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A fascinating fact about hydrogen is that scientists estimate that hydrogen makes up over 90% of ALL the atoms in the universe.

In fact, 75% of the sun is made up of hydrogen and every second the sun consumes 600 million tons of its hydrogen atoms to make helium atoms and energy. That energy radiates out from the sun in all directions as electromagnetic photons.

These beautiful pictures from NASA are clouds of hydrogen gas floating about in the universe!

This week will be shining the spotlight on Helium, the second element in the periodic table. A fascinating fact about Helium is that it’s inert, meaning it doesn’t react with any other atoms.

With only 2 protons in its nucleus, helium is very light. Being inert and light, helium is the perfect gas for party balloons.  However, because helium is SO light, most of it just floats up into the sky and into outer space, making it extremely hard to find on earth.

However, scientists have recently found lots of helium emerging from under Yellowstone National Park. The helium is coming from deep under the earth where uranium atoms are continually decaying and releasing two protons from their nucleus. Those two protons   then pick up two electrons as they ascend through cracks in the earth’s  crust, thus creating helium atoms!

By the way, all that radioactive decay of uranium and other elements is what’s heating the interior of the earth.

Did you know that by adding a few atoms of lithium to flimsy aluminum foil it will turn the foil into a mixture of metals called an “alloy,” strong enough for building jet airplanes? It’s been known for thousands of years that sprinkling in a second metal atom makes strong alloys, but why? Because the lithium atoms act like speed bumps and prevent rows of aluminum atoms from easily rolling over each another and letting the metal bend.

Beryllium is used in the making of items like cell phones, missiles and aircrafts. 

Did you know that Mother Nature uses beryllium to make fine gemstones? Beryl is a crystal containing beryllium bonded to aluminum and silicate, but when a few atoms of chromium or vanadium happen to be included with beryl, beautiful green emeralds form. A few atoms of iron turn beryl into magnificent crystals of light-blue aquamarine, and a few atoms of manganese turn beryl into stunning pinkish-orange crystals of morganite!

Boron is one tough and versatile element. This element exhibits some properties of metals and some of nonmetals. Adding boron to steel produces a metal stronger than steel. Add boron to glass and you can make the glass resistant to heat, like the brand Pyrex. Boron nitride (boron bonded to nitrogen) is harder than a diamond, yet extremely lightweight. Boron’s high strength, light weight, and resistance to heat makes it the perfect element for building space shuttles and other aerospace vehicles. 

Boron’s not done there! Bonded to atoms of oxygen and hydrogen, it forms boric acid, a mild antiseptic and insecticide. Bond it to sodium instead of hydrogen and you get a familiar cleaner, Borax. To top it off, plants can’t live without boron. It is a micronutrient essential for plant growth. 

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Did you know that carbon is a primary component of all life on Earth?   Carbon is the most versatile element in the periodic table, in large part because a single carbon atom can bond to up to four other atoms. When carbon atoms bond to each other, depending on how they are combined, they can form slippery soft graphite to open locks, incredibly hard diamonds, super strong sheets of flexible graphene that conduct electricity, and ridiculously tiny nanotubes far stronger than steel.

These nanotubes can be perforated with holes tiny enough to permit water molecules to pass through and someday allow us to obtain fresh water from the ocean. Thank goodness for carbon!

Did you know we can’t live without nitrogen? Almost 80% of the air we breathe is made up of nitrogen molecules, yet most of this nitrogen is immediately exhaled as we cannot absorb it in its gaseous form. 

Nitrogen moves from our atmosphere in a cycle that converts it to a form that can be absorbed by plants through their roots.  In this cycle, bacteria helps to break the strong triple bond that makes nitrogen inert and convert it to nitrogen-containing molecules that plants can use!

Have you ever wandered into the geology section of a natural history museum and noticed that every rock specimen has oxygen in it? You can thank cyanobacteria, the first bacteria to develop a way to capture the energy in sunlight and turn it into chemical energy, in other words, photosynthesis. 

They used the energy in sunlight to break water molecules apart into hydrogen and oxygen atoms which they discarded into the air. All that oxygen found its way into minerals in and under the surface of the earth so that today there isn’t a mineral in the ground that doesn’t have oxygen bonded to it. 

Now If only we could figure out a way to split water molecules as effortlessly as cyanobacteria, we’d have an unlimited supply of hydrogen to satisfy all our energy needs, and enough oxygen to purify our water supply, manufacture untold numbers of chemical compounds, and even power interplanetary space travel! 

