Deciphering Mineral Structure Diagrams

Barb Dutrow (Louisiana State University) and Carol Ormand (SERC at Carleton College)
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Mineral structures can be represented using several different types of diagrams, including ball-and-stick, space filling, and polyhedral. Each of these visual representations encodes spatial information, showing the 3D relationships of atoms and bonding within the mineral. In addition, mineral structures are viewed from multiple angles in addition to using different types of representations. It is important to be able to "read" these diagrams: to visualize the atoms and bonds within the mineral from the diagram. In this exercise, students practice comparing mineral diagrams to gain familiarity with (1) the same mineral structure shown from multiple points of view and (2) the same mineral shown in different types of diagrams.

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Learning Goals

After successfully completing this exercise, students will be able to

  • Compare ball-and-stick, space filling, and polyhedral diagrams to determine whether they show the same or different mineral structures.
  • Find the structural differences between similar minerals, illustrated in ball-and-stick, space filling, and/or polyhedral diagrams.

Context for Use

This exercise is designed for use early in a Mineralogy course, where students will be exposed to a wide variety of diagrams of mineral structures. It is intended to help students understand those diagrams.

Description and Teaching Materials

In this exercise, students compare mineral structures shown in ball-and-stick, space filling, and polyhedral diagrams.

Deciphering Mineral Diagrams exercise (Microsoft Word 2007 (.docx) 1.4MB May12 15)


Student understanding is assessed by grading their answers on the worksheet.