Gypsum is a type of soft sulfate mineral known for its usefulness in day-to-day lives. It is also referred to as calcium sulfate dihydrate. It consists of water, calcium sulfate and oxygen molecules and is chemically represented by the formula CaSO4.2H2O. An evaporite mineral, gypsum is mostly found in layers of sedimentary rocks on the earth’s crust along with other minerals such as calcite, dolomite, etc. Gypsum finds a wide range of applications in the manufacturing sector. It is used in the construction of building parts, in sculpture and also as a fertilizer in agriculture. To know about the various uses of gypsum, you must, first, know about its formation, properties and other features.
Gypsum is a non-metallic natural mineral. Millions of years ago, there was a time when oceans covered the maximum part of the earth’s surface. Those were the magnanimous repositories of salt. As they started to recede, inland “dead” water bodies began to form which started to become saltier with further evaporation. Thus, with the precipitation of these salts, many compounds came into existence, among which gypsum was one.
Physical Properties of Gypsum
Gypsum is either colourless or white but due to the presence of impurities, it appears to be tinted light brown, grey, yellow, green or orange. It has a silky texture with a sugar-like appearance. Gypsum is found in various forms. Well developed, monocrystals are mostly blocky with slanted outlines whereas doubled crystals commonly form fishtail characteristics.
The physical properties that distinguish gypsum from other minerals are:
Gypsum ranges from transparent to translucent.
Gypsum comes in varieties such as “satin spar” and “alabaster.”
The mineral is soft and feels rather light
Small crystal-like forms appear pearly, whereas the massive ones look dull.
Important uses of Gypsum
Gypsum is a non-toxic mineral that is available in various forms. Due to its wide range of variety, it is considered useful in many fields. For example, alabaster is one variety of gypsum that is widely used by sculptors in Egypt and Mesopotamia. It is also used in the production of plaster of Paris, which is also known as Gypsum Plaster. It is usually obtained by heating gypsum to a temperature of about 300-degree Fahrenheit.
While the majority of gypsum is produced in North America in the construction of gypsum panel products, it is also helpful to humans, plants and the environment. Some other major uses of gypsum are:
It is used as a component of cement for controlling the force at which concrete sets in.
Due to its low thermal conductivity, it is used in the manufacturing of drywall or wallboards.
The alabaster form of gypsum mineral is also used for ornamental purposes as well as in the production of items that are made using plaster of Paris. It also helps to prevent cracks in the gypsum wallboard-combined compounds.
Gypsum use in Agriculture
Gypsum plays an important role in the agricultural sector. It acts as a soil additive and fertilizer. The mineral consists of two main ingredients necessary for healthy plant growth - calcium and sulphur. While calcium helps to absorb nutrients via the roots, sulphur improves the overall production of crops. Gypsum as a soil quality booster also controls excess salinity of the soil by removing sodium from it.
Besides, gypsum facilitates the proper growth of the roots by helping in the easy movement of air and water through it that is absorbed from the soil. By doing so, gypsum strengthens the roots and prevents soil erosion. The mineral also balances soil micronutrients such as iron and zinc
What is Gypsum used for - The Other Uses
Gypsum has a reasonably high binding and thickening capacity due to which it is used in shampoos and hair care products. It is also used as an insulator.
Needless to say, with all the above-mentioned details it is quite evident that gypsum is one of the most valued minerals with endless applications in human lives. With a specific gravity of 2.3 to 2.4, gypsum mining is quite simple and easy, as the mineral is available in large quantities near the earth’s surface. Another advantage of this mineral is that it can also be recycled.
Interesting Facts about Gypsum
Gypsum is a rare mineral that is known for its flexibility. It can be grounded into a fine powdery form and also can be boiled at a certain temperature until all its moisture gets removed totally through a process called calcination.
One can easily shape/mould gypsum by adding water to the powdery form. That is why it is used widely in sculpting.
Gypsum is an important ingredient of toothpaste.
Another interesting fact regarding gypsum mineral is that before the era of technical effects, filmmakers used a lot of products to create artificial snow including cotton and many other substances. They also used shaved gypsum to mimic real snow on the films’ sets.