Posted by: Green Knight | May 5, 2011

The Sixth Element

I really like the U. of Nottingham’s videos on the elements, and when I teach organic vs. inorganic chemistry in Hazwoper classes, I pretty much do it the same way as they do in their one for carbon: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QuW4_bRHbUk, except that I don’t have all the groovy props and machines.  Prof. Martyn Poliakoff’s periodic table ties and coffee mugs are the envy of this mad scientist, and his Einsteinian hairdo is pretty cool too.  In one episode, a guy at their nanotech lab uses a laser to put the whole freakin’ table on one of the Prof’s hairs, including Copernicium.  They discuss C-60 and C-70, but not C-50 for some reason, and if you didn’t know, “buckyballs” or “fullerenes” were named for R. Buckminster Fuller, the late inventor and futurist from Alton, Illinois, who created the geodesic dome, which carbon-60 resembles.  Alton is just across the river from me.

If we captured all the CO2 we generate and built stuff out of the carbon, we’d have more oxygen to breathe.  Just a thought.

P.S. real lead (Pb) was probably never used in pencils.  During the Napoleonic wars, French artists couldn’t get hold of graphite from Britain due to the naval blockade, so Nicolas-Jacques Conté, whose last name you’ll see on boxes of pastels, invented the graphite-clay mixture used today.  Also, the Brits called graphite “black lead,” and used it to blacken cast-iron appliances like stoves and fireplace covers as a protectant.  Black-lead probably was the term because it was soft like lead but black instead of gray.  You could probably already tell that I’m a fan of the history of science…James Burke’s various “Connections” TV programs are incredibly cool, and get my neurons firing all at once.  But I’m also the guy whose cat would bat at the changing shapes on the screen when the evolution episode of Carl Sagan’s “Cosmos” was on.

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