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Graphite: Native Carbon

Native Element Minerals

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Graphite is native carbon (C) in a crystal form much like that of mica—sheets of strongly linked atoms, with very weak bonds between the sheets. (more below)
The element C
Photo courtesy ideonexus of flickr.com under Creative Commons license
Its molecular structure makes graphite an excellent dry lubricant wherever temperatures do not get too high. Pencils make use of graphite for the same reason, as graphite rubs off on paper so easily. Graphite is very soft, measuring 1 or 1.5 on the Mohs scale of mineral hardness.

Graphite forms during the metamorphism, under intense heat and pressure, of coal or limestones with a great deal of organic matter in them. Like diamonds, the other crystalline form of carbon, graphite can be manufactured artificially, but the natural material is still cheaper.

Graphite is widely used in the metal industry for making crucibles that can resist the heat of the foundry. The earliest nuclear reactors had walls of graphite. Nevertheless, under the right conditions, graphite burns. The thick graphite walls of the Chernobyl nuclear reactor caught fire during the catastrophic meltdown of 1986.

Graphite used in pencils has been called "lead" for hundreds of years; in the early days it was thought to be a form of lead metal. In fact, to this day graphite is known in Europe as plumbago, from the Latin word for lead.

The material used in "graphite" tennis racquets is not graphite but a mixture of carbon fibers and resin.

For deeper detail on graphite, including wonderful photos of graphite crystals, visit John Jaszczak's Graphite Page.

Other Metamorphic Minerals

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