5 JAN 2023

Elementary my dear Anton

Atoms and elements

Last episode we were dragged down to hell through our naive use of magic and occult elements - this time we break free thanks to the real elements that make our world - the atoms. From our obsession with gold to burning diamonds with giant magnifying glasses we’ve long sought to control, create and transform the world. Beginning with the first nanoseconds of the universe we chart humanity’s understanding of these smallest of building blocks.

What are atoms?

We tell the story of the tiniest of building blocks atoms - the smallest particles of matter with a common chemical property.

Nanoseconds after the big bang the first electrons, neutrons and protons were formed but it would be around 2 million years until they coalesced into the first elements.

Everything you see, feel and touch is composed of atoms which have lasted billions of years and been in countless forms and composed countless objects and types of matter.

Our lives are governed by their reactions and interactions. We are built of the universe.

Co1 Mo3 Se4 Cr7 F13 Mn13 I14 Cu76 Zn2,110 Fe2,680 Si38,600 Mg40,000 Cl127,000 K177,000 Na183,000 S206,000 P1,020,000 Ca1,500,000 N6,430,000 C85,700,000 O132,000,000 H375,000,000 × a few hundred trillion

The chemical formula of humans

Gold, silver, tin, copper, lead, iron and mercury - classical civilisations had the knowledge different metals existed but it would take 1000s of years to form a theory and understanding of the building blocks that form the metals.

Anton and I recreate a Roman casting technique using cuttlefish bone moulds to get a closer look at one of the earliest metals humans would have worked - tin.

Elements are rarely found in their pure state, more often they are mixed with other materials forming molecules and compounds.

Separating them required great time, care and attention. Large apparatus such as burning glasses were built to focus the sun’s rays. Other times chemical reactions purified or parted materials, removing unwanted elements and chemicals.

This was mankind at the edge of knowledge - discovering the invisible, particles too small to reflect light. How did they do it? How did they know when what they held was a pure element, something unseparable into simpler chemical states?

The first person to put gold on his fingers committed the worst crime against human life.

Natural History, Pliny the Elder

Xenon: Xe, 54

A noble gas, Xenon glows when electrically excited. It’s chemically inert and is used to propel satellites through space!

Bismuth: Bi, 83

A metal that forms beautiful, geometric crystal structures. It’s used in cosmetics and is radioactive - but don’t worry, the half-life is thought to be billions of times the age of the universe!

Tantalum: Ta, 73

The metal with the third highest melting point of any element - 3015°c. It’s very stable and unreactive so perfect for medical applications. It’s value and rarity have lead to conflict over it’s value.

Vanadium: V, 23

Another metal it’s found in mushrooms, shellfish, spinach and black pepper. Small quantities of it are nutritionally important.

It doesn’t only make us stronger, adding just 1% to stainless steel makes it more shock and vibration resistant.

Zinc: Zn, 30

Small quantities of zinc are important for our immune system and metabolic health.

It is alloyed with copper to create brass.

I saw in a dream a table where all the elements fell into place as required. Awakening, I immediately wrote it down on a piece of paper.

Dmitri Mendeleev

The Periodic Table

Order and understanding of the elements, that seem so random in their behaviour, finally came 17 February 1896.

Russian Chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev, formulated his Periodic Table putting the elements into a structured order. His genius - leaving spaces for as yet unknown elements.

It is the function of science to discover the existence of a general reign of order in nature and to find the causes governing this order. And this refers in equal measure to the relations of man - social and political - and to the entire universe as a whole.

Dmitri Mendeleev

Futher reading


This transcript is automatically generated so may contain errors.

Previously, and the curiosity of a child, we were pulled down into the depths of hell. 

Welcome to. 

The curiosity of a child episode 44 Happy New Year to everybody. I hope you all had. A wonderful Christmas and everything. Did you, Anton? 

It was alright. Yeah, I said. 

OK, good, but should we get straight into the episode? 

Into the show. 

This could possibly be our most dangerous epicedium Anton. 

Oh no. 

If remember last time we were dragged down into the pits of hell when our bungee summoning spell went wrong, and some of this was because we had the free Amazon Kindle sample of the book. So I couldn't afford the full book, so maybe you could support us on Patreon, where we will be able to fund all the. Book buying and sound effects and hosting and also your future education and done. 

Yeah, hopefully we can get better quality episodes because at the moment I'm really stupid as as all listeners know and also I. I think I think it would be nice to go on patrol and get some exclusive rewards. 

