About the blog: What Things Are Made Of


The United States relies on imports for dozens of commodities in everyday use. Often enough, that reliance is 100%. In this book I aim to provide awareness of the hidden geology and mineralogy behind common things, and to develop an appreciation for the global resource distribution that underpins our society. While concerns about oil import reliance are in the news every day, our needs for other minerals are comparable and are typically unknown even to technologically aware Americans.

Wednesday, March 30, 2011


By Richard I. Gibson

Visit this post for a 2013 update on gallium.

Gallium, named for France, comes to the US ironically from Germany, while the biggest proportion of imported germanium comes from Belgium. Both elements are byproducts yielded by refining other metals. Bauxite (aluminum's ore) and zinc processing are the main sources for gallium.

Why care? Most Americans own some gallium. Its biggest use - more than half - is in integrated circuits as gallium arsenide or gallium nitride, and it ends up in cell phones (especially "smartphones"), computers, back-lit flat-panel devices and televisions. Gallium also helps make lasers and solar cells.

The US imports more than 99% of its gallium, from Germany first, followed by Canada, China, and Ukraine. Demand and price are surging because of increasing manufacture of smartphones and flat-panel tech and also because of another important use of gallium: light-emitting diodes, LEDs. High-intensity LEDs are growing in volume, impacting demand for gallium. Its price has gone from $450 per kilogram in 2009 to $670 in 2010, and there's no limitation in sight. 

Gallium finds its way to at least six pages in What Things Are Made Of.

Tuesday, March 22, 2011

State rankings

Based on the search words, a fair number of people want to know what the most valuable mineral commodity is for individual states. The following list gives the top 25 states in terms of their contribution to total US non-fuel mineral production for 2010. The percentage of each state's mineral production of the total is given, followed by the mineral commodity that is most valuable in that state. Thus Nevada is #1 in the US, with 12% of the US total, and gold is the most valuable non-fuel mineral commodity in Nevada. Data from USGS.

1 Nevada (12% of US total) gold
2 Arizona (10%) copper
3 Utah (7%) copper
4 Minnesota (6%) iron ore
5 Alaska (5%) zinc
6 California (4%) sand and gravel
7 Texas (4%) crushed stone
8 Missouri (3%) cement
9 Florida (3%) phosphate rock
10 Michigan (3%) iron ore
11 Colorado (3%) molybdenum
12 Wyoming (3%) soda ash
13 Pennsylvania (2%) crushed stone
14 Georgia (2%) clays
15 New York (2%) salt
16 Idaho (2%) molybdenum
17 Montana (2%) copper
18 Ohio (2%) crushed stone
19 Kansas (2%) helium
20 New Mexico (2%) copper
21 Alabama (2%) crushed stone
22 Virginia (1.5%) crushed stone
23 Illinois (1%) crushed stone
24 North Carolina (1%) crushed stone
25 Indiana (1%) crushed stone

I'll list the second 25 in a future post.

Saturday, March 19, 2011

What Things Are Made Of

312 pages. The print-on-demand version is $17.95 + $3.00 shipping; the initial e-version (PDF) is available for $9.99. Additional e-formats in the works. It will probably be cheaper for you (and faster) for you to order through the publisher's site (link above).

Thanks for your support!

Thursday, March 17, 2011

It's a book!

I received the galley print from the publisher today. It looks like a book, feels like a book, smells like a book. It will probably be a few more days before it is "for sale" but of course I'll make a post about that, with links! viii + 295 pages.

Friday, March 4, 2011

A slight change

Now that the book is about to become available - the publisher uploaded it to the printer today, for a check-print for me before it is actually for sale - I'm going to change my approach to the blog a bit.

I'll try to focus on updates, connections to things in the book that supplement and expand on it, and changes and news related to the topics in the book. It's a certainty that some aspects of the book will be out of date as soon as it is printed, because of the dramatic and speedy changes related to some materials. Rare earths come to mind: the demand, diverse uses, and global distribution of rare earths are in the news weekly if not daily. And there will likely be a bit more about oil and natural gas.

The blog and my web site will also become venues for interesting tables of information that I could not reasonably include in the book. And pictures!

Thanks for your interest. The book ought to be available for purchase by the end of March or possibly sooner. I'll post the link here instantly!