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Experiments on Simple Binary Mineral Systems

John D. Winter
,
Whitman College
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This activity was peer reviewed prior to publication in the Teaching Mineralogy Workbook.

This teaching activity was originally published in: Brady, J., Mogk, D. W., and Perkins, D., (editors), 1997, "Teaching Mineralogy," a workbook published by the Mineralogical Society of America, 406 pp. All teaching activities in this volume received two external peer reviews from mineralogy faculty focused on content and pedagogy, and a final review by the co-editors to comply with the publication standards of the Mineralogical Society of America.



This page first made public: May 9, 2008

Summary

This exercise is devised to simulate a series of experimental runs in which binary mineral mixtures are melted using very high-temperature furnaces in order to determine the characteristics of mineral systems and igneous melts.

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Context

Audience

This activity is designed for an undergraduate required course in mineralogy and is generally for sophomore or junior level students.

Skills and concepts that students must have mastered

Students should have a general understanding of reading and interpreting phase diagrams and should be able to use Excel.

How the activity is situated in the course

This activity is a stand-alone exercise, but is part of a larger volume of classroom and laboratory activities from "Teaching Mineralogy," a workbook published by the Mineralogical Society of America, Brady, J., Mogk, D. W., and Perkins, D., (editors), 1997,406 pp.

Goals

Content/concepts goals for this activity

This activity should help students to understand binary phase diagrams.

Higher order thinking skills goals for this activity

This activity should strengthen a student's ability to develop and analyze a phase diagram.

Other skills goals for this activity

Description of the activity/assignment

This exercise is devised to simulate a series of experimental runs in which binary mineral mixtures are melted using very high-temperature furnaces in order to determine the characteristics of mineral systems and igneous melts. Of course, natural melts are far more complex in composition, but it is surprising how much one can learn from simplified analog systems. In an experimental laboratory you begin a study by preparing mixtures of two minerals in various proportions. The minerals are ground finely and placed in a platinum crucible. Platinum (or gold) is used because of its high melting temperature and lack of contamination of the "charge" (as the sample is commonly called). The crucible is placed in the furnace and held at a specified temperature for several hours. When the "run" is over, the charge is quickly removed from the furnace and rapidly cooled in a stream of compressed air or occasionally in water. Any melt that may have been produced will solidify immediately as glass. Any minerals that may have been stable at the run temperature, will be present as crystals, either recrystallized in the solid state below the melting temperature, or imbedded in glass if some melting occurred. Several runs are repeated, using various proportions of the two starting minerals defining the system over a range of temperatures. It is also possible to determine the composition of the run products (both glass and crystalline) by cutting the charge, making a thin section, polishing the surface, and analyzing the constituents with an electron microprobe.

Using data from a series of experiments, including: 1) initial mixture composition, 2) the run temperature, 3) the phases present in the resulting charge, and 4) the composition of each phase, a phase diagram can be constructed. There are several types of phase diagrams, but the most common is a careful plot of temperature versus composition (a "T-X" diagram) for all phases present at equilibrium in the run products (either solid or glass/liquid) for a particular temperature.

Determining whether students have met the goals

Students have met the goals of this activity if they are able to make an accurate phase diagram and explain it.

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Supporting references/URLs

Brady, J., Mogk, D. W., and Perkins, D., (editors), 1997, Teaching Mineralogy, a workbook published by the Mineralogical Society of America, 406 pp.

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