Fluorine is a small atom but despite its size, fluorine is able to attract electrons with more force than any other atom in the periodic table. When fluorine atoms bond to long chains of carbon atoms (called fluorocarbons), no molecule can break the chain or even stick to them.  These long-chain fluorocarbons turned out to be the perfect molecule to coat pots and pans for easy cleaning (called “Teflon).”

Mesh fabrics made of fluorocarbons are waterproof because the empty spaces between the fine fibers is small enough to block water droplets from passing through. However — and this is key – the empty spaces between the fibers are large enough to allow molecules of perspiration to pass though. This mesh fabric even blocks wind by redirecting air molecules trying to pass through. By allowing fabrics to be waterproof and wind-proof, and still allow perspiration to escape, the newly-named “Gore-Tex” fabric, invented in 1976, spawned an explosion in the clothing and sportswear industry, as well as outdoor tents, and even space suits. ☔️ 🏔 ⛺️

Fluorine is a small atom but despite its size, fluorine is able to attract electrons with more force than any other atom in the periodic table. When fluorine atoms bond to long chains of carbon atoms (called fluorocarbons), no molecule can break the chain or even stick to them.  These long-chain fluorocarbons turned out to be the perfect molecule to coat pots and pans for easy cleaning (called “Teflon).”

Mesh fabrics made of fluorocarbons are waterproof because the empty spaces between the fine fibers is small enough to block water droplets from passing through. However — and this is key – the empty spaces between the fibers are large enough to allow molecules of perspiration to pass though. This mesh fabric even blocks wind by redirecting air molecules trying to pass through. By allowing fabrics to be waterproof and wind-proof, and still allow perspiration to escape, the newly-named “Gore-Tex” fabric, invented in 1976, spawned an explosion in the clothing and sportswear industry, as well as outdoor tents, and even space suits. 

Did you know that neon is not the only element used in “neon lights?” Neon gas is the only one that gives off reddish-orange light, but other elements, like helium,  give off orange light, argon – lavender light, and mercury –  blue light. The reason each element in the glass tube gives off a characteristic color is that when the electrical current flowing through the glass tube transfers its energy to electrons orbiting each nucleus, the excited electrons jump to a higher, more energetic orbit. When the electrons then drop back down to a lower energy orbit, they give off the difference in energy between the higher and lower orbits in the form of a light ray of one particular color. That energy difference varies slightly between different elements, hence the different colors emitted by each element!

Batteries provide an electrical current by removing electrons from atoms in the battery’s anode (-), and allowing the electrons to flow through a wire toward the battery’s cathode (+) where the electrons reattach to positive ions looking for electrons.

Lithium works well as a source of electrons, but lithium is expensive, not readily available, and difficult to get at, even when lithium deposits are discovered underground.

Sodium, in contrast is readily available and cheap, but has not served well as cathode material because there’s been no effective way to store the sodium ions once the electrons have left the cathode. Things have changed though. Prussian Blue, a pigment made up of iron atoms surrounded by “cages” of cyanide ions, is being redesigned to capture the sodium ions and store them while they’re being recharged with electrons.

So while sodium atoms may be too large to pack into tiny batteries for cell phones and the like, sodium may prove to be perfect for situations where size doesn’t matter, like storing solar energy captured by photovoltaic cells. Moreover, being less willing than lithium atoms to shed their electrons, sodium-based batteries are much less likely than lithium-based batteries to catch fire.

Did you know that without magnesium, we’d have no food? That’s because at the center of every molecule of chlorophyll is a magnesium atom, and without that magnesium atom, chlorophyll would have no way to capture the energy in sunlight and turn it into chemical energy.

Besides plants, all animals, including humans, depend on magnesium for protein and DNA synthesis, muscle contraction, nerve function, regular heart beats, and many other internal functions.

Magnesium’s most common industrial use is to strengthen aluminum. When atoms of magnesium are sprinkled into aluminum to form an alloy of aluminum, the magnesium atoms act as “obstacles.” When outside forces try to bend aluminum by forcing rows of aluminum atoms to roll over each other, the magnesium atoms stand in the way.

When it burns, magnesium gives off a bright white light, ideal for fireworks, flares, and special effects like lightning ⚡️

Beryllium is used in the making of items like cell phones, missiles and aircrafts. 🚀

Did you know that Mother Nature uses beryllium to make fine gemstones? 💎 Beryl is a crystal containing beryllium bonded to aluminum and silicate, but when a few atoms of chromium or vanadium happen to be included with beryl, beautiful green emeralds form. A few atoms of iron turn beryl into magnificent crystals of light-blue aquamarine, and a few atoms of manganese turn beryl into stunning pinkish-orange crystals of morganite!

