hardness, property of matter commonly described as the resistance of a substance to being scratched by another substance. The degree of hardness is relative, different substances being compared with one another. Mohs's scale of hardness (named for Friedrich Mohs), used commonly in mineralogy, lists certain minerals in order of hardness: talc, 1; gypsum, 2; calcite, 3; fluorite, 4; apatite, 5; orthoclase, 6; quartz, 7; topaz, 8; corundum, 9; diamond, 10. The listing indicates merely that gypsum (hardness = 2) is harder than—i.e., capable of scratching—talc (hardness = 1). The listing does not indicate that gypsum (2) is twice as hard as talc (1). The hardness of many minerals falls between those included in the list. For example, the hardness of barite is 3.3. Hardness may differ with the direction of the scratch made on the substance. Thus the mineral kyanite has a hardness of 5 parallel to the length of its crystals and of 7 at right angles to this direction. There are several other methods based on the resistance to indentation for testing engineering materials. The solid elements have been thus classified: diamond (an allotropic form of carbon) is hardest and listed as 10, with cesium the softest, rated as 0.2, the same degree of hardness as wax (hardness = 0.2 at 0°C). The hardness numeral of the Brinell scale is based upon the indentation produced when pressure is exerted by a sphere on the substance. The value thus obtained has a direct relation to the tensile strength of the substance. The hardness of a material may be modified by the presence of small quantities of another substance, as in metallic alloys, or by impurities in minerals.

The Columbia Electronic Encyclopedia, 6th ed. Copyright © 2012, Columbia University Press. All rights reserved.

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