Monday, November 12, 2007

The Elements

You're in luck! This evening I'm posting on three of the most interesting elements! In fact, these are three of my favorites.
For a while I've been considering quitting these posts on chemistry. They might be a bit too nerdy for a blog this cool. What I decided to do was continue them until I got as far as Phosphorus, then take stock and decide either to continue or give it up.
So what do you think? Do you like the chemistry posts? The history ones? Any of them? Or are you just here for the pictures of guys?

Now, on to the atoms!

Aluminum:
Atomic Symbol: Al
Atomic Number: 13
Analysis of a curious metal ornament removed from a third century tomb in China showed that it was 85% aluminum. How it was produced remains a mystery.
By the end of the eighteenth century, bauxite (aluminum ore) was known to contain metal, but no one knew how to extract it. In 1825, Hans Christian Oersted was the first to succeed, but the sample he produced was impure. In the 1860s the Emperor Napoleon III of France impressed visiting royals with special dinnerware made of the metal.
Coincidentally, two scientists discovered how to make aluminum using an electric current at the same time! 21 year-old Charles M. Hall of Ohio and 23 year-old Paul-Louis-Toussaint Heroult of France had never met, but made the same discovery simultaneously April 23, 1886.
As a result of the Hall-Heroult process, the price of aluminum fell until it cost less than one-thousandth of what it had been for Napoleon III.

Silicon:
Atomic Symbol: Si
Atomic Number: 14
The Earth's crust is composed mostly of silicon compounds, called silicates.
It is surprising that silicon aroused little curiosity among early chemists, considering its abundance. Sand can be found in all parts of the world and is used for many purposes, as well as being the source of commercially produced silicon. It is the basis of several industries. The construction industries rely on sand and cement, glass manufacture is based on sand.
Silicon-oxygen compounds called silicones were invented in the 1920s and are used in many modern products: as industrial putty, high heat lubricants, waterproof sealants, and breast implants. Many silicone oils are used in shampoos and hair conditioners: they not only act as a protective layer, but they leave skin and hair feeling silky smooth.

Phosphorus:
Atomic Symbol: P
Atomic Number: 15
In the form in which it is best known, "white phosphorus", this element is flammable and a deadly poison. As little as 100 mg may be fatal to humans.
In the natural world, it is never encountered as such, only as phosphate. Phosphate is essential to all living things, and is a component of DNA itself.
Chemical phosphorus was discovered in 1669 by evaporating urine and heating the residue until it was red-hot. Its inventor, Hennig Brandt, kept the process secret for many years, thinking he might have discovered the fabled "philosopher's stone" which could turn base metals into gold.
The eighteenth-century invention of the phosphorus match caused demand for the element to skyrocket. It was used in the wars of the twentieth-century  because of the terrible wounds that burning phosphorus produced. The scattering of phosphorus fire bombs over cities in World War II caused widespread terror and destruction.

If you're interested, my previous posts on chemistry are here.

There's an outstanding author named John Emsley who wrote two books I highly recommend:
and

7 comments:

Fred said...

The guys are great, but keep up the history, chemistry, books, etc. You're one of my favorite blogs. Thanks!

Kenneth Johnson, or Sebastien Penn said...

yes, it's these kind of posts that make your blog unique. and it's the reason I keep coming back for more.

Kenneth Johnson, or Sebastien Penn said...

besides, you can't stop until you reach einstenium

Markus said...

Nice work, but it's Aluminium according to IUPAC not Aluminum.

Hansisgreat said...

Thanks for all the kind words of support, guys! I've decided to keep up the chemical posts for the time being. It's great to hear that folks are checking out these little articles. I work very hard on them.

Markus is correct. Aluminium is the typical, worldwide spelling for the 13th element. Here in the US we call it aluminum, though. I'm not sure why, but since I'm an American I decided to write it the American way.

I apologize to the rest of the world for the mix-up we've caused (we do that a lot over here).

Dan said...

lol, keep it American if you're American. Or if not, I'll be petty and say that you should have spelt 'apologize' with an 's'.

Anyway, about the chemistry posts, I love them. A really brilliant blog, easily the best I visit. It has all you need.

Great work.

Anonymous said...

Hans, I've visited you a number of times, and always go away with a sense of balance between the eye candy and what I learn...keep up the good work. I'll be back again.