Boron is one tough and versatile element. This element exhibits some properties of metals and some of nonmetals. Adding boron to steel produces a metal stronger than steel. Add boron to glass and you can make the glass resistant to heat, like the brand Pyrex. Boron nitride (boron bonded to nitrogen) is harder than a diamond, yet extremely lightweight. Boron’s high strength, light weight, and resistance to heat makes it the perfect element for building space shuttles and other aerospace vehicles. 🚀

Boron’s not done there! Bonded to atoms of oxygen and hydrogen, it forms boric acid, a mild antiseptic and insecticide. Bond it to sodium instead of hydrogen and you get a familiar cleaner, Borax. To top it off, plants can’t live without boron. It is a micronutrient essential for plant growth. 🌿

Did you know that carbon is a primary component of all life on Earth?  🌏 Carbon is the most versatile element in the periodic table, in large part because a single carbon atom can bond to up to four other atoms. When carbon atoms bond to each other, depending on how they are combined, they can form slippery soft graphite to open locks, incredibly hard diamonds💎, super strong sheets of flexible graphene that conduct electricity, and ridiculously tiny nanotubes far stronger than steel.

These nanotubes can be perforated with holes tiny enough to permit water molecules to pass through and someday allow us to obtain fresh water from the ocean. Thank goodness for carbon!

 

Aluminum is a versatile metal. It’s lightweight, doesn’t rust, conducts electricity, and when mixed with small amounts of other metals, aluminum forms strong, durable “alloys.” But, all this comes with a price: contamination of the air with carbon dioxide. Here’s why:

Aluminum starts out as aluminum oxide. Electricity is used to remove the oxygen atoms, but electricity produced by coal-burning plants spews carbon dioxide into the air. One way to combat this is to generate electricity with hydroelectric plants. An even simpler way is to recycle aluminum — something we can all do! ♻️

🤓 Silicon, the second most common element in the earth’s crust behind oxygen, is a very versatile element.

Silicon alone is the element for semiconductors chips. When bonded to two atoms of oxygen, it forms “silica” — sand 🏖 . When sand is heated, it becomes transparent glass as it cools. Adding boron turns glass into heat-resistant Pyrex, while adding lead improves the way glass reflects light. When silicon is bonded to four atoms of oxygen as “silicate” forms quartz crystals, which become blue amethyst gems when atoms of cobalt are added, green amethyst from atoms of chromium, and amber amethyst from atoms of iron. Adding methane to silicate creates silicone, used in everything from silicone oil to silicone grease, silicone rubber, silicone caulk, and even hair conditioners!


Pure phosphorus is hard to come by because it immediately bonds to oxygen atoms to form phosphates. In the mid-1600’s, though, Hennig Brandt discovered a way to remove the oxygen atoms from phosphates found in urine. Because the phosphorus he discovered glowed spontaneously, he called it “phosphorus” from the Greek — “bearer of light.” 💡

Phosphorus is widespread in our body. Calcium phosphate is the main structural molecule in our teeth and bones. The main source of chemical energy – in us and all of nature – is adeonsine triphosphate, ATP. Even our DNA is loaded with phosphorus. 🧬

Phosphates are an important component of fertilizers, but excessive run-off from farms contaminates rivers and lakes with excess phosphates that enhance the growth of oxygen-hogging and toxin-producing algae.

Pure phosphorus is still used to create flashes of fire in matches, fireworks, and incendiary bombs.

Sulfur bonds with almost every element in the periodic table to produce an enormous variety of products, but none with the breathtaking history of Charles Goodyear’s fanatic search during the 1830’s for a way to prevent sap of the rubber tree from becoming gooey in warm weather. Overcoming abject poverty and the death of multiple children, Goodyear finally, in 1839, mixed sulfur with the rubber sap and accidentally spilled some on a hot stove. What he peeled off the stove would become the start ofthe rubber industry.

Unfortunately, sulfur released from coal-burning power plants creates sulfur dioxide gas which combines with molecules of water in the air to form sulfuric acid, one of the components of the “acid rain” that’s helping to disintegrate marble statues, limestone buildings and monuments, and even steel structures. Commercially produced sulfuric acid, though, is used to make fe lizers, lead batteries, and wide variety of other useful products.

By the way, other sulfur compounds, like hydrogen sulfide, account for the nasty smell emitted by skunks and bacteria in our intestines.

At room temperature, chlorine is a gas – a very poisonous gas. It was used during World War I, but quickly abandoned when unpredictable air currents caused the gas to drift back over the troops that released it. Because of its toxicity, chlorine is still used in bleach to kill bacteria and viruses.

