118 chemical elements - we must favourites - but why might we prefer some elements over others?
Date : 16/01/2019
Which criteria do you choose selecting your favourite element? Would your decision be based on the aesthetic sound of the name or its etymological roots? The periodic table is not short of fabulous sounding names and words with intriguing origins. Element names are taken from mythology, as in Mercury, the Roman god of messengers. They are named after the minerals they are associated with, for example silicon which is taken from silex, the Latin word for sand. More commonly elements are named after people or places, for example, the amazing chemist and physicist Marie Currie has two elements named after her, curium and polonium (from Poland, the country of her birth) Ytterby in Sweden has the most impressive record, spawning no less than four elements, yttrium, terbium, erbium, and ytterbium, their names based on the location the elemental ores were first located.You might consider choosing praseodymium as a favourite element, based on it being the only element consisting of six syllables. But, is it wise to choose a favourite element that is so difficult to pronounce correctly? With practice yes of course it is. There are plenty of other interesting looking and sounding names to consider dysprosium, darmstadtium, molybdenum and roentgenium, for instance. And of course, there s mendelevium, named after Dmitri Mendeleev, the man credited with inventing the periodic table. Although only a handful of mendelevium atoms have ever been synthesised, which means its characteristics can only be predicted.Chemists are more likely to make their choice based on the physical or chemical properties of the elements. Whereas gold has a historic beauty, its resilient lustre is surely challenged by the fleeting violet-coloured sheen exposed in freshly cut potassium. Other elements have more permanent colours the heavy red-brown of bromine, the purple vapour of iodine, and copper, which is copper-coloured. You may add to this list the beautiful pale-blue colour of liquid oxygen, or the different coloured allotropes of phosphorus and sulphur. But, do chemists do pretty? Some of us do. And what about the weird elements, the ones that don t quite fit expectations. Surely these are worth consideration too. Metallic elements like gallium, mercury (liquid at room temperature), and copernicium (a gas at room temperature). Personally, I think gallium is the most impressive, melting as it does when held in the hand. Possibly the weirdest of all the elements is helium, which as well as making peoples voices squeak, becomes a superfluid at extremely low temperatures and can defy gravity. Perhaps your favourite element is chosen simply because of what it is and how it connects with your personality. Some elements are exciting, vigorous and dangerous fluorine, chlorine, rubidium and caesium, for example. Others are resilient and dependable argon, gold, platinum and osmium, and very expensive too. Chemists will tend to be drawn towards the chemistry of each elements and the more interesting their chemical properties, the more interesting the element. On top of this list, without argument, is the element carbon. Carbon has amazing physical and chemical properties and is surely the default favourite element. Where would organic life be without carbon. But there are also important auxiliary elements critical to the creation of the universe and for sustaining life hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, sulphur and phosphorus. Add to these elements calcium, sodium, potassium, iron, chlorine well, you get the idea.Ultimately, any favourite element will probably tick several of the possible criteria boxes discussed. It s probably a good idea to treat the elements as you do your friends and family and have lots of favourites, for different reasons.
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