Sand Under A Microscope

Sand is a substance that many of us take for granted. We see it when we visit the beach, or hotter climates, but how often do we really think about what this matter is? 

What is sand? And, where does it come from? It is always interesting to view certain objects under a microscope, perceiving them up close and comprehending what they are made up of.

Sand is no different! If you have never viewed sand through a microscope, you may be surprised at what it looks like up close.

Sand Under A Microscope

In this article, we will be discussing sand as a whole: the different variants, where it can be found, and what it looks like close up.

We will also be looking at how you, at home, can identify different types of sand by viewing them through a microscope.

So, let’s get started.

What Is Sand?

Sand is a grainy, course substance made up of really minute rock fragments, as well as containing granulated minerals such as ilmenite and magnetite. 

Interestingly, the nature of sand and the proportions of its constituents differ with one area to the next. Sand, like clay and gravel, is a deposit that can be encountered in various parts of the globe. 

Sand from one region may differ in color and texture from sand from another region, attributed to differing in sand components and concentrations. 

Construction and agriculture are just two industries that benefit from sand inspection, allowing geologists to investigate the primary components of sand and soil from various parts of the world. 

A geologist or scientist, for example, can develop a greater understanding of distinct chemical and physical processes in a certain region by researching sand through the study of arenology.

Arenology: The Study Of Sand

Arenology is the scientific study of sand, and an arenologist is the recognized title of a person who studies sand.

This subject is most frequently linked with geology – the study of the physical structure and substance of the earth – but it does also have significant applications in chemistry and biology.

Sand allows chemists to truly identify the molecular characteristics of diverse minerals, as well as the mechanisms that lead to the production of grains of sand.

Consequently, chemists will then be able to comprehend the background of every specific geographical area.

Sand also helps biologists to explore the numerous remnants of aquatic wildlife that contribute to sand through the study of biology.

This can indicate the diversity and abundance of species in aquatic settings and other places with comparable ecosystems. 

As a result, like fossils, sand can assist students in learning about past and current events.

Besides geologists, chemists, and biologists who research the substance during their professions, lots of other people examine sand as a pastime. These individuals are often labeled as arenophiles.

Different Sources Of Sand

Weathering is a natural process that breaks down rocks into small, fine particles, which results in the creation of sand. 

Rain, rushing waterways, wind, and frost cause this process over time.

These agents, such as the wind or rivers, may then transport these particles to a new area. This is why sand can be found in many areas of the world.

While sand is often thought of as ground-up rocks and minerals, sometimes sand grains are made up in part of various life remnants, notably the remains of aquatic sea life.

There are many primary contributors to the creation of sand, according to geologic research, including:

  • Various organisms’ skeletal remnants
  • Depositional and clastic rocks
  • Granitic rocks
  • Volcanic rocks found in the ocean

Areas Where You Can Find Sand

Sand is a material that can be found on beaches, deserts, stream banks, and other landforms all over the world.

Sometimes, sand can be found in areas in which you would least expect it. Many areas on the moon have been discovered with spherules that look like sand grains. 

Their source is unknown, although scientists assume it has something to do with asteroid impacts, or perhaps even volcanic eruptions and activity.

The diameter of these grains can range from 0.15 to 0.25 millimeters.

Let’s not forget that sand has even been discovered on planets other than our own. Mars, for example, is a planet that is covered in sand. 

Streams, shorelines, alluvial fans, and other sedimentary habitats where sand grains were deposited existed in this planet’s early environment.

Sand dunes and other aeolian structures inhabit numerous locations on Mars today. 

What Sand Can Become

Sand can be discovered in a variety of shapes and sizes, depending on where it was originally generated and then transported, due to weathering.

Depending on where you are in the world – or in our entire solar system – you may find sand in the following forms:

  • Beach sand
  • Dunes
  • Sandbars
  • Sandpits

Identifying Different Types Of Sand

Identifying Different Types Of Sand

When studying sand grains, it is important to be able to make the distinction between different types. 

Most of us picture sand as a fine-grained, gritty material that is white or tan in color.

This is the substance that we find at beaches. However, there are many variations of sand that can be found around the world, in different areas.

By knowing the difference between the several types of sand, you will be able to loosely identify where the grains originally came from, and how they came to be.

You can do this by looking at the color of the grains, as well as feeling the texture of the material.

