The word "mica" is thought to be derived from the Latin word micare, "glitteren", in reference to the brilliant appearance of this mineral (especially when in small scales).
Mica has a lamellar form with a black luster.
The British Geological Survey reports that as of 2005, India had the largest deposits of mica in world. China was the top producer of mica with almost a third of the global share, closely followed by the USA, South Korea and Canada. Large Deposits of Sheet Mica were mined in New England from the 19th Century to the 1960's. Large mines existed in Connecticut, New Hampshire, and Maine.
Until the 19th century, large crystals of mica were quite rare and expensive as a result of the limited supply in Europe. However, its price dramatically dropped when large reserves were found and mined in Africa and South America during the early 1800s. The largest sheet of mica ever mined in the world came from a mine in Denholm, Quebec, Canada.
Scrap and flake mica is produced all over the world. Flake mica comes from several sources: the metamorphic rock called schist as a by-product of processing feldspar and kaolin resources, from placer deposits, and from pegmatites. Sheet mica is considerably less abundant than flake and scrap mica. Sheet mica is occasionally recovered from mining scrap and flake mica. The most important sources of sheet mica are pegmatite deposits.
Because mica is resistant to heat it is used instead of glass in windows for stoves and kerosene heaters. It is also used to separate electrical conductors in cables that are designed to have a fire-resistance rating in order to provide circuit integrity. The idea is to keep the metal conductors from fusing in order to prevent a short-circuit so that the cables remain operational during a fire, which can be important for applications such as emergency lighting.
Illites or clay micas have a low cation exchange capacity for 2:1 clays. K+ ions between layers of mica prevent swelling by blocking water molecules.
Aventurine is a variety of quartz with mica inclusions used as a gemstone.
Pressed mica sheets are often used in place of glass in greenhouses.
Some brands of toothpaste include powdered white mica. This acts as a mild abrasive to aid polishing of the tooth surface, and also adds a cosmetically-pleasing glittery shimmer to the paste. The shimmer from mica is also used in makeup, as it gives a translucent "glow" to the skin or helps to mask imperfections.
Another use of mica is in the production of ultraflat thin film surfaces (e.g. gold surfaces) using mica as substrate. Although the deposited film surface is still rough due to deposition kinetics, the back side of the film at mica-film interface provides ultraflatness, when the film is removed from the substrate.
Muscovite mica is the most common substrate for sample preparation for the atomic force microscope. Freshly-cleaved mica surfaces have been used as clean imaging substrates in atomic force microscopy, enabling for example the imaging of bismuth films, plasma glycoproteins, membrane bilayers, and DNA molecules.
Mica slices are used in electronics to provide electric insulation between a heat-generating component and the heat sink used to cool it . The same word is sometimes used by technicians to designate a synthetised gum (usually blue or grey) which is used for the same purpose, but which does not actually consist of silicate mineral (language abuse).
Helen Hansma, a research scientist affiliated with the University of California, Santa Barbara, has proposed that the unique properties of Mica enabled the formation of life in the oceans of the distant past. In atomic force microscopy, biological samples are placed on mica because it is atomically flat. Even bare DNA molecules may be seen as small ridges. Inspecting mica under the microscope, bits of algae and other organic materials suggested to her the possibility early life molecules could have evolved within mica sheets in a communal fashion eons before the evolution of cell membranes or lipid vesicles. Mica might have provided a secure place with time and space and protection from the open ocean. Further research might provide additional predictions about energy and entropy for life. Mica is old rock—some earliest evidence for life's most primitive cells is in Akilia Island, Greenland, where biotite, a common mica, is also found. Potassium ions, which hold the sheets of mica together, are also required by cells. Primordial soup with amino acids and simple building blocks of life might have seeped between the water-loving mica sheets. The large planar area between sheets might have facilitated the building of long chain molecules. Negative spaces holding the potassium ions on mica are 0.5 nm apart, as are the single stranded DNA molecules (letters of genetic code), as well as amino acids in proteins. Clay also provides spacing that might encourage this process, but the planar area might better encourage the process. Expansion and contraction caused by temperature changes and ocean currents might provide mechanical energy to help rearrange the molecules and trigger the formation of chemical bonds.
The earliest use of mica has been found in cave paintings created during the Upper Paleolithic period (40,000 BC to 10,000 BC). The first hues were red (iron oxide, hematite, or red ochre) and black (manganese dioxide, pyrolusite), though black from juniper or pine carbons has also been discovered. White from kaolin or mica was used occasionally.
A few kilometeres northeast of Mexico City stands the ancient site of Teotihuacan. The most striking visual and striking structure of Teotihuacan is the towering pyramid of the sun. The pyramid contained considerable amounts of locally mined mica in layers up to thick.
Throughout the ages, fine powders of mica have been used for various purposes, including decorative purposes. The colored Gulal and Abeer used by Hindus of north India during holi festival contain fine small crystals of mica. The majestic Padmanabhapuram palace, from Trivandrum in India, has colored mica windows.