Friedrich Mohs (1773-1839)

The Natural History Museum states that there are currently 4,000 known mineral species in the world, with more being recorded and identified each year.  The discovery of mineral species, and research into how they help us understand some of the natural environment’s processes, is something that Friedrich Mohs became famous for.

The German born geologist studied at the mining academy in Frieburg, and was inspired to enter the field of mineralogy by his teacher, Abraham Werner. One of his early jobs after completing his studies, was as a curator of a mineral collection, where he had to categorize the minerals, and identify the unknown pieces. Thinking like a botanist, this challenge led Mohs to examine the minerals for common properties, and group them together accordingly. Using a scratch test, he also ranked minerals according to their hardness. This process was later developed into Mohs’ Scale Of Hardness, for which the geologist found fame. The Mohs’ Scale ran from 1 to 10, with each mineral given a value, ranging from the softest mineral, Talc, to the hardest mineral, Diamond.

Although minerals are traditionally classified by their chemical composition, Mohs’ contribution cannot be underestimated, and his hardness scale is still used by many today, particularly in the course of field work. From 1817 onwards, Friedrich Mohs moved into teaching, first at the Mining Academy in Frieberg, and later at the University of Vienna, as a Professor of Mineralogy.  He died aged 66, leaving behind an important legacy of work in mineral classification.