Sand often gets mixed up with other substances along its journey around the world, and this can be a great indicator of where it originated.

The Many Colors Of Sand

Sand will take on varied colors depending on where you find it. You’d notice that if you collected a jar of sand from every beach or sandy area on the planet, many of the samples would be colored differently.

The three main categories of sand include:

  • Granite sand
  • Volcanic sand
  • Purple sand

Here are some of the colors that you may encounter, depending on which category the grains fall into.


Sand samples that are white, tan, or light in color suggest the presence of deteriorated limestone, shell remnants, and coral. 

Magnetite and calcium carbonate, along with other minerals, may be present in this sand sample. Sand with a lighter tint is more likely to be found on beaches and seashores.


Volcanic sands are often black or deeper in colour, with a polished, shiny surface. Black sand is made up of volcanic minerals, lava fragments, and, in certain circumstances, coral sediments.

This is the sort of sand present on Hawaii’s Kalapana fire shore, and Wyoming’s Yellowstone River.


As well as with black sand, red and orange tinted sand are also commonly present in volcanically active regions. 

Iron-oxide may influence the red or orange color of sand in certain situations, based on the location. Kaihalulu Bay on Maui, which is rich in iron, has red sand.


Gray sand contains a lot of granite, just like white or lighter colored sand. 

These sands, on the other hand, may also contain minerals including feldspar, mica, or magnetite, amongst many others. Due to shattered and powdered shells, coral sands can also appear to be gray in color.


The shells, calcium carbonate, as well as other relics of microscopic marine life known as foraminifera are what give pink sand its specific color and tint.

Its calcium carbonate shells are pink in color, and as they disintegrate, they contribute to the production of sand on beaches around the world, including the beaches of Isla Harbor in the Bahamas.

Bermuda has an abundance of these sands there too.


Finally, purple sand shows that garnet is present in the solution. This is a silica mineral that is found in sedimentary rocks that have been subjected to greater humidity and higher temperatures.

Despite quartz being the major element of purple sand, garnet is the colorant. Purple sand can be found on beaches like Pfeiffer Beach in California.

The Many Textures Of Sand

You can also distinguish between different types of sand by feeling them with your hands.

Use your fingers to rub samples of sand to feel the different textures to work out where the samples may have originated from.

Silt is softer and powdery, containing a texture more similar to flour when compared most sand samples, which are rough, scratchy, or coarse. 

In comparison to sand grains and silt, gravel is made up of bigger rock fragments. This makes it feel lumpier and harder, rather than soft and fine.

Depending on where the sand was originally sourced, an individual fragment’s texture could be soft or abrasive.

Additionally, you can try rubbing sand and various types of soil between your fingertips to see how different they feel, comparing the textures.

Looking At Sand Through The Naked Eye

Before using a microscope to analyze grains of sand, you can study the general properties of different types of sand by using your unaided sense of sight along with a magnifying glass. 

Before investigating any further, this is a useful technique to try to identify the sort of sand by checking out the color and texture.

You Will Need…

  • Sand 
  • Silt
  • Gravel
  • A magnifying glass
  • Petri dishes
  • A spatula

Note: Try to collect as many samples of sand as possible to widen your investigation. This analysis can be made with only one sample, but the more you use, the more interesting the study will be.

Assembling The Required Products

Position a white piece of paper under each petri dish before you begin.

Laying a piece of paper under the Petri dishes will help create contrast, and make it easier to distinguish between the different types of sand.

Next, using the spatula, scoop a gram of sand onto one petri dish. 

Then, scoop a gram of silt onto another, and a gram of gravel onto another dish. This way, you can examine the silt and gravel, and compare the sand grains to the other samples.

Identifying The Type Of Sand

You can attempt to identify the sand by checking the color and texture of the sample. Carefully use your eyes and fingers to work out the sand type, as well as the possible location. 

First, check without the magnifying glass: use a pen and paper to take notes of what you can see with your naked eye.

Then, use the magnifying glass to look closer, and take note of what other colors and patterns you can see.

This works best if you have multiple samples of sand from different locations.

By using several samples, you can compare them to each other, instead of simply comparing the silt and the gravel to the grains of sand that you have collected.

Feeling The Texture Of The Sand Grains

How does the sand feel when you manipulate it with your fingers? Does it feel soft and fine, like flour, or does it feel rough and course? 