That's right, yeah, which we'll try and put. 

Up with no promises. 

Yeah, they promises we have. We have a link on our website and on social media and in the show notes was I think another reason why it last ball went wrong was because we were using the wrong elements. I mean I didn't think that actually wind. 

What do others say? 

Earth, fire and water. Are the real elements of how the. World works, do you? 

No, I think we're gonna explore atoms. The real elements of this awesome world. I don't know this episode. We're exploring the elements, the atoms that make everything you see everything you touch, use and eat. They make up you. 

That's right, yeah, they are absolutely everything around us. Now, do you know where all these elements come from? All those things that make us up. And how they're formed. 

Uh, not exactly. 

OK, well I'm no expert on this. But I've got a a rough outline here, so we need to go right back to the the very beginning of time, the first nanoseconds after the big. 

Bang just before Granny. 

Just before running exactly yes, yeah, now the universe as we know it doesn't exist. Yet everything is just a mass of super heated particles are speeding about all smashing into each other. And then within. Half a second of these collisions, the first protons, neutrons and electrons were formed. Then in the next few minutes the protons and the neutrons they crashed together and they fused, creating hydrogen and helium nuclei as well as small quantities of lithium and beryllium. 

Brilliant, you're so good. 

So these are the most basic atoms, so if you know you got your nucleus in the middle which has a neutron and a proton combined together, that electrons are on the outside. Yeah, so these basic ones. They were just one 2-3 or 4 pairs of neutrons and protons together those elements. Now, after this mad rush of activity, things were calmer for nearly 400,000 years. 

I actually forgot Granny was that old man. 

I know it's shocking, isn't it? We all are, as you'll find out. 

I'm scared now for my life. 

But I wonder if time is passing really differently back then. 

Yeah so. 

Because time was kind of still forming as well itself. 

See episode 44 more in time. 

That's right. And at this stage the universe was more like a fog. And then you'd have light in all different directions. And in this kind of cloud you'd have nuclei and you'd have electrons all whizzing around for another 1.6 million years until they cooled to a relatively mild 1000 degrees Celsius. And then finally the electron started to join with the nuclei and the first atoms as we know them were born. Now the gravity of these new atoms are caused them to cluster together and to ever denser and denser clouds and this would generate lots of friction as they were rubbing together and they got so hot that they actually ignited and started nuclear fusion. So that's the stars being born. And then so you'd have the gravity pulling in on the star, then you'd. Have all the heat energy pushing outwards. And they would find equilibrium. And that's a star. It's a balance between gravity pushing in heat, pushing out, and that's how they keep. Their shape, that's cool. And at the very centre of these stars the temperature would reach 16 million degrees Celsius. And these extreme heats and pressures, the hydrogen helium atoms. They vibrate hard enough to meld, and they form other elements like oxygen and carbon so that actually merge together, because so much kind of intensity there. 

They're like crashing into each other and eventually they just. 

Yeah, being like crossed together, yeah, think of a pile up. Have just scored a goal or something. How hot that gets. It's horrible and and that's how these poor little early atoms felt. But these are still classed as light atoms. So how do we get? The heavier ones. Crashing pretty much yeah. So when like really massive stars far bigger than our sun have burned all their coral away converting into iron, they begin to cool down. Then as they do so, the force of gravity overwhelms the heat that's pushing outwards, and they rapidly collapse, and the outer star will smash into the solid. Iron Core and this happens really, really quickly, so you get like a massive speeds, and that's all these particles. Are actually. In the big. 

Explosion so they sort of imply. Food is that imploding or is that different where they get such, yeah. 

I guess it's an invasion cause it's going inwards. Yeah, yeah. And then there's so much energy in this explosion or implosion, so it goes supernova, and there's a shockwave that rips the star apart. As this happens, some of the atoms are fused together into heavier elements. And now all of these heavier elements. They start floating in space and they're circling and reforming, and the gravity is all pulling them together again and they become new stars, and more importantly for us, they become planets like Earth. 

Full of all. 

The wondrous and amazing elements that give us everything, including life itself. So we are all just one long running chemistry experiment so. 

I always thought the answer to life was 40. Two, but it's actually. 

Well, we don't know. The question. Is we know the answer and the Earth was created to as a giant computer to find the answer to 42. 

Yeah, OK. 

Need the Hitchhiker's guide to the Galaxy to get. That reference So I've got a chemical formula for you here containing a few elements. So can you just? 


