reacts to the silver worn at the ankle by tarnishing through the reaction 2Ag(s) + S -> Ag2S(s).

This reaction is an example of an oxidation and reduction  (RedOx) reaction. For more on this type of reaction here is another video:

More Reading on Silver Dimes (and references)

–  Conjure Blog: Mercury (Silver) Dimes

New World Witchery: Coins

– Silver to Black – and Back (abstract) J. Chem. Educ., 2000, 77 (3), p 328A DOI: 10.1021/ed077p328A Publication Date (Web): March 1, 2000

Lucky Mojo: Silver Dimes

My thoughts on the Us Vs Them problem with Science and Religion

Today I am writing as a scientist. I wanted to comment on the Bill Nye Vs Ken Ham debate that I did not watch. I don’t want to comment on the debate itself but the mentality that this debate comes from. First of all I want to say that I blame both sides for the following problem.

There is a very pervasive “Us vs. Them” mentality when it comes to science and religion (and, for that case, science vs art). This is the mentality everyone is divided into two categories the “us” and the “them” and there is no room for anything else. It is a very black and white mentality. When we look at how this relates to science and religion we see this manifested in the division between “science people” and “religious people”. These two categories have also grown to encompass more stereotypes as well.  If you are a “science” person then you are a liberal atheist and likely live in an urban area. If you are a “religion” person you are a conservative and Christian and live in a rural area.  I think this mindset is very damaging and dangerous to our society. It breeds a reactionary mindset and makes every debate personal and full of emotions. It creates boxes that we put people in, and they are not allowed to be anything but the box we put them in. I am a scientist and therefore if you are not, and you are religious, you are a “them”, and the “thems” don’t like us. Just like “Christians” have become a group “scientists” have too. We are not taken as individuals and certainly are now allowed to disagree with each other. If we do then it reflects badly on all of us, and we all have no idea what we are talking about and can’t be trusted on any matter. In the science community religion is a dirty word as well and is very looked down upon.

Using this Us vs Them mindset means that we have made an artificial black and white world out of a gray one. First of all, you can be a Christian and not believe in creation, just like you can be a scientist and not be an atheist. In fact, I know Christian-scientists and I even know a geologist who IS a creationist. It is not all black and white. I think it also helps to point out, that the Catholic Church accepts evolution, so you can’t even group all Christians together.

The problem I have with the “us vs them” mentality is that both parties start off defensive. That is no way to have a conversation. My personal view is that religion does have a place in a rounded education, but only because it has had such a huge impact on human history and art and other intellectual pursuits. Also a fun exercise is the history of thought on the age of the earth and the different ways it has been calculated. How did the Romans decide what year Jesus died in, and were they right? How was the age of the earth calculated from the bible? How else has it been calculated in the past? What method do we use today, and what are the errors associated with that calculation? That discussion is valuable in a science classroom. It’s like doing a proof and showing all the steps in math, and even talking about the different ways it was tried in the past. I have always loved talking about the changes in scientific thought through the ages.  I think it is fascinating and valuable to understand how we know what we know today. It also reminds us that just because we think we know something, does not mean we won’t later learn something else is true. Plate tectonics itself is a relatively new scientific idea. Also, let us not forget that many of the founders of modern science (if not all) were religious.

So now let us return to the debate and why I can’t watch things like that. I have personally been attacked before simply for saying “I’m a geologist” when someone asked what I am studying. I was polite about it, but since the other party didn’t listen to me it felt like talking to a wall. There was no back and forth (which I would have enjoyed). This mentality backs people into their respective corners. I am not an atheist and that is something I tend to not discuss with my friends and colleagues because of the us vs. them. I’m too close to the situation and it makes me too upset. So I didn’t watch the debate because I don’t think there should need to be a debate.

Earthquakes 7/14 – 7/20

Earthquakes from 7/14 – time of publishing (7:45am UTC 7/21) from Magnitude 3 and up. Past week are yellow and earthquakes from yesterday are orange.

Totals for the last week:
M2.5+ 189
M5+ 28
M6+ 1 (140km S of Severo-Kuril’sk, Russia, M6.0 largest EQ of the last week)
M7+ 0

Some earthquakes in the news:
Earthquake hits Kashmir (M5.6  29km SW of Khorugh, Tajikistan 7/19/12 7:36:36)
Strong quake hits off east coast of New Zealand; no immediate reports of injuries or damage (M5.8 177km NE of Gisborne, New Zealand 2012-07-21 04:54:07)
Earthquake hits southern Victoria (M4.5 13km SW of Moe, Australia 2012-07-20 09:11:32)
Moderate earthquake hits Bulgaria; no injuries (M4.6 7km NNE of Pernik, Bulgaria 2012-07-14 12:52:07)

DID YOU FEEL ANY EQs THIS WEEK!? Make sure when you do you head on over to the USGS earthquakes page and fill out a “did you feel it?” report!


Well, yeah, I still am speechless.

You guys (and by guys I mean fellow pagans) should also know that mother earth… not the caring let you do it the easy way kind of mother more like, does exactly what you are not expecting just to see that confused look on your face….
so this makes me very sad. Please be nice to seismologists, we live where there are EQs just like the rest of you and we do try, very hard, we just can’t do the impossible, we are only people.

Scientists May Face Manslaughter Charges After Earthquake

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