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[Image above] Credit: Chris Geatch; Flickr CC BY-NC 2.0

We love glass—it’s beautiful, genius, supersonic, and oh-so-scientific.

But do you know much about glass’s past? Particularly the raw material where glass got its start?

That’s right—the stuff of beaches, play boxes, castles, and golf traps—sand.

Sand supplied the silica to form early glass. Even though early glass was much less sophisticated than what we’re used to today, it was enough to usher in all kinds of technological advances.

Glass lenses made possible the earliest telescopes, which in turn spurred the evolution of science itself—and we owe it all to sand.

Today, sand finds use in ceramics, paints, filters, fracking, and the construction industry—as a vital component of the concrete that builds our world—among many other uses.

“Apart from water and air, humble sand is the natural resource most consumed by human beings. People use more than 40 billion tons of sand and gravel every year,” writes author Vince Beiser in a recent Wired article.

The global sand industry is huge—so much so that there is actually big business in sand mining operations. And with any profitable industry, there’s a black market and a dangerous world surrounding sand, according to the article.

Who knew there was so much industry and intrigue surrounding innocuous little sand?

Brush up on all your sand knowledge with this great infographic from Mainland Aggregates Ltd., a U.K.-based company that supplies and delivers aggregates and products.

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Credit: Mainland Aggregates Ltd