Give our listeners a rough idea of what I've shown you. 

OK, so there's a lot of atoms. Hydrogen has 375 million oxygen with 132 million carbon with 85,700,000 nitrogen with six million 430 calcium with one million 500. That's that's quite a lot. And then. There's a lot more different types of atoms after that. I'm not reading all of that. 

Yeah, I think it's magnesium there 400,000, and so you know what this is. The chemical formula for. 


No, This Is Us. That's what humans are made of. But you have to times it by a few 100 trillion for each of those numbers. Oh, now shall we have a little experiment to just see how weird the elements are, and you can actually play along at home too. All we need is lots of the same thing. For example, some raisins or pennies or peanuts. 


Anton has now returned with some raisins, and he's going to put some on his plate. We need, that's enough, yeah? 

Yeah, OK, So what do I? 

Do OK, so each of these raisins, whatever you've got, is going to represent one atom. You need to remember that. 


All the atoms are are protons, neutrons and electrons just mushed together and bigger and bigger quantities. 

One second so. Are we making the the human body here so I gotta get 3 trillion? 

No, no, thankfully not doing the human body. We don't need that money. OK, so. If you take out one of the raisins from your pile, OK, now that's a hydrogen atom, so this is a gas. It's explosive, it's 2/3 of water and it has one proton, 1 neutron and one electron and boiling point is minus 200. And 50 degrees C. Now take a second reason. OK, and put it with the first reason. Now imagine these be mashed together. This is helium, which is another gas. Now this is 2 protons and two neutrons and two electrons, but it's not explosive. Take a third razor. 


Now this is lithium. It's an alkali metal. And it's got a boiling point of 1342 degrees C and it's 3 protons, 3 neutrons, and three electrons. If you put down water, you'll catch them fire. 

I was about to put in. 

Water and 7UP actually used to contain lithium until 1940. 8 and if you had a fourth Raisin, how many neutrons protons? Electrons do you have on that one? Yeah, four of each yeah. So what exactly are we doing when we add another Raisin to represent the subatomic particles? All we're doing is adding more of the same stuff, aren't we? We're not doing anything else. Now brilliant if you take a fourth one. That is another outline. Earth, metal and it's transparent to X-rays, and it's used in nuclear warheads as it can block neutrons flying about. Now if you've got 16 of. Them Yep. Don't worry if you can't count that high now that's sulphur and it's a non metal. It stinks of rotten eggs and bright yellow. Now if you go up to Tomic #29 that's copper, which is called a transition metal. It's reddish brown, it's hard, and it's great conductor of electricity. Add four more to that and we have arsenic atomic number 33. Once an important ingredient and green pigments such as Shields, green is also highly poisonous and some people suspect Napoleon was killed by the green wallpaper. Carter is an exile. And 47 that's silver. A precious metal that was used to create mirrors. As it say reflective, but these reflections could be more permanent as silver nitrate salt is light sensitive and enabled the earliest photography. 54 protons, neutrons and electrons. You get zalam and natural gas that leave bright when electrically excited and is also used. Power engines and satellites. 

I like xenon. 

79 is gold melting point, 1064 degrees doesn't Harnish and one more proton neutron electron. What do you get? 

Ah, mercurie. 

Yeah, mercury melting point minus 39 degrees CA silver coloured liquid metal. That's highly toxic. Then one more. 88 radium radioactive and lays in the dark. Just from adding more of the same stuff together, so I hope that what you can see is that all the elements can be wildly different, and this difference is just coming from adding more the same. It's like if you were to put your raisins in your mouth and the first one tastes normal. Put in two and taste a roasted chicken. Put in three at the same time. We've got vanilla ice cream that says on the tongue. Eat 12 at once and you're poisoned 60. Five and your head explodes. You're lucky that you were only eating raisins, and the combination of atoms that makes them up is really delicious. Some things contain much worse combinations of atoms than raisins, so how smelly was my great London stinkweed creation? 

Disgusting if you want to hear my live reaction episode 30. 

Yeah, that's a good one. Well, in these you got some combinations of atoms and molecules which are proper phanan and methanethiol, and they're much worse. And these two combinations of atoms are so bad that they can cause unconsciousness. Spontaneous vomiting and even death. 

Euphorbia resin Ferrer plant contains a chemical with a Scoville heat unit value of 16 to 160 billion. The hottest chilli is only about 2,000,000 scovilles that's spicy enough to kill. 

