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kottke.org posts about periodic table

The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements

posted by Jason Kottke   Nov 20, 2017

Periodic Table Endangered

Until recently, humanity has treated the Earth as an infinite resource. As the Earth’s population has exploded over the past century however, we’ve learned in many different ways that that’s untrue. We’ve overfished the ocean, pumped too much carbon into the atmosphere and oceans, driven thousands of species into extinction, and terraformed much of the planet’s land. This periodic table produced by the American Chemical Society shows that there are also 44 chemical elements that will face supply limitations in the coming decades. Among those under a “serious threat in the next 100 years” are silver, helium, zinc, and gallium. Robert Silverberg wrote about The Death of Gallium back in 2008:

Gallium’s atomic number is 31. It’s a blue-white metal first discovered in 1831, and has certain unusual properties, like a very low melting point and an unwillingness to oxidize, that make it useful as a coating for optical mirrors, a liquid seal in strongly heated apparatus, and a substitute for mercury in ultraviolet lamps. It’s also quite important in making the liquid-crystal displays used in flat-screen television sets and computer monitors.

As it happens, we are building a lot of flat-screen TV sets and computer monitors these days. Gallium is thought to make up 0.0015 percent of the Earth’s crust and there are no concentrated supplies of it. We get it by extracting it from zinc or aluminum ore or by smelting the dust of furnace flues. Dr. Reller says that by 2017 or so there’ll be none left to use. Indium, another endangered element-number 49 in the periodic table-is similar to gallium in many ways, has many of the same uses (plus some others-it’s a gasoline additive, for example, and a component of the control rods used in nuclear reactors) and is being consumed much faster than we are finding it. Dr. Reller gives it about another decade. Hafnium, element 72, is in only slightly better shape. There aren’t any hafnium mines around; it lurks hidden in minute quantities in minerals that contain zirconium, from which it is extracted by a complicated process that would take me three or four pages to explain. We use a lot of it in computer chips and, like indium, in the control rods of nuclear reactors, but the problem is that we don’t have a lot of it. Dr. Reller thinks it’ll be gone somewhere around 2017. Even zinc, commonplace old zinc that is alloyed with copper to make brass, and which the United States used for ordinary one-cent coins when copper was in short supply in World War II, has a Reller extinction date of 2037. (How does a novel called The Death of Brass grab you?)

Zinc was never rare. We mine millions of tons a year of it. But the supply is finite and the demand is infinite, and that’s bad news. Even copper, as I noted above, is deemed to be at risk. We humans move to and fro upon the earth, gobbling up everything in sight, and some things aren’t replaceable.

As with many such predictions, the 2017 dates didn’t pan out, but the point that these resources are finite still holds. Eventually, we will run out.

You guys, the new elements are out!

posted by Jason Kottke   Jan 05, 2016

IUPAC, the governing body for the official periodic table of elements, has announced the addition of four new elements to the table: ununtrium, ununpentium, ununseptium, and ununoctium. Those are working names…the teams that discovered each element has been invited to name them.

The proposed names and symbols will be checked by the Inorganic Chemistry Division of IUPAC for consistency, translatability into other languages, possible prior historic use for other cases, etc. New elements can be named after a mythological concept, a mineral, a place or country, a property or a scientist.

Ununoctium is so unstable that its half-life is 0.89 milliseconds and only three or four atoms of the substance have been produced in the past 10 years.

Interactive visualization of the periodic table

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 01, 2014

Google Research built an interactive periodic table of the elements where you can see the relative amounts of the elements as found in the human body, in the sea, and, most interestingly, by the number of mentions in books.

Periodic table

If you’ve ever wondered why the periodic table is shaped the way it is, click on “electrons” under “Shape” and pay attention to the number of electrons in the outer shells in each column of elements. Amazingly, when Dmitri Mendeleev and German chemist Julius Meyer published the first periodic tables in 1869/1870, the elements were organized only by atomic weights and chemical properties; they didn’t know what an electron was and certainly weren’t aware of quantum shells of electrons. (via @djacobs)

The island of stability

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 25, 2014

The elements located in the upper reaches of the periodic table are notable for their short half-lives, the amount of time during which half the mass of an element will decay into lighter elements (and other stuff). For instance, the longest lived isotope of fermium (#100) has a half-life of just over 100 days. More typical is bohrium (#107)…its half-life is only 61 seconds. The elements with the highest numbers have half-lives measured in milliseconds…the half-life of ununoctium (#118) is only 0.89 milliseconds.

So why do chemists and physicists keep looking for heavier and heavier elements if they are increasingly short-lived (and therefore not that useful)? Because they suspect some heavier elements will be relatively stable. Let’s take a journey to the picturesque island of stability.

Island Of Stability

In nuclear physics, the island of stability is a set of as-yet undiscovered heavier isotopes of transuranium elements which are theorized to be much more stable than some of those closer in atomic number to uranium. Specifically, they are expected to have radioactive decay half-lives of minutes or days, with “some optimists” expecting half-lives of millions of years.

Periodic table of swearing

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2010

I would be fucking remiss in my duties here if I didn’t inform you of this bloody awesome periodic table of swearing, you bunch of stupid old wankers.

Periodic Table Swearing

There’s goddamned prints available. (via clusterflock)

Blogging the periodic table

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 13, 2010

Sam Kean is blogging the periodic table of elements over at Slate.

Starting today, I’ll be posting on a different element each weekday (the blog will run through early August), starting with the racy history of an element we’ve known about for hundreds of years, antimony, and ending on an element we’ve only just discovered, the provisionally named ununseptium. I’ll be covering many topics-explaining how the table works, relaying stories both funny and tragic, and analyzing current events through the lens of the table and its elements. Above all, I hope to convey the unexpected joys of the most diverse and colorful tool in all of science.

If you like that, Kean has written a whole book on the topic.

Periodic table of awesomeness

posted by Jason Kottke   Dec 18, 2008

A periodic table of awesomeness featuring Bacon as element #1, Laser as #21, and Black Holes as #82. I like bacon. Bacon is a close personal friend of mine. But can’t we keep this overexposed pork product out of it for once? (via rw)

Periodic table of videos

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 15, 2008

The Periodic Table of Videos is a collection of videos about all the elements. All your favorites are there…Neon, Rubidium, Lead, Plutonium.

I did embarrassingly bad on this Elements

posted by Jason Kottke   Apr 02, 2008

I did embarrassingly bad on this Elements of the Periodic Table quiz. I blanked after naming 17 elements in 2 minutes. Oh, and xylophone is not an element! My physics degree should be retroactively unawarded. (via mouser)

Periodic table of rejected elements, including Belgium,

posted by Jason Kottke   Feb 12, 2008

Periodic table of rejected elements, including Belgium, Antipathy, Visine, and Antigone. (via del.icio.us via kottke.org 8 years ago (it’s the time of year for recycled links, I guess))

An account of the discovery of Einsteinium

posted by Jason Kottke   Aug 09, 2005

An account of the discovery of Einsteinium and Fermium, elements 99 and 100 on the periodic table. They were generated by the detonation of Mike, the first hydrogen bomb to be tested.

Philip Stewart has constructed an alternate version

posted by Jason Kottke   Jul 19, 2005

Philip Stewart has constructed an alternate version of the periodic table of elements in the form of a “chemical galaxy”. “The intention is not to replace the familiar table, but to complement it and at the same time to stimulate the imagination and to evoke wonder at the order underlying the universe.”