Of Metals & Minerals

Of Metals & Minerals

November 23, 2018 by Amalt0
This is a tale of metals and minerals. In the workaday world, we use those two terms so freely that it’s easy to forget not only their scientific definition, but also how they affect our health. We don’t mean to trigger memories of high school chem or biology, when you had to dissect a baby pig that was splayed on an operating board and reeking of formaldehyde. So this tale will be a quick review of metals and minerals — what they are, and how your body could be absorbing their chemical composition. And now for our tale ...

1. Metals

    Remember the Periodic Table of Elements? That thing seemed about as comprehensible as hieroglyphics back when we were in school, but it turns out that it served a purpose. Scientists have identified 118 elements, chemical substances that cannot be broken down any further. If you look at the Table, the elements in it can be separated into three broad categories:  
  • Metals
  A hard-and-fast definition of metal is an element that establishes metallic bonds. Yeah, it sounds like all we’ve said there is that metals are metals. Over 75% of chemical elements on Earth are metals. They’re a varied lot, and scientists don’t always agree on the mettle of metals. But some of the general characteristics include a gray-silver shininess, being conductors of heat and electricity, and substances that are malleable — soft enough to be shaped into different forms (without breaking). For eons, humans have welded and smelted metals like iron and copper into tools and trinkets. Ancient works of gilding, casting, engraving, embossing, and enamelling fill museums because they form some of the basis of human civilization. All made possible thanks to metal.  
  • Nonmetals
  What’s a nonmetal? Take those characteristics of metals and flip them. In other words: nonshiny (lusterless), nonmalleable (brittle), nonconductor (nonconductor?). Most elements are metals, but nonmetals are some of the most important chemical substances in the universe — carbon, oxygen, nitrogen, and hydrogen, among others, including the Noble Gases. (An aloof bunch, those.)  
  • Metalloids
  Neither metal nor nonmetal the metalloids be, clumped together in a zigzagging line on the right side of the Periodic Table. Boron, silicon, tellurium, and germanium are all metalloids, which exhibit characteristics both of metals and nonmetals. They do tend to be semiconductors, which is one reason microchips have silicon in them.

2. Minerals

    If elements are the simplest chemical substances, and metals are specific elements, minerals are basically chemical compounds. Mineralogy is complex, so here are a few more points that make up a broader definition of minerals:
  1. Stable at room temp.
  2. Formed by an inorganic natural process. (That is, it came about without the secretions or metabolites of plants or animals.)
  3. Represented with a chemical formula. (Some of these are quite complicated. Just look at Aurichalcite, which is Zinc + Copper. The chemical formula? (Zn,Cu)5(CO3)2(OH)6. Talc is MgSi4O10(OH)2. See? Complicated.)
Minerals can be classified into species, and they have a crystal shape and a homogeneous structure. Geologists have identified more than 4,000 minerals. Talc, topaz, quartz, gypsum, turquoise, and diamonds are all minerals. And while we’re knocking out definitions, let’s throw rocks in the mix. Two or more minerals make a rock. Roughly 200 minerals make up the bulk of most of the rocks on the planet. The chief minerals in rocks are clay, quartz, calcite, and fieldspar. (Though many other minerals are important in the study of rocks, too.)  

3. Chapter the Last

  Earth itself is a tale of metals and minerals. The metals iron and nickel comprise the core of the earth. The mantle is chiefly oxygen, calcium, more iron, and aluminium. The surface, upon which we humans live, is mostly oxygen and nitrogen, but minerals can be found through the earth’s surface. One more term you should know before you end this article: “Heavy metal.” These are metallic elements that, at low concentrations, are toxic to humans. You don’t need to be a biochemist to realize that the heavy metals lead (Pb), arsenic (As), and mercury (Hg) — and the mineral asbestos — can be lethal if people are exposed to them. Since more of these heavy metals are creeping into our food, water, and even the everyday retail we buy, it’s important to get yourself tested to see if you’ve absorbed any dangerous chemicals into your system. Am Alt Labs provides that test with a simple method — hair analysis. All we need from you is a strand of hair to determine the chemical composition in your body. After that, we can issue you a diagnosis. Our hope is that that diagnosis comes back as “No chemicals. You’re good.” But if the results register high toxicity, don’t panic. We’ll talk you through the medical implications and advise you of how we recommend you follow a chemical detox. At the end of the detox, you’ll have more energy, you’ll sleep more deeply, and your mental clarity will be sharper, so that this tale of metals and minerals has a happy ending.

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