That's crazy, that's really hot, and there's another chemical that's 230,000 times sweeter than sugar as well. 

I wanna try that. 

I think I think probably kill you as well. 

Ohh I don't wanna try that. 

But pleasing and exotic as they sound, all these things are simply made of the elements, the same as everything else. So these basic elements, these atoms, they're both really simple, yet magically complex at the same time. But if they're, say, random in their behaviours, how can you ever hope to understand in highest their potential? Well, first we need to find them, don't we? And some are really rare, so there's a single flake of protactinium which weighs 125 grammes in the entire world. So all there is of it, how do you find something far smaller than the eye can observe? Something too small to even reflect waves of light? 

Well, probably the first people to understand the world is made of incredibly small building blocks where the atomist philosophers of ancient Greece. Born around 460 BC. Greek philosopher Democritus. Was a sense. 

That's the test. 

Democritus, Democritus was a central figure in the development of atomism, atomism, the theory everything is made of tiny particles called atoms. 

I'll just interrupt here, so atom actually used to mean. Undividable, but we now know it is made of separate subatomic particles. Sorry, please resume. 

Thank you. 

He believed that only two things exist. The atoms and the void void a space between atoms, which allows matter to move. Without the void, nothing could move, and nothing could change. To Democritus, atoms were indivisible. Nothing smaller could exist, and came in many different shapes, giving them different properties. Water was smooth and round, so able to roll and flow. Iron atoms were rough and jagged, clinging together to form a solid body. His atoms were also eternal. They were never created or destroyed, but the items they were made from could wear away and form new things. 

So that's actually pretty close to how we understand atoms today. It's amazing to think that he understood this purely by observing the world, so I guess from Democritus onwards we just start to learn more about the atomic world. 

No, a certain guy called Aristotle disagreed. He knew everything was made from wind, fire, water, and earth. We've already said this is wrong and everyone seemed to believe him. 

Yeah, we know how much trouble that got us into last episode, don't we? Thank you, Aristotle, and just think he's held it to such a great thinker, but in many ways his works held. Us back for such a long time. And it would actually take until 18th of July 1985 for a testable atomic hypothesis to be formulated by a certain Mr. Einstein. 

I like. 

Him yeah, good hair. Now was working in the Swiss Patent Office. He came across a 1827 paper by a Scottish botanist named Robert Brown and Annette Brown described the random movement of pollen and grains, floating and water, which is now called Brownian motion and he couldn't explain it. He actually thought the pollen might be alive in the water and what Einstein. Proposed was that the pollen was being bombarded by water atoms and then he created a equation to test this idea writing. 

It is hoped that some Inquirer may succeed shortly in solving the problem suggested here. 

Brilliant, brilliant accent. I actually thought I was in the room with the spirit of Weinstein. And and his theory was soon tested and proved to be correct. So we actually had evidence that atoms existed. That's good we have actually since managed to photograph atoms using scanning tunnelling microscopes, which can see distances smaller than the waves of visible light. And in 2013 IBM created a stop motion. Animation using single atoms called a boy and his. Atom Yep. And we'll have this in our show notes and on our Twitter. Chair pad where you can watch the animation you saw a bit of it. 

The other day, didn't you? Uh-huh, I don't get how they made the atoms in that shape. 

Yeah, I don't actually have know how they move the maybe magnetism. I don't know. Anyway, let's head back to Ancient Greece now. This point not catching on there was an understanding that different metals existed, such as gold, silver, copper, tin, lead, mercury and iron. And I read in one of my books, but I can't find it now that round one of the mines there was actually silver bubbling out of the ground, so I guess there's geothermal activity there which heated up and due to the relatively low melting point. The silver or tin whatever came to the surface. So the world was kind of seen as alive. Actually Newton when he was looking at the elements he believed that they were alive because you get the veins of the ore like in Minecraft getting down through the earth. They were almost like tree roots and things aren't they? To the ancient peoples, each of these metals was understood to have different properties and values. So gold is seen as the most viable being bright, like the sun, and never tarnishing. Now tin and copper, on the other hand, they could be combined to make bronze and metal much harder than either alone, but also relatively easy to cast and work with. And then tin has a very low melting point of only 231.9 degrees Celsius. So we decided that we would recreate an old Rayman karting technique where molten metal would be poured into moulds. Made with cuttlefish bones. So actually when you were ill the other day before Christmas, that's how long we've been working this episode I went down the beach and I collected some cuttlefish. So I've got a little recording of. And then we've also got a recording of us casting the metal. 