Chlorine’s strength lies in its very strong attraction for electrons, particularly the dense concentration of electrons found in double bonds. Those double bonds help molecules absorb particular light rays and reflect the rest as colors. It is this breaking of those double bonds that allows chlorine bleaches to be used to remove stains in clothing and in woods to make paper bright white.

Bonded to other atoms, chlorine is generally quite safe. Sodium chloride, for example, is table salt, and hydrochloric acid, HCl, is secreted by the stomach to help digest our food. Polyvinylchloride (PVC) tubes and pipes, ammonium chloride in batteries, barium chloride in fireworks, and ammonium perchlorate to power spacecraft into space are just a few examples of useful chloride compounds.

About 1% of the atmosphere is made up of argon. Being inert, argon gas is used during welding to keep oxygen away from the weld site and also used to store rare documents away from harmful oxygen.

Like neon, argon can be made to glow inside a glass tube once an electrical current strips an electron from it. Argon lasers are particularly useful for delicate eye surgery. Being heavier than oxygen and nitrogen, argon is better than plain air at insulating against heat loss in things like deep diving suits and double pane glass.

Sir Humphry Davy named potassium in 1807 after isolating it by passing an electrical current through wood ash that had been boiled in large pots – so-called “pot ash” (which was mostly potassium carbonate). Potassium is so reactive that pure potassium does not exist in nature. The list of potassium compounds and their uses ranges from soaps to explosives, ceramics to baking soda, paint removers to insecticides.

Potassium is critical to life. That’s why potassium is one of the key elements in fertilizers along withnitrogen and phosphorus. In animals, potassium is needed for nerves to carry signals and muscles to contract, which is why potassium-rich foods like bananas, peanuts, and raisins are such good pre-game foods.

While calcium is known for building strong bones and teeth and hard shells for crustaceans, calcium has long been a vital building material for civilization. Calcium is mined from the ground as limestone, which is mostly calcium carbonate, mixed with some magnesium carbonate. Limestone is what marble
and chalk are made of, and also makes up the stalactites hanging from caves and dripping onto stalagmites pointing up from a cave floor.

Simply heating limestone drives off the carbon dioxide in calcium carbonate, leaving behind calcium oxide, called “quicklime.” Water added to quicklime turns it into “slaked lime” – calcium hydroxide. Slaked lime is used as a smooth paste to coat walls. Instead of just heating limestone, adding water and sand turns quicklime into mortar to bind rocks and other building materials together. Adding, in addition, iron and clay (a mixture of silica and aluminum), then heating the mixture into hard rocks and grinding it all into a powder creates “cement.” Then by adding water and rocks to cement, a slow chemical reaction begins that binds them all together into concrete.

Plaster of Paris is a close relative of limestone made up of calcium sulfate

Scandium, named after its site of discovery – Scandinavia, is not only rare, but also difficult to extract from molecules. That’s why it took until 1937 to finally isolate pure scandium metal.

Scandium is close in size and weight to aluminum. That makes it the perfect element to scatter into molten aluminum and turn aluminum into a super strong alloy for jet airplanes, high-end bicycle frames, and even aluminum baseball bats.

Scandium iodide is used to alter sources of artificial light to make them appear more like sunlight.

What’s most astonishing about scandium is how many of its properties were predicted by Dmitri Mendeleev when he created the periodic table around 1869 and noted gaps in the table. Mendeleev not only predicted the elements that eventually filled those gaps, but also their properties. Scandium was one such element, situated beneath the element boron.

Titanium is lightweight but very strong. It is commonly used in aircraft, spacecraft, missles, ships, crutches, golf clubs, and high-end bicycles.

Titanium is also used in artificial joints because it bonds so well with bone without being rejected by the body’s immune system.

Oceangoing ships built with titanium hulls are much better at resisting rust and corrosion, because oxygen in the air reacts with titanium to form a barrier of titanium oxide.

Painters use titanium dioxide because it refracts (bends) sunlight in so many directions that sunlight reflects back as bright white. Titanium dioxide’s ability to reflect light like this is also why it’s used in sunblockers to help prevent sunburn.


Vanadium is a lightweight metal mostly used to make very strong alloys of steel without adding a great deal of weight, useful for things like piston rods, crankshafts, and axes. One of its key features is the large number of orbitals around the nucleus for electrons to occupy and move about in. Not only does this make vanadium ideal for large industrial batteries, but with so many orbitals for electrons to occupy, vanadium can manifest many beautiful colors. That’s why vanadium is named after the Swedish goddess of beauty, Vanadis. Vanadium’s many electron states may help explain why shallow-water animals like ascidians and sea squirts absorb vanadium from the sea, but vanadium’s actual role in those animals is still unclear. Also unclear is why Amanita mushrooms — those pretty but poisonous mushrooms with the red caps dotted with white spots — use vanadium to make a complex molecule called “amavadin.”


