Native element minerals are those elements that occur in nature in uncombined form with a distinct mineral structure. The elemental class includes metals and intermetallic elements, naturally occurring alloys, semi-metals and non-metals. The Nickel–Strunz classification system also includes the naturally occurring phosphides, silicides, nitrides and carbides.
The following elements occur as native element minerals or alloys:
Carbon is capable of forming many allotropes due to its valency. Well known forms of carbon include diamond and graphite. In recent decades many more allotropes and forms of carbon have been discovered and researched including ball shapes such as buckminsterfullerene and sheets such as graphene. Larger scale structures of carbon include nanotubes, nanobuds and nanoribbons. Other unusual forms of carbon exist at very high temperature or extreme pressures.
Diamond is the allotrope of carbon in which the carbon atoms are arranged in the specific type of cubic lattice called diamond cubic. Diamond is an optically isotropic crystal that is transparent to opaque. Owing to its strong covalent bonding, diamond is the hardest naturally occurring material known. Yet, due to important structural weaknesses, diamond's toughness is only fair to good. The precise tensile strength of diamond is unknown, however strength up to 60 GPa has been observed, and it could be as high as 90–225 GPa depending on the crystal orientation. The anisotropy of diamond hardness is carefully considered during diamond cutting. Diamond has a high refractive index (2.417) and moderate dispersion (0.044) properties which give cut diamonds their brilliance. Scientists classify diamonds into four main types according to the nature of crystallographic defects present. Trace impurities substitutionally replacing carbon atoms in a diamond's crystal lattice, and in some cases structural defects, are responsible for the wide range of colors seen in diamond. Most diamonds are electrical insulators but extremely efficient thermal conductors. Unlike many other minerals, the specific gravity of diamond crystals (3.52) has rather small variation from diamond to diamond.
A superhard material is a material with a hardness value exceeding 40 GPa (gigapascals) when measured by the Vickers hardness test. They are highly incompressible solids with high electron density and high bond covalency. As a result of their unique properties, these materials are of great interest in many industrial areas including, but not limited to, abrasives, polishing and cutting tools and wear-resistant and protective coatings.
Diamond is the hardest known material to date with a Vickers hardness in the range of 70–150 GPa. Diamond demonstrates both high thermal conductivity and electrically insulating properties and much attention has been put into finding practical applications of this material. However, diamond has several limitations for mass industrial application, including its high cost and oxidation at temperatures above 800 °C. In addition, diamond dissolves in iron and forms iron carbides at high temperatures and therefore is inefficient in cutting ferrous materials including steel. Therefore, recent research of superhard materials has been focusing on compounds which would be thermally and chemically more stable than pure diamond.