And remember previous episode we were talking about the divine phallus. We may have cast that I think our our video as well of us casting it, will be on Patreon. 

Yeah, I'm going to put it up on our patron. So yeah, you can see. 

No one will see it. 

Us in the. Wood burner actually making it, say let's play the recording. 

I'm down the beach looking for some cuttlefish which the Romans would use when they're moulding tin items they'd actually carve into the cuttlefish bone to make moulds and it's you might be able to hear the law of. The sea behind me. It's quite a cool December morning. I haven't found any yet and I'm down here by myself as antennas. Unfortunately got his. Knees strapped up after a playground injury. Good hunting now. As I've gone up to the top of the beach where I should have gone before where there's lots of seaweed and kelp, and also all the cuttlefish brains here. So I've just got two full big sized ones which would be perfect for carving. Anton should be excited to see these, but he doesn't know about the experiments yet. 

Now we're actually using the fires of hell here from where the bunch you. Took us. Yeah, so you can already hear them roaring away because we are trying to fashion some tools in which to escape and return to you so we can actually record this episode and properly. We're going to leave that in the fire, so it's very laid out and point, and I'm just going to. 

Close the door for a bit. 

Very hot. What's gonna happen to our little pot? 

Well, that's me. That's stainless steel, which is a melting point of about 100 and 1400 degrees. 

So it shouldn't. 

Melt no, it shouldn't melt. 

Wow, that is very very. Hot you're opening the door there. 

Yeah, that's right. 

My eyes eyes are melting right now. 

Mike, can you? 

Oh yeah, it's starting to. 

Do that. 

Melt can you see? 

How liquid? It is, yeah, and the surface tension kind of holds together like mercury looks. 

Right, should we about pouring this then? 

Yeah, I'm excited. 

And put that back in. That's very very, very very hot, so you can't. Touch it OK. 

I wasn't planning to. 

Now if we added some copper to that, what metal would we make? 

We were with 10 and copper. We make bronze. 

Yes, exactly. 

So he took. 

What a minute or something to melt? Right now let's close the fire and make sure everything's done, and let's just leave those and we should take them out the mould tomorrow and hopefully. Off any of the. Like residue saver. That was really hot. Wasn't it doing that so could you imagine how it must have felt doing this in an industrial scale 2000 years ago and maybe doing something with melting copper which got a melting point of over 1000 degrees? To make bronze. I mean way hotter than we had there for thousands of years. Our experimentation with the element. And have allowed us to grow and give us advantages not only against nature but also against our fellow man. So roughly 4000 years ago we allied coupled with tint create bronze so hard and malleable and perfect for tools and weapons. It was a huge advantage over stone or wood. 1000 years later we had replaced bronze with iron forging stronger. Days with which to conquer ploughs. With which to till and tools to harvest and build and create. So important were these materials that we actually named errors after them, didn't we? The brooms and the irons ages? Empires were built on bronze and iron and gold. 

And as we said at the beginning of the episode, the elements are the building blocks of the universe which have accompanied us on and been such a big part in our early technological evolution. So naturally also found their way into our culture. 

That's right, not always in material form, but sometimes in language itself. Pliny the Elder wrote about gold. 

It is the only battle that loses nothing by contact with fire. 

Perfect, so how is something marked as the best? 

It is gold standard. 

Yeah, it's called the gold standard, isn't it? Or something like is the gold. It's the top. It's the best or you think of the medal tables or if you got a fancy credit card or bank account then that would be platinum. So where does this idea of where you come from? It could be from 2 scientists who in the early 1800s purified platinum from Platina, and sold it as 6000% profit. Or if you want to make a product that's seen as quality or clean, what element would be good for that silver? Yeah, and also has. You can use silver oxide on keyboards to keep them clean and door handles and things. In hospitals. Now in the 50s, cranium was all the rage. It was the new hotness and then came titanium. So if you add that to your product name it gives it a modern sophisticated feel, doesn't it? 

All new titanium toilet cleaner, yeah? 

It's not always positive though, so Reagan was once the new darling, but not for long when it dangerous became apparent. Is the unique properties when protons, neutrons and electrons combine into all the materials in the universe that give us our love of them and also drive us crazy? As Pliny said. 

The first person to put gold on his fingers committed the worst crime against human life. 