Chromium is the shiny metal that began being applied to automobile bumpers in the 1920’s, reaching their peak in the 1950’s. Chromium-metal is of especially high value for its hardness and for its anti-corrosive properties. When mixed with other metals, chromium is particular good at producing strong, rust-free alloys. Stainless steel, for example, is iron mixed with chromium, and sometimes with nickel and other metals.

The name “chromium” is derived from the Greek word for color, “chroma,” because with so many mobile electrons it makes rubies red, emeralds and sapphires green, and other compounds blue and violet. At one time, it was even used to make school buses yellow.

The electron mobility in the chromium atoms inside ruby crystals made rubies the ideal candidate to generate coherent light rays in the first laser, which was created by Theodore Maiman in 1960. While the role of chromium in human physiology is unknown, small amounts of chromium are still needed in our diet.

Manganese and iron are often found together in the earth as manganese and iron oxides. Not surprisingly, these two oxides have been identified as the first pigments used in prehistoric cave paintings. Another early use of manganese was to remove the greenish tint from glass and make it clear.

By bonding to stray atoms of sulfur in iron, manganese is able to strengthen iron into steel alloys strong enough for rifle barrels, train tracks, and prison bars.

Manganese’s ability to give and receive electrons makes it a useful component of enzymes. For example, all the oxygen we breathe is a byproduct of photosynthesis produced by an enzyme that splits molecules of water into hydrogen and oxygen. That enzyme, called the “water-splitting enzyme,” depends on its four atoms of manganese.

Fungi feed off of dead wood by digesting the lignin in wood with its manganese-containing enzymes. We depend on our manganese-containing enzymes to protect us from dangerously reactive atoms of oxygen “radicals,” and to ensure the growth of healthy bones. Too much manganese, though, can damage the brain and lead to Parkinson’s disease. In fact, the early studies of L-DOPA treatment for Parkinson’s disease were carried out on manganese miners.

High concentrations of manganese can be found in nodules lying on the ocean floor, just waiting to be mined.


Iron is the metal for strength. It may rust easily and it may not be lightweight, but it is strong and can also be hammered, tempered, annealed, and forged into practically any shape. Iron can be mixed with carbon to make different varieties of carbon steel, which can then be alloyed with manganese, nickel, tungsten, titanium, copper, vanadium, or chromium to make a wide variety of strong, corrosion-resistant steel.

Even hemoglobin uses atoms of iron to carry oxygen around our bodies. The iron in hemoglobin is why our blood is red. Iron is so essential to our diet that it’s even incorporated into breakfast cereals – check it out.

Iron is also great for making magnets, which is good news for us because the central core of the earth is mostly iron, much of it in liquid form, and as it flows, it creates a magnetic field around the earth that protects us from the harmful electromagnetic rays of the sun.


Cobalt is one of the three magnetic metals (iron and nickel are the other two). Of the three, only cobalt retains its magnetic properties at very high temperatures.

You may have heard of cobalt blue, but compounds of cobalt can range from violet to green to pink. Cobalt’s many colors make it useful for coloring glass, glazes, paints, and enamels. Not only is cobalt beautiful, it’s also strong, even at high temperatures. This makes it a very useful alloy metal.

Cobalt’s ability to move electrons around places it center stage in molecules of vitamin B12 where it performs much like iron does in hemoglobin. Cobalt’s importance to our health explains why farmers are often required to supplement cobalt-deficient soil with cobalt compounds.

Cobalt-60 is a man-made radioactive isotope of cobalt that gives off high-energy gamma rays that kill cancer cells.

Nickel is a transition metal that is incredibly resistant to oxidation and corrosion. Nickel can be mixed in with other metals to make strong corrosion-resistant alloys like stainless steel. The airplane and aerospace industries use nickel to make strong aluminum alloys. Nickel’s heat resistance produces alloys used in toasters and ovens. And don’t forget the nickel-copper alloy that makes up nickel coins! Nickel, like chromium, can also be plated onto other metals to produce a less shiny coat than chromium.

Nickel is also one of three metals that’s permanently magnetic, iron and cobalt being the other two, hence its use in rechargeable batteries.

Nickel and iron are often found together, especially in meteorites. One particularly large such meteorite crashed into Canada and around 1900, the English chemist Ludwig Mond discovered a way to extract the nickel. Mond found that by passing carbon monoxide gas though the mixture of iron and nickel to form nickel carbonyl, he could then gently heat nickel carbonyl into a gaseous vapor, which readily decomposed back into nickel and carbon monoxide. Great care must be taken handling nickel carbonyl, because once inhaled, both the carbon monoxide and the nickel are highly toxic and often fatal.

