The first of our ten elements was hailed as the philosophers’ stone when it was discovered:
Phosphorus was the first element ever isolated scientifically. In 1669 Hennig Brand evaporated water from urine, then allowed the residue to fester for a few months.
When he distilled the residue, one of the substances that appeared was phosphorus. The new element glowed in the dark.
Some alchemists thought Brand had discovered the philosophers’ stone! He hadn’t, but he had shown other experimentalists that great new discoveries were possible.
Carbon forms more compounds than any other element. More than half of all known chemical compounds contain carbon.
Gold is the most ductile, or drawable, of all metals. Gold can be drawn so thinly that just 600 grams (1.3 lb) of gold can be drawn into a wire long enough to circle the entire Earth! This gold wire would have a diameter of 1 micrometer.
Palladium has an incredible ability to absorb hydrogen. A one liter cube of palladium can absorb 900 liters of hydrogen gas. When it does this, you can actually see the metal expanding.
In 1989, Professors Martin Fleischmann and Stanley Pons of the University of Utah used palladium in a famous experiment.
In their cold fusion experiment, they claimed to have transformed hydrogen into helium plus LOTS of energy.
Palladium’s role was to compress the hydrogen and catalyze the fusion reaction. This was a room temperature version of the way our sun releases energy. Fleischmann and Pons never retracted their cold-fusion claims, but most scientists don’t believe cold fusion has been observed. It would transform the world if a path to cold fusion could be found.
Oxygen is the most abundant element in our bodies. Two-thirds of ‘you’ is oxygen: much of it is bound up in water molecules.
Rhenium is the element with the highest boiling point. It’s hard to imagine a metal turned into a gas, but that’s what happens to rhenium at 5596 °C. Funnily enough, rhenium’s existence was predicted by Dmitri Mendeleev in 1869, but nobody could find it. Then, in 1913, Henry Moseley provided more evidence to predict rhenium ought to exist, but it still took another 12 years before the element was actually discovered.
7. Americium… etc
americium, curium, berkelium, californium, einsteinium, fermium, mendelevium, nobelium, lawrencium, rutherfordium, dubnium, and seaborgium were all discovered by research teams including Albert Ghiorso, who took part in the discovery of 12 elements.
He participated in the discovery of more elements than any other scientist in history.
Iron is the most abundant element on Earth. In fact, our planet contains sufficient iron to create three new Mars-sized planets made entirely of pure iron.
Also, iron in the brains of some animals gives them a sixth sense, allowing them to navigate using Earth’s magnetic field.
Cesium is at the heart of the world’s most accurate clock. A natural vibration in cesium atoms acts like a pendulum to keep time. The cesium clock built by the U.S. National Institute of Standards and Technology will not lose or gain as much as a second in 300 million years.
Livermorium is the least stable chemical element known. Its longest lived isotope has a half-life of just 0.053 seconds. Blink and you’ll miss it!