IT’S ELEMENTARY, MY DEAR WATSON
For the next few weeks, I’ll be running an educational series on the elements: their properties, uses, and availability in the natural world. The Periodic Table of Elements (shown above) is the arrangement of all known chemical elements, which is based on their atomic number, which is the number of protons in the nucleus of the atom. The rows are arranged in periods, the columns are called groups, such as the Nobel gases. Other groups include Alkalides,Actimides, Metalloids, and diatomic nonmetals.The chart was first created in 1869 by Dimitri Mendeleev.
Elements can be liquids, solids or gases. Today we’ll look at two elements that are gases, Hydrogen and Helium. Although they are gases in their normal state, they can exist as liquids at extremely cold or hot temperatures, and are never in solid form.
Hydrogen is formed from the Greek words “Hydro” and “Genes”, meaning “Water forming.” Robert Boyle first produced hydrogen as early as 1671. It is the most abundant element in the universe, and is essential to life. Our atmosphere contains 78% of it, and it is really most of what we breath in everyday, but Oxygen is equally important as well.
90% of the universe is made up of it, and it is the raw fuel which most stars burn to produce energy. It is the lightest of the elements, weighing only 1.00794 atomic mass units. It forms with other elements to make compounds, such as Water (H2O), Methane, (CH4), Hydrogen Peroxide (H2O2), and Hydrocholric Acid (HCl). Combined with liquid Oxygen, it makes excellent rocket fuel.
Helium is one of the Nobel gases, and is colorless, odorless, tasteless, non toxic, and inert. It is the 2nd lightest and most abundant element in the universe, although on Earth it is extremely rare, and is created by natural radioactive decay, usually found in shale deposits. It weighs 4.002602 atomic mass units, and is named after Helios, the Greek god of the sun.
It’s boiling and melting points are the lowest among the elements, and exist only as a gas, except in extremely cold conditions. It is a byproduct of fusion, and is created from Hydrogen in exploding stars. It was first discovered in 1868 by French astronomer, Jules Janssen. It is used on Earth in Cryogenics, MRI scanners, arc welding, balloons, and airships, due to its lighter than air quality.
Tomorrow, we will look at two metals, Lithium and Beryllium. Until then, here is today’s link(click on the element for more info):
RARE, BUT ACTUALLY QUITE COMMON
Today we’ll talk about two elements that are uncommon, but used quite a bit in our everyday life, Lithium and Beryllium.
Lithium, from the Greek word Lithos, meaning “stone,” has an atomic number of 3, and weighs 6.94, has a melting point of 356.9° F, and a boiling point of 2,426° F. It is a soft white metal, belongs to the Alkalide Metal Group, and is the lightest metal, and the least dense solid. It is highly reactive, flammable and corrosive and is stored in mineral oil for this reason. Due to its high reactivity, it is never available by itself, and only appears in ionic compounds. It is not very common in the universe, compared to the lower numbered elements.
Some uses of Lithium include heat-resistant glass and ceramics, grease lubricants, steel and aluminum production, batteries, and ion batteries. The transmutation of Lithium atoms to Helium in 1932 was the first fully man-made nuclear reactions. Lithium-6 deuteride serves as a fuel for thermonuclear weapons. It is useful in the treatment of bi-polar disorder, schizoaffective disorder, and cyclic major depression. It was first discovered in 1817 by Johan August Arfwedson, and traces of it are present in all organisms.
Beryllium is an alkilide earth metal, created only through stellar nucleosynthesis and is somewhat rare in the universe. It has a weight of 9.01218311, an atomic number of 4, and like Lithium, only appears in compounds. It is a steel gray hard metal that is brittle at air temperature. It has a melting point of 2349° F, and a boiling point of 5378° F.
It is present in some gemstones, such as Aqumarine and Emerald. When combined with aluminum, copper, iron, or nickel it forms a strong alloy, which is why it is the main choice for aerospace material, such as aircraft, missles, spacecraft, and satellites. It is also used in X-Ray windows, automobile airbags, sprinkler systems, and particle physics equipment.
Tomorrow, we’ll look at two more elements in the chart, Boron and one element essential to our existence-Carbon. Until then, here are the links (Remember to click on the element for more info on the table link):
THE BASIS OF LIFE
Our next two elements are essential to our existence, without them, we probably wouldn’t exists. Again, they are rare in their raw form, and are usually in compounds. They are vital elements for the building blocks of life, and could also cause our demise if too concentrated.
Our first is Boron, a metalloid, which is also an essential nutrient for all foods produced from plants, and plants themselves. It has an atomic number of 5, a melting point of 3769° F, a boiling point of 7101° F. Due to the fact that it’s produced entirely by cosmic ray spallation and not by stellar nucleosynthesis, it is a low-abundance element on both the solar system and the Earth’s crust.
Boron in its natural state is almost as hard as a diamond, and is very light weight. It o makes a great insulator, and is used to shield nuclear reactors. Boron oxide, boric acid, and borates are non toxic to humans and animals in low doses. A trithylborane ignitor was used in the Apollo 15 Saturn V rocket. Some other common uses are in pyrotechnic flares, textile fiberglass, adhesives, cleaning compounds, fertilizers, and paints.
Carbon, from the Greek word carbo, meaning “Coal”, is a chemical element with the atomic number 6, and is a non-metallic element. There are three naturally occurring isotopes, C12, C13, and C14, which is radioactive, with a half life of 5730 years. Some allotropes of Carbon are graphite, diamonds, and amorphous carbon. It is the 15th most abundant element on earth, and the 4th most abundant in the universe by mass.