Copper has been mined and used for many thousands of years, because its relative softness allows it to be shaped into many different tools and utensils. Its real prominence began about 3300 B.C., when it was discovered that adding tin greatly strengthened copper into bronze.

The Stone Age quickly shifted to the Bronze Age, allowing civilization to begin building useful tools, especially agricultural tools. The Bronze age lasted until about 1200 B.C. when civilizations around the Mediterranean Sea began to collapse, and iron began to out-compete bronze.

Copper is still widely used, not just in our coins, but in many aspects of life. Its low cost and high conductivity of heat make it ideal for pots and pans. Its high conductivity of electricity makes it an important component of power plants, and its ductility allows copper to be pulled into thin electrical wires and shaped into delicate printed circuits.

Oddly enough, we need small amounts of copper in our diet to replenish key enzymes in our body, but more than that and copper turns poisonous. Various copper-containing insecticides, bactericidal agents, and antiviral agents use copper to poison insects, bacteria and viruses.

First discovered in Germany in 1746 by Andreas Marggraf, zinc has long been known to be a somewhat weak metal, but when combined with copper, it produces a beautiful and durable alloy called “brass.”

Zinc atoms have a particularly useful property: they’re willing to release their electrons. We take advantage of this property in a couple of ways. One way is to use zinc to coat other, more expensive metals and allow oxygen molecules in the air to bond with and corrode the zinc atoms instead of the more expensive metal underneath. Such metals are known as “galvanized” metals. Another way is to make zinc oxide (zinc bonded to oxygen), which happens to be a great sun-blocker when slathered on your skin. It’s so good at absorbing light and reemitting it that zinc oxide is also used by artists and commercial painters for especially bright white paint.

Zinc’s willingness to release its electrons also makes zinc ideal for generating electricity in electrochemical cells. In these cells, a zinc rod sits in one solution and a different metal rod sits in a separate solution. When a wire is attached to the two rods, electrons leave the zinc rod and flow as an electrical current that we can harness to do work. The zinc atoms that lose electrons undergo “oxidation” at the “anode,” while the metal atoms gaining electrons undergo “reduction” at the “cathode.” What makes zinc so admirable as an anode is that it is also willing, under the right conditions, to accept back any electrons generated by wind and solar energy and store them for later use.

Like iron, zinc atoms play an important role in a number of important enzymes in the human body, including alcohol dehydrogenase, a liver enzyme that breaks down alcohol before it can do any harm. Be careful with zinc supplements, though, as too much zinc in our diet can cause its own problems.

In 1869, before Gallium was discovered, Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev, the creater of the periodic table of elements, predicted gallium’s properties and its location below aluminum in the periodic table. Six years later, in 1875, gallium was discovered by a French investigator, Paul-Emile Locoq de Boisbaudran, who named it after his country’s Latin name, “Gallia”.

As a pure metal, gallium is soft and silvery, much like aluminum. Despite a rather low melting point of around 30 degrees Celsius, 86 degrees Fahrenheit — which suggests weak intermolecular bonding between gallium atoms — gallium has a very high boiling point – over 2400 degrees Celsius, almost 4400 degrees Fahrenheit. Its low melting point and high boiling point mean that gallium is liquid over a very wide range of temperatures.

Gallium’s usefulness is mostly confined to compounds of gallium, not pure gallium. Gallium arsenide and gallium nitride are both used to make semiconductors, much like silicon, only faster. They’re also used in solar cells to convert light into electricity, and in light-emitting diodes (LEDs) to emit light on receiving an electrical current.

Germanium was discovered by Clemens Winkler (a German chemist) in 1886, almost 20 years after Dimitri Mendeleev (creator of the periodic table of elements) predicted its existence.

One of the remarkable properties of germanium is its ability to bend incoming light, making it a valuable component of wide-angle lenses in cameras and microscopes. Fiberoptic cables also rely on germanium’s high index of refraction to rapidly conduct electromagnetic light waves. Oddly enough, germanium has no effect on infrared light and is thus used in special lenses such as night goggles and binoculars that detect infrared radiation.

Before silicon was found to be such a good semiconductor, germanium was the major semiconductor material in the 1950’s and 60’s. It still is favored in some electronic equipment because of its ability to vary the flow of electricity in response to separate (and tiny) electrical circuits. Like other semiconductors, germanium is also used in LED lights when brightness is important, such as car headlights.

Arsenic is a protoplasmic poison meaning that if a living cell is exposed to large enough quantities, the cell can be damaged or even killed. Arsenic mimics phosphorous (right above it in the periodic table) and can interfere with the body’s ability to assemble molecules of adenosine triphosphate, ATP, the most important energy molecule in the body.