That's a pretty big statement, isn't it? Obsession with wealth and gold and materialism. Ever since the fate of humanity has been linked to that of the elements. We knew of a handful in ancient times, but their discoveries would start to dry up during the Middle Ages. Then in the 1700s, incidentally, when we started to get really good laughs, things really began to pick up pace, modern practises, scientific theory and reasoning, all led to a flurry of new discoveries and inquiry. China for so long, the dominant scientific and technological force. Began to give up some of its lead to Europe and the late early modern period and the use of silicon dioxide to create glass was one factor. As it was adopted across Europe but not in China. Where there is a preference of porcelain. So if you picture a science lab, what do you see? 

Glass beakers and flasks, test tubes. 

Exactly, yes, there's lots of glass there isn't there. And what's amazing about glass is it's very chemically inert, so you can put all sorts of things in there and it won't react and it's also impermeable, so it holds liquids in. So it was a massive enabler of chemistry. So without glass, modern chemistry wouldn't have been possible. Pioneers such as Carl Wilhelm Scheele. Joseph Priestley and Bernard cortiz. Now had the apparatus and basic understanding to go in search of and separate different compounds and elements. They think most of them when you you don't find most elements in their pure states always going to be mixed in with other material. But you and me may still go unnoticed, even though they allow the modern world, but their new slipped a few elements you liked, didn't you? 

Mm-hmm so my first one Zenon let me get my special book of knowledge. OK on pages. 

OK, I'm going to look at my periodic table, so that's atomic weight 54 xenon. 

So I like this because it looks really cool and I think it's. A gas. 

Yeah, it's on the neighbour. 

Gases Mm-hmm I I just like the look of it let me let me read a little. Bit about it to you. 


Then on is so rare that there's only one atom of this gaseous element for every 10 million other atoms in the air. I'm looking at the one next to it now and I wish I picked Krypton. 

Because that looks cool too. That's another gas now. What's amazing about these is when you run. Or electrically stimulate them. They all glow and xenon will be used in car headlights to make them brighter. And, uh, 2019 RAC studies show that 60% of the. So they get dazzled by oncoming vehicle lights and 70% get dazzled by them in the rear view mirror and 91% of people that car lights are too bright now thanks to xenon. 

That's not a Kickstarter to make new new not so bright lights for every car. 

Yeah, I think it's gonna be hard to sell that one. All the noble gases are actually really chemically inert. They don't react with many things, they're very stable. OK, so I think you got another one. You got bismuth now. 

Haven't you, yeah. Bismuth is my favourite looking one. 

Chemical element #83 

We'll link some pictures to bismuth, I think because it looks really cool. Nice colour. 

It's just the one with all the square crystals. 

I'm not sure if this is 100% correct, but from memory. Bismuth was our first. Element that was discovered by a scientist. It's radioactive, but yeah, but still it's weirdly like. Relatively stable has been for the last few million years. 

Oh yeah. Actually yeah, the half life's very, very low and that was for a long time it. Wasn't thought to be radioactive. Did you know that you can actually dissolve it in nitric acid and you would create a white coloured cosmetic that was similar to lead? But it wasn't as dangerous as led to know that would pop your skin, yeah, but with the bismuth based one during a day out in the cities all the sulphur in the air, from the coal burning it would turn your face. A kind of brownie colour, or rather, the the cosmetic brownie colour, but still used today and some cosmetics to give her presence. Should we go on to the next one? 

Yep, tantalum. 

And this is element #73. 

I think what drew me to tantalum was once again it looks really cool, but it's got some uses that I wouldn't expect, like like artificial joints. So if you have a hip replacement thing, yeah, I know. Tantalum has the third highest melting point of any element, 3700 degrees Celsius, making it perfect for use in nuclear reactors. 

Yeah, nice. Do you know how it. Got its name. Oh, it's named after a Greek king called Tantalus and he was punished for stealing from the gods. And what they did, they put in a pool of water that he wasn't unable to drink from. And it's because, again, it's pretty in there. It doesn't react very much, so I think that's why it's going to be good for medical uses. But you can put it. In the. Body and it's not going to do anything bad. Unfortunately. It's also got a bit of a downside to its history because it's really important in modern electronics. It's it's you make very small components with it so. Mobile phones and stuff aren't possible without tantalum, but it's also quite rare, so it's led to international tensions and during the Civil war, in the Democratic Republic of Congo, it's actually being used to fund both sides. Fighting against each other, so again, it's showing that, like Penny said, about gold. Isn't that it's? It's our obsession with these materials. 

