In the past the principal task of the mineralogist was simply to describe and classify physical, chemical, and structural properties of the remarkable variety of natural inorganic crystals. As this task was gradually accomplished for most species, however, mineralogists increasingly sought to identify physical and chemical principles that underly mineral formation and behavior and procedures that might lead to predictions of stability and properties of phases deep within the earth. Mineral physics, which has evolved during the past 2 decades, is thus the study of mineralogical problems through the application of the principles of condensed-matter physics and chemistry.

Mineral physics bridges gaps among a number of disciplines. Mineral physics is closely linked with traditional earth-science fields, including solid-earth geophysics, geochemistry, crystallography, petrology, and crystal chemistry. Close ties also exist with topics in ceramics, materials science, physical chemistry, high-temperature and high-pressure research, and solid-state physics. The range of materials studied parallels the diversity of minerals themselves: elements, metal alloys, sulfides, halides, layer compounds, and zeolites, in addition to rock-forming oxides and silicates, have been the focus of much study. Experiments on minerals and their analog compounds have intensified as new industrial applications have been found in the manufacture of lasers, high-performance ceramics, molecular sieves, catalysts, and a wide variety of electronic components.