 Arsenic poisoning can be suspected by a darkening of the skin along with characteristic transverse (side-to-side) white lines in the victim’s fingernails. Chemical analysis of hair samples confirms the diagnosis.

 Accidental arsenic poisoning was not uncommon in 19th century England when green arsenic compounds were incorporated into wallpaper. The damp English climate encouraged the formation of mold, which fed on the arsenic compounds in the wallpaper and released atoms of arsenic into the air.

In 1909, Paul Ehrlich led a group of research chemists in developing the first antibiotic, using arsenic as the key ingredient. The antibiotic was called Salvarsan which proved to be effective against syphilis. Ehrlich called it a “magic bullet.”

When bound up into certain compounds, arsenic appears to be beneficial to the growth and health of chickens. To be safe, though, In the United States arsenic compounds in chicken feed have been banned.

Arsenic in very low levels is fairly widespread in the environment. In certain places in the world, like Bangladesh, it has contaminated well-water.

Arsenic is used in the preservation of wood because it is effective in getting rid of unwanted fungi, bacteria, Doping wafer-thin layers of gallium or silicon atoms with atoms of arsenic that have “extra” electrons has been vital to the semiconductor industry. The doping process increases the conductivity of the semiconductor.

Selenium is essential for the proper function of certain key enzymes in humans, but more than a few hundred micrograms a day in our diet is toxic.

Added to clear glass, selenium adds a reddish tint, but at the same time it’s able to neutralize the greenish tint seen in glass contaminated with iron atoms.
When teamed up with sulfur, right above it on the periodic table, selenium lends a particularly foul odor to skunk spray.

What’s most interesting about selenium, though, is the discovery around 1870 that shining a light on selenium causes it to generate an electrical current.

It took Albert Einstein to explain in 1905 that light rays carry packets of energy we now call “photons.” The discovery of the electron a few years earlier allowed Einstein to propose that light’s photons were providing selenium’s electrons with enough energy to escape from their atoms and flow through wires as an electrical current.

Because selenium created an electrical current on exposure to light, selenium was commonly used by photographers in hand-held light meters to measure levels of light. Selenium’s real success, though, was in the development of the xerox machine in the late 1930’s and 1940’s. The key structure in the early xerox machines was a metal plate coated with selenium. The selenium layer was made electrically positive by a high-voltage instrument called a “Corotron.” When a bright light was shined onto the page to be copied, photons from the white areas of the page were reflected onto the positively-charged selenium surface, releasing selenium’s electrons which then neutralized the positive charges. Since the black letters on the page being copied didn’t reflect any photons, those areas on the selenium surface remained electrically positive.

The next step was to dust the selenium surface with tiny, black, negatively-charged toner particles which adhered to the positive charges on the selenium layer. Since the areas of positive charge represented the black letters on the page being copied, simply laying a sheet of white paper onto the selenium- coated plate and heating the paper fused the toner into the paper for a permanent copy. 

Bromine is a halogen – along with fluorine, chlorine, and iodine. There is no known function for bromine in the human body, and in fact bromine is quite toxic when the brownish-red gas is inhaled.

At one time, bromine was considered helpful for extinguishing fires and preventing fires when incorporated into flammable products like cushions, bedding, and drapes. In other compounds, bromine was the key element for killing insects, nematodes, bacteria, fungi, and even rats. Bromine also had a role in a variety of beneficial pharmaceutical agents. Bromine’s vast protective role was sharply curtailed once bromine was discovered to be destroying the ozone layer at a much faster rate than even chlorine.

Our curtailment of bromine use hasn’t prevented the oceans from incorporating bromine into a variety of compounds that are still harvested from highly concentrated sea water, like the Dead Sea and deep wells holding natural brine.

Krypton is one of the inert family of elements. It is heavier than helium, neon, and argon, but lighter than xenon. The discovery of krypton in 1898 was prompted by the finding that nitrogen gas prepared in the lab weighed less than nitrogen gas isolated from the atmosphere. Instead of postulating that the nitrogen gas prepared in the lab contained undetected amounts of a lighter gas, like hydrogen gas, Sir William Ramsay hypothesized that atmospheric nitrogen contained an undetected heavier gas.

Along with chemist Morris Travers, Ramsay tackled the problem by liquifying air with pressure and cooling, and then, by slowly reversing the pressure and temperature, allowing each of the elements in the liquified air sample to evaporate away in increments, a process called “fractional distillation.” Ramsy and Travers also removed the nitrogen from the liquidfied air sample by passing the air over very hot magnesium. When the residual gas was then subjected to electrical sparks, the spectrum of green and yellow lines revealed a new element that Ramsay and Travers named “krypton,” after the Greek word for “hidden.” This same methodology also led to Sir Ramsay’s discovery of two other inert elements: neon and xenon.