It is present in all forms of life, and is the 2nd most by mass in the human body, next to Oxygen, at 18.5%. It has the highest melting point of any element, at 6332° F. It is usually fused into a compound at extremely high temperatures, from objects such as meteorites, comets, and supernovas.
One of its main uses is in the form of hydrocarbons, from fossil fuels, such as Methane, crude oil, and in plastics. It can also be formed with other alloys to make steel, battery terminals, and drill bits. As graphite, it’s used for pencils, and art supplies. It can be used in the form of charcoal for cooking, and its radioactive state it’s used for carbon dating of ancient artifacts. The most fused form of carbon, diamonds, are both rare and valuable. It is also used as Carbon dioxide in soda, which gives it its fizz.
Elements such as these and their properties have helped shaped our universe, and the origin of life here on Earth. They have helped shaped our technology and brought us into the world we know today. Tomorrow, we will look at two more elements that are essential for life, and surround us everyday-Nitrogen and Oxygen. Until then, here are today’s links:
INHALE AND EXHALE
When we breathe in air, we seldom think about what it consists of; the complex elements that combine to create our atmosphere. The two main ones that give credit to our existence are Nitrogen and Oxygen; without them, life couldn’t exist as we know it.
Nitrogen is a chemical element that is a diatonic non-metal, and has an atomic number of 7. At room temperature, it’s a transparent, colorless, odorless gas. It is the seventh most common element in the universe, and the most common here on earth. At 78%, it occupies most of our atmosphere. It’s melting point is extremely cold at -346° F, and it’s boiling point is just above that, at -320.431° F.
It has a wide variety of uses, such as fertilizers for plants, in Kevlar fabric, and pharmacological drugs; such as nitroglycerin, nitroprusside blood pressure medicine, Nitric acid. Dentists use Nitrous oxide as a anesthetic. Nitrogen occurs in all living organisms, primarily in amino acids and nucleic acids. The body contains less than 3% Nitrogen, but even this amount can be deadly under pressurization; thus the reason divers must wear special suits to avoid contracting what is known as “the bends.”
Quantum computers are stored in liquid Nitrogen, due to their eccentric properties. Nitrogen gas has many uses, from preserving frozen foods, to light bulbs, the manufacturing process of stainless steel, liquid explosives, tire inflation, cryogenic research, and aircraft and rocket fuel systems.
Oxygen is also a special element because it is what we survive on. Lack of it, causes us to faint, and effects our brain functions. It is a chemical element which belongs to the chalcogen group, and in dioxide form, O2, is also odorless, tasteless, and transparent, although liquid oxygen become a faint blue in color. This is one of the reason the sky is blue, as Nitrogen and Oxygen are affected by our yellow sun in the color spectrum.
It is a highly reactive nonmetallic element and an oxidizing agent that readily forms compounds with most other elements. Photosynthesis releases oxygen through plants, and animals consume oxygen through respiration, a symbiotic relationship that is essential for life here on earth.
It has a cold melting and boiling point, at -361.82° F and -297.322° F respectively. It is the third most abundant element in the universe, and occupies 20.8% of our atmosphere. Any more, any less, it would be difficult to breathe. The ozone layer, consisting of O3, protects us from harmful UVB radiation from the sun.
Some uses of oxygen are the production of steel, in plastics and textiles, rocket propellent and oxidizers, oxygen therapy in hospitals, and life support systems in aircraft, submarines, spacecraft, and diving. When combined with Carbon, liquid oxygen forms dry ice, a common agent used in fog machines in concert venues.
Nitrogen and Oxygen are also key components in my novel, as Balta breathes Nitrous Oxide, instead of straight oxygen. This is why he must wear a mask in oxygen rich environments. Tomorrow, we will look at two more elements that can be gases as well, Flourine and Neon. Until then, here are today’s links:
We all know that one form of Fluorine, fluoride, is used widely by dentists, in toothpaste, and in the water we drink. From the Latin word fluo, which means “flow”, it is the lightest halogen and exists as a highly toxic pale yellow diatomic gas. It has an atomic number of 9, and is also highly reactive; almost all other elements form compounds with fluorine. It has a melting point of -363.60° F, and a boiling point of -306.60° F.
Industrial synthesis of fluorine gas for uranium enrichment is the largest use of the element. Organic fluorides have very high chemical and thermal stability, and are used in cryogenic refrigerants, electrical insulation and cookware. It is also used in pharmaceuticals, such as Prozac. Fluorocarbon gases are greenhouse gases with global warning potentials 100 to 20,000 times that of carbon dioxide.
Neon is derived from the Greek verb neos, meaning “new.” It has an atomic number of 10, and is one of the Noble Gases. It is colorless, odorless, inert atomic gas with 2/3 the density of air. It is chemically inert and forms no uncharged chemical compounds. It has an extremely low melting point at -415° F and a boiling point of -410.88° F. It is fifth in the universe in abundance, as it’s formed through the alpha fusion of stars, although it is very rare on Earth.
Neon gas gives a distinct reddish-orange glow when used in either low voltage neon glow lamps, high voltage tubes, and advertising signs. It is also used in some plasma tubes and refrigerants, but has few other uses.
Well, that’s the elements for this week. Join me next week for Part two of the element series, when we’ll discuss a whole new group of substances and their properties and uses. until then, here are today’s links: