Ekanite is a silicate mineral with a chemical composition typically expressed as Ca2ThSi8O20Ca2​ThSi8​O20​. It is often found as a tetragonal crystal system but is usually metamict due to the radioactive decay of thorium, which disrupts its crystalline structure over time. This radiation damage renders the mineral amorphous, and as such, freshly mined ekanite can gradually change in structure and appearance after extraction.

Ekanite is relatively soft, with a hardness of about 3.5 to 4 on the Mohs scale, and it displays a greenish-yellow to greenish-brown color, sometimes with a glassy luster. It is also slightly radioactive due to its thorium content, making it of particular interest for studies on radioactivity and mineral stability.

Ekanite was first discovered in 1953 by F.L.D. Ekanayake, a gemologist in Sri Lanka, who found the mineral in gem gravels near the town of Eheliyagoda, Sri Lanka. Initially, it was mistaken for another mineral due to its appearance, but later analysis confirmed it as a new mineral species.

The mineral was named “ekanite” in honor of its discoverer, recognizing his contribution to its identification. The first scientific description and naming were undertaken by Canadian geologist B. W. Anderson, who recognized the unique composition and properties of ekanite, distinguishing it from other known minerals.

The origin of ekanite is believed to be related to hydrothermal processes, typically forming in environments where thorium-bearing fluids interact with silicon-rich rocks. Its rarity and unusual properties make it a subject of ongoing geological research and interest among collectors and scientists alike.

Physical and Chemical Properties of Ekanite

Crystal Structure and Chemical Composition

Ekanite has a chemical formula of Ca2ThSi8O20Ca2​ThSi8​O20​, featuring calcium, thorium, silicon, and oxygen. It crystallizes in the tetragonal crystal system, which is a four-sided structure with two axes of equal length and one axis that is different. The ideal crystal structure is often not observed due to the radioactive decay of thorium, which leads to a phenomenon known as metamictization. This process disrupts the crystal lattice, making the mineral structurally amorphous over time.

Physical Characteristics

  • Color: Ekanite typically displays a range of colors from greenish-yellow to greenish-brown. The specific hue can vary depending on the exact chemical composition and the extent of metamictization.
  • Hardness: On the Mohs scale, which measures the scratch resistance of various minerals, ekanite is relatively soft, with a hardness rating of about 3.5 to 4. This makes it more susceptible to scratching and less suitable for certain types of jewelry.
  • Transparency: Ekanite can range from transparent to translucent. Freshly mined crystals may show greater clarity, but exposure to radiation and environmental factors can alter their appearance and transparency over time.

Fluorescence Under UV Light

One of the intriguing properties of ekanite is its ability to fluoresce under ultraviolet light. When exposed to UV light, ekanite can emit a greenish fluorescence, which is quite distinctive and adds to its appeal among collectors. This fluorescence is primarily due to its uranium and rare earth element content, which are often present as trace elements within the mineral. The green fluorescence is particularly notable under short-wave UV light, although the intensity and presence of fluorescence can vary depending on the individual specimen and its specific chemical makeup.

These properties not only define ekanite’s identity as a mineral but also contribute to its scientific interest, particularly in studies related to the effects of radioactivity on mineral structures and properties.

Formation and Geological Setting of Ekanite

Types of Rock Formations Where Ekanite is Typically Found

Ekanite is primarily associated with pegmatite and metamorphic rocks. These types of rock formations are conducive to the presence of rare minerals like ekanite due to their complex chemistry and the conditions under which they form.

  • Pegmatites: These are intrusive igneous rocks formed during the final stages of magma crystallization. Pegmatites are known for containing large crystals and a variety of rare minerals. The high concentration of volatile elements and slow cooling allows for the growth of unusual and rare minerals like ekanite.
  • Metamorphic Rocks: Metamorphic processes, which involve the alteration of rock by heat, pressure, or chemically active fluids, can also lead to the formation of ekanite. In these settings, ekanite can form through the recrystallization of pre-existing minerals under high temperatures and pressures, often facilitated by the presence of thorium and silica-rich fluids.

Geological Processes Contributing to Its Formation

The formation of ekanite is closely linked to hydrothermal activities. These processes involve the circulation of hot, mineral-rich waters through fractures and pores in the earth’s crust. These fluids can deposit mineral matter as they cool, forming crystals of ekanite and other minerals in the cavities and fractures of rocks. The presence of thorium, a key component of ekanite, suggests that its formation is also influenced by the geochemical environment conducive to concentrating heavy radioactive elements.

Common Locations Worldwide and Notable Mines

Ekanite is quite rare, with only a few locations around the world where it has been found in significant quantities:

  • Sri Lanka: The initial discovery of ekanite occurred in Sri Lanka, specifically in gem gravels near Eheliyagoda. This region remains a primary source of ekanite, with local mines producing small quantities for the collector’s market.
  • Norway and Madagascar: There have also been discoveries of ekanite in Norway and Madagascar. In these locations, ekanite is found in similar geological settings, associated with thorium-rich minerals.
  • United States: In the United States, specifically in California, there have been minor occurrences of ekanite reported. These are usually associated with pegmatite formations.

Because of its rarity, there are no “notable mines” for ekanite in the traditional sense, as the mineral is not mined commercially on a large scale like more common minerals. Instead, ekanite is usually a secondary find in mines primarily extracting other minerals or gemstones. Its rarity and specific conditions required for formation make it a prized find among mineral collectors and geological researchers.

Applications and Uses of Ekanite

Due to its unique properties and rarity, ekanite has limited but interesting applications primarily in the fields of science and gemology. Here are some of the main uses:

Scientific Research

  • Radioactivity Studies: Ekanite’s content of thorium, a radioactive element, makes it valuable for research into the effects of radioactivity on minerals. Scientists study how radiation impacts the crystal structure of minerals over time, which helps in understanding geological processes in radioactive environments.
  • Mineralogical Studies: Ekanite provides insights into the geochemical conditions that allow for the formation of rare thorium-bearing minerals. It helps in understanding the crystallization processes in pegmatites and metamorphic rocks, offering clues about the thermal and chemical history of these environments.


  • Collector’s Item: Due to its rarity and distinctive properties, such as its color and fluorescence, ekanite is highly prized by mineral collectors. While not typically used in mainstream jewelry due to its softness and radioactivity, it is sought after for private collections and educational displays.
  • Fluorescence Displays: The greenish fluorescence of ekanite under UV light is a notable feature that makes it attractive for educational and display purposes in museums and exhibitions. It helps in demonstrating the phenomenon of fluorescence in minerals.

Educational Use

  • Teaching Tool: In educational settings, ekanite can be used to teach about mineralogy, crystallography, and the impact of radioactivity on minerals. It serves as a practical example of how minerals can be altered by natural nuclear decay processes.

Radiation Shielding Research

Although not a direct application of the mineral itself, the study of thorium-bearing minerals like ekanite can inform research into materials science, particularly in developing radiation shielding materials. The behavior of thorium and how it interacts with other elements in a mineral matrix can provide valuable insights into designing effective radiation shields.


The use of ekanite, particularly in more commercial or widespread applications, is limited by its radioactivity and the care required in handling it. Additionally, its rarity and the potential for its physical properties to degrade over time due to radiation damage restrict its usability in more dynamic or everyday applications.

Overall, while ekanite may not be found in common consumer products, its role in scientific research and its appeal to collectors make it a noteworthy mineral in the geological community.