Krypton, like neon, is used to generate colored light. Neon lights are typically red, but krypton extended the range of neon-light colors into the greenish-yellow spectrum.
Despite being inert, krypton is still able to bond to the highly electronegative element fluorine. High-energy lasers use krypton fluoride to produce very bright lights for such things as airport runways.

Among the isotopes of krypton is the very rare krypton-85, which happens to be released during the testing of nuclear weapons. By keeping an eye on levels of krypton-85 in the air, sensitive monitors can detect secret nuclear weapon testing by an increase in atmospheric krypton-85.

Rubidium sits right below potassium and sodium in Group 1 of the periodic table. Like potassium and sodium, rubidium has a single valence electron that, because it sits in a high energy orbit far from the nucleus, is easily removed. This makes rubidium highly reactive. For example, rubidium, like the other Group 1 elements, reacts violently with water by replacing one of water’s hydrogen atoms to form an alkaline solution of rubidium hydroxide (RbOH). The released hydrogen atom bonds to another released hydrogen atom to form hydrogen gas.

When rubidium is heated, the excited valence electron gives off two frequencies of red color that are readily detected with a spectroscope. The red color is where rubidium got its name  – “rubidus”. The name is Latin for deep red, but its name has nothing to do with rubies, which are red because of chromium atoms.

Rubidium has very few commercial uses and no apparent role in plant or animal metabolism. However, because rubidium resembles potassium, which cells accumulate intracellularly, radioactive rubidium injected intravenously has been used to locate brain tumors. And that makes it pretty useful!

Strontium sits right below calcium in the periodic table and behaves in many ways like calcium. That’s why if strontium is ingested, it can be incorporated into our bones, especially the growing bones of children. This becomes a problem when the radioactive isotope strontium-90 is released into the atmosphere after a nuclear explosion or a nuclear accident like the ones that occurred at Chernobyl and Fukushima. The nuclear fallout enters the food chain by settling onto plants that are then consumed by farm animals. The danger of radioactive strontium-90 is that it can lead to bone cancer and damage the bone marrow’s ability to make blood.

The radioactivity emitted by strontium-90 consists of electrons that carry heat and conduct electricity, making strontium compounds a useful source of heat and electricity in isolated places like space vehicles.

Strontium-89 is also radioactive. When given to patients suffering bone cancer, the strontiuim-89 is taken up by the rapidly-growing cancer cells, which are then killed by the high dose of radiation.

Heating strontium atoms in a flame elevates its electrons to higher orbits. When the excited electrons return to a lower energy orbit, they give off a bright red color – hence the use of strontium compounds in fireworks and road flares. Certain strontium compounds glow in the dark because their excited electrons take their time to return to a lower energy orbit.

Krypton is one of the inert family of elements. It is heavier than helium, neon, and argon, but lighter than xenon. The discovery of krypton in 1898 was prompted by the finding that nitrogen gas prepared in the lab weighed less than nitrogen gas isolated from the atmosphere. Instead of postulating that the nitrogen gas prepared in the lab contained undetected amounts of a lighter gas, like hydrogen gas, Sir William Ramsay hypothesized that atmospheric nitrogen contained an undetected heavier gas.

Along with chemist Morris Travers, Ramsay tackled the problem by liquifying air with pressure and cooling, and then, by slowly reversing the pressure and temperature, allowing each of the elements in the liquified air sample to evaporate away in increments, a process called “fractional distillation.” Ramsy and Travers also removed the nitrogen from the liquidfied air sample by passing the air over very hot magnesium. When the residual gas was then subjected to electrical sparks, the spectrum of green and yellow lines revealed a new element that Ramsay and Travers named “krypton,” after the Greek word for “hidden.” This same methodology also led to Sir Ramsay’s discovery of two other inert elements: neon and xenon.

Krypton, like neon, is used to generate colored light. Neon lights are typically red, but krypton extended the range of neon-light colors into the greenish-yellow spectrum.

Despite being inert, krypton is still able to bond to the highly electronegative element fluorine. High-energy lasers use krypton fluoride to produce very bright lights for such things as airport runways.

Among the isotopes of krypton is the very rare krypton-85, which happens to be released during the testing of nuclear weapons. By keeping an eye on levels of krypton-85 in the air, sensitive monitors can detect secret nuclear weapon testing by an increase in atmospheric krypton-85.