Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The Elements

My recent posts on the Elements seem to have been a crowd-pleaser. Here's a few short, interesting facts on the first three elements, more to follow. If you can't stand the suspense, there's a great book on all our subatomic friends called Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, by John Emsley.

Hydrogen:
Chemical Symbol: H
Atomic Number: 1
Hydrogen is the number one element in more ways than one: it was the first element of Creation, it is by far the most abundant element in the Universe, and it is the element that fuels the Sun and stars. World-wide production of hydrogen gas is 30 million tons a year, easy to make since it can be derived from ocean water. Some scientists see hydrogen as the clean fuel of the future: generated from water and returning to water when burned, with almost no pollution. Water vapor makes up 4% of our atmosphere, without which Earth would be too cold to sustain life.

Helium:
Chemical Symbol: He
Atomic Number: 2
Helium is one of the so-called Noble Gases. It is a colorless, odorless gas which is totally unreactive chemically. It was actually discovered on the sun before earth, and is the second most abundant element in the Universe. Although it is a harmless gas, it could asphyxiate if it were to exclude oxygen from the lungs. Its chief source is natural gas: although it is present in the atmosphere, it is currently uneconomical to extract it from the air. Unlike most elements in the air, helium can escape into space. It is currently used for balloons, cooling superconductors and other high heat equipment, and for deep-sea diving. Inhaling helium raises the pitch of the voice because sound travels three times faster through helium than through air.

Lithium:
Chemical Symbol: Li
Atomic Number: 3
First discovered in 1817 by Johan August Arfvedson in Stockholm, Sweden, Lithium is the lightest of all metals. Lithium oxide is used in glass and ceramics, lithium batteries are used in wristwatches, pocket calculators, and camera flashes in which lightness and compactness are important. It is also used in pharmaceuticals to treat schizophrenia and manic-depression.

Earlier posts on the Elements here.

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