Then next one is vanadium or vanadium. 

It's element #23. 

I like the look of this one. I like the red crystals. I also got drawn to it because it's found in a mushroom as well. 


And some of the uses of it is to make tools which have been alloyed with steel. And venereum. 

Yeah, that actually makes it more resistant to vibrations and shocks. You only need 1% of it added. 

And also I quite liked the Damascus steel knives from Babylonian times, is it? 

I'm trying think when they go back to yeah always from over Damascus, still from at the Saracens, which you can't call it that anymore though, can you? 

Yeah, they're pastries. The capital city of Syria. Yes so sorry, innocence. 

Yeah, and the Crusades. Yeah, it's important to keep us healthy as well. We need really small amounts of it in our body. And like I said, you get it from mushrooms and shellfish, spinach and black pepper up to 36. If you know the. History of pepper. We've linked a. Lot of episodes we have right, let's do one more element and element #30. That's 30 protons. Electrons in neutron. 

I like zinc because at school I have been doing some experiments with it. We've done some experiments with our Mel science kits, which are really good as. Well, yeah, and the ore of it looks a lot cooler than I was. 

Expecting wow, that's so shiny and they top the kind of cubes as well. Black keeps, that's very cool. Yeah, so zinc you can alloy it with. And I actually tried to do that when we were doing our melting of our tin, but it was a little bit scary, but the proper equipment you got to get much hotter. For zinc it's up to 600 degrees I think, and you can also mix it with copper brass. 

I think that we've done that. But it was the mixing the zinc and the copper. 

Yeah, so you did that chemically rather than the heat. Yeah, I've got about that. Yeah, and yeah, so brass was actually known as a metal before a zinc. Because you often get it occurring in the same or in the same place, so when. They dug it. Up there was already sort of premixed. Anyway, so that's a few elements that you like, isn't it? 

I like elements actually. No, I think. 

About it really interesting. I mean, I've been fascinated doing all the research here and you really start to think. About it is like mine, Blaine. But there's something missing from our story, so we've looked at all these incredible elements and their properties. But it's all a bit random, isn't it? 

Yeah, I think that it's been so chaotic because we don't have a a table for them. I think we might call it the periodic table of elements. 

Could you put them into a table because they just to me? Yeah, we'll pick them up and one's exploding in water. One's kind of a gas another's a metal one melts. 

Can can we sort them by the number of? Of protons and stuff they. 

Have well, let's see if anybody has managed to do this, shall we? So why is one thing a metal, another a gas? Why does one glow and another conduct electricity? Is there no order to this chaos? Is there no guide for scientists? 

Enter Dmitri Mendeleev, Russian chemist, and highly bearded man. 

Yeah, he's got lovely beards. There he is there his desk. Have a picture in the same 8th now. He was born in 1834 in a village in Siberia and here is the youngest of 13 or maybe 17. I've read different accounts, children. And his father was a school principal and teacher and his mother was from a well known family of merchants and he founded the first printing house in Siberia. And there's his parents. Yeah, they I know she looks quite Moody and he's got a funny tuft of. 

He looks he. Yeah, he doesn't look quite so hairy nice. 

Hair on the top of his head. Mutton chops though. 

Yeah, we should just rate people and how hairy they. 

Are yeah. The, uh the undertow ranking yeah. OK so yeah his parents, they they were certainly not at the top of society but neither were they at its bottom. Now, when Dmitri was still a teenager, his father actually went blind, so he was forced to help financially support the family by teaching science, so I don't know what all his older brothers and Sisters were doing. No, I don't know why has it come down to the youngest one. It's a familiar story. Uh, but it was a really bright young man and he's 15. His mother decided that he needed a better education, so they set out on foot to trek across Russia to search for any university for him to attend. After nearly 3000 kilometres and at least a year of travelling, they reached Saint Petersburg. So if you look at the map there. You can see how far he. 

Travelled, Oh yeah, it's a good job. He didn't waste his education. 

Yeah, it's a long way, isn't it? But sadly, by the time that reached Saint Petersburg, his mother Maria, she was in poor health and she actually died. But not before she saw him attend in Petersburg at State University to study chemistry, so she didn't see. 

Oh, that's good. 

All this excessive guard to have, but he would have made her proud. He was one of the greatest chemists of his day and he was a natural, passionate communicator, rather like us, and he had made. 

We don't, we don't. Need the greatest chemist. We're just the greatest. 