Be sure that you are careful while touching the samples, as you don’t want the sand to spill everywhere. Additionally, remember to thoroughly wash your hands afterwards, especially if you collected the sand from a natural, public area.

Checking The Color And Appearance Of The Sand Grains

Next, check the color of the grains. You will detect color changes between the samples attributed to differing in the elements that make up different types of sand.

Use the magnifying glass to look closely at the grains.

The color test is significant since it might give an indication of the sample’s principal makeup and where it came from.

Observing Sand Though A Microscope

Observing Sand Though A Microscope

You can make a distinction in color between different samples of sand by examining it with your naked eye. Aside from exploring the texture with your fingertips, simply glancing at the color might facilitate a better understanding of the variety of sand you’ve collected. 

With the use of a magnifying glass, you may get a closer look and study individual grains of sand. You may identify colors and textures that you could not previously see without the aid of a magnifying glass.

Now, it is time to use a microscope to view the sand grains.

While a magnifying glass is great at magnifying, allowing you to view small objects at a closer view, a microscope is much better to view tiny particles. 

You Will Need…

  • Sand
  • A microscope (Ideally a stereo microscope)
  • A spatula
  • Card stock or manila paper
  • Scissors
  • A single-hole punch
  • Transparent tape or a paper glue stick

The Procedure To Viewing Sand Through A Microscope

Before the procedure, make sure that you are working on a clear, clean surface. You do not want any other factors, e.g., dust, to interfere with your investigation.

Once you have all the materials required, you can begin your examination.

Step 1: Cut Up The Card Stock Or Manila Paper

Instead of using glass slides, you will be using the sheets of card or paper in its place. 

Using the pair of scissors, you will need to cut up the card or paper into 1 × 3 inches. You need to cut enough pieces for each sample that you will be using during the observation. 

Step 2: Punch A Hole In The Sheets Of Card/Paper

Create a small hole in the center of your paper slides with the single-hole punch, and then fix the clear tape so that one side of the hole has a tacky surface. 

This is important, as the sand will need to be held in place during the observation.  

Alternatively, rather than cutting holes in the paper, use the paper glue stick to create a small, sticky area that will keep the sand in place.

Step 3: Scoop The Sand Onto The Sample Sheets

Apply a very little amount of the sand sample to the adhesive tape (or the glued area) in the hole with the spatula so that it remains stuck. 

This technique can be repeated for as many sand samples as you choose.

Step 4: Insert The Sheet Under The Microscope

Finally, place the paper slide under the microscope and examine it at a magnification of 25 times.

Samples can reveal a variety of details when seen under a stereo microscope. You will note distinctions in size and form, as well as color and texture, among the particles. 

These variations are significant as they can reveal information about where the sample was taken, where it originally came from, and even how old it is!

Checking Your Results

Note: It may be useful to have some paper and a pen or pencil handy to take note of your findings.

If a large percentage of the sand particles in your sampling are approximately the same size, the sand is shown to be well-sorted and may have formed over time in a specific area.

If the grains have a large selection of sizes, however, they are inadequately categorized and may have been transported to a certain location by forces such as powerful river or stream currents, or a landslide, among other things.

Aside from size differences, you may detect variances in the morphology of the sand grains: many may appear smooth and rounded, indicating that they are older.

Mature sand grains are what they’re titled. This form has developed over time as an occurrence of wind and water current abrasion.

Narrowly jagged sand grains suggest that the sand was generated lately, maybe as a result of the breaking down of rock fragments, and/or perhaps other similar events.

Some grains may appear as crystalline and sparkling, while the others may be black or gray in color. These discrepancies reveal a few of the sand samples’ constituents. 

Check out the different colors of the grains of sand, and attempt to identify where they came from by using our color guide above. 

Final Thoughts

Sand, similar to fossils discovered in many parts of the world, can reveal so much information about where it was produced, how ancient it is, and some of the species that live in that area.

As a result, it’s a worthwhile area in which students and professionals alike can learn about their environment, and other parts of the world.

Whether you consider yourself to be an arenophile, arenologist, or someone who simply finds the idea of sand and its origination interesting, you are not alone in your interest.

While we may take the substance for granted, there is so much to learn from these tiny, ground up grains.

We hope that you found this article useful and interesting. 

Good luck with your research and adventures!

Jennifer Dawkins