Thursday, January 24, 2008

The Elements

Another post on the Periodic Table of Elements. Today we focus on three metals, all discovered within a decade of one another at the beginning of the 19th Century. They each had an important part to play in the Industrial Revolution, and many of our modern techno-gadgets would not exist without them. Most people probably don't know too much about them, so please allow me to illuminate...

Titanium:
Atomic Symbol: Ti
Atomic Number: 22
In the 1950s, surgeons noted that titanium metal was ideal for pinning together broken bones. It resists corrosion, bonds well to bone, and is not rejected by the body. As a result, titanium is now used for replacement hip and knee joints, bone plates and screws, and pace makers, which remain in place for up to 20 years without maintenance.
Titanium dioxide is similar to white lead, but safer because titanium compounds are not poisonous. Because of its outstanding covering power, it is used in paints, enamels, and food coloring. For the same reason it is added to lipstick. A typical lipstick contains 10% titanium dioxide.

Vanadium:
Atomic Symbol: V
Atomic Number: 23
This element is named after Vanadis, the Scandinavian goddess of beauty. Vanadium made steel stronger and lighter, and made it possible for French war planes during World War I to be equipped with canons, rather than just machine guns. 
The famous "Damascus steel", fashioned into the prized daggers, scimitars, and swords that were unsurpassed in their day was due to the presence of vanadium in Syria's soil. The vanadium just happened to be an impurity in the source of iron ore they were using, and when the supply ran out, steelmakers could not understand why their methods no longer worked.
Henry Ford based his popular Model-T car on vanadium steel because of how hard and light it was. Between 1913 and 1927, over 15 million cars were produced with vanadium gears, axles, springs, and suspension.

Chromium:
Atomic Symbol: Cr
Atomic Number: 24
Chromium can be polished to become very shiny, and resists oxidation in air. Its main uses are in alloys such as stainless steel (15% chromium), and in chrome plating. All that is needed is a 1 microgram thick layer to give metal a silvery mirror coating.
The precious gem alexandrite, birthstone for July, seems to change color because it contains chromium. It appears as a beautiful bluish-green in daylight, but changes to a deep red when seen at night under artificial lights.

My posts on the preceding elements can be found here.

There's an excellent book of reference called Nature's Building Blocks: An A-Z Guide to the Elements, available in the Hansisgreat Store.

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