Ohh yeah yeah and here go on to make one of the most important contributions to modern science. He would bring order to chaos. Us, he'd make the elements make sense as far as that's possible, and he'd even predict the properties of unknown elements yet to be discovered. But how is this possible? What witchcraft could this be? 

The periodic table. Yeah, there had been several attempts to organise the elements in the past. German chemist Johann Dobereiner categorised them by their properties such as lithium, sodium and potassium reacting with water. And being soft enough to cut with a knife. Prior to this, Antoine Leviosa put them into groups of gases, metals, nonmetals, and earths. It was far from perfect, however his gases contained light and heat and the earth, chalk, silus, excetera. 

Yeah, so not exactly the uh. Correct chemical arrangements there old reapings. 

Or just any element correct element at all there. 

Yeah yeah, yeah. 

The element of light. 

Did you know that Lavoisier he had a magnifying glass 2.6 metres wide? Well, really it was what's called a burning glass that was used to focus the sun's rays into 2.7 centimetre point of really intense heat. So you can see. 

That sounds like. Pretty Prime Aunt Vernon. 

Yeah, you can think of it as a precursor to particle accelerators, really. And the one that one the ones we used was called the great burning glass of True Dane. And it could burn a or rather melt a copper penny in just 30 seconds on a hot day. You could also use it to burn gold and tin and even diamonds, and by doing that he discovered carbon which element 6 and essential for life and got a picture here of on the burning machines and we have this and it's small so it's big, isn't it? 

It's very big. That's a nice picture actually. 

Lavoisier, along with James this priestly, who was also a theologian, talk about nominative determinism and Carl Scheel, all discovered oxygen around the same time as well. So there's lots of activity going on in this period. So when heated, mercury combines with oxygen and it turns red, creating mercury oxide. Now previously the Act of burning was thought to remove what was called phlogiston. From the material being burnt I've flogged on which I think I'm mispronouncing that was seen as a sort of essence of fires. It's a bit like the old elemental fire you would have had with wind, water, and air. However, when weighed, the mercury oxide was heavier than the original mercury, so that meant that something from the air a gas had to have been combined to increase its mass. But of course, to be able to do that, you need to have laser and laser mercury. You can't just do one atom, which we had no way of measuring things that small. Now further experiments were made including reversing the process which released the oxygen which Priestly wrote about as. My reader will not wonder that after having ascertained the superior goodness of the deflocculated air by mice living in it, I should have the curiosity to taste it myself. I have gratified that curiosity by breathing it. The feeling of it to my lungs was not since me different from that of common air. I fancied that my breast felt peculiarly light and easy for some time afterwards. Who can tell? But that in time, this pure air may become a fashionable article in luxury. Hither are only two might to myself, for had the privilege of breathing it. And here's right, it did become a fashionable article of lochry with people using oxygen tents today it was amazing. He was like the first person to experience pure oxygen. 

And then the two. 

Mice, the Voyager he would go on to discover water made of. So what? Two elements? Is that? 

Hydrogen and oxygen. 

Yeah, and it also ascertained that the air that we breathe is mostly nitrogen and oxygen. So amazing how through all the apparatus that being developed, they're able to combine and separate different molecules and compounds and then isolate these different chemicals or atoms and elements rather. But sorry we were talking about the periodic table. For me, Yep. 

In 1863, Englishman John Newlands arranged the 63 known elements in ascending order by atomic weight and discovered they almost followed a cyclic pattern. He put them into rows of seven elements so 1234567 and then 8910. 11121314 et cetera. So the 2nd row would start at the 8th element and the 3rd, 15th like I said, et cetera. He called these periods. 

So this is like journals or magazines being called periodicals. They're published at regularly intervals, so there's a regular repeating pattern it seems. 

The columns he called families and they contained similarly behaving elements. There was a problem with Neeland's table though. It was wrong. It didn't work. 

What OK? 

When some elements such as cobalt and nickel didn't fit his table, he put them in them both in the same box and called them the same elements. This is where the genius of Mendeleev comes in. He made a deck of cards containing the elements, allowing him to play with their position and grouping the cards made it. Easy to reposition and experiment. I like cards. 

You do like cards, and that's also shown the importance of play in experimentation. 

As you like. And on 17th of February 1896, after three days and nights without sleep, he collapsed on the floor, exhausted, surrounded by his cards no. He had a vivid dream of his cards dancing before his eyes, a dance of the elements and the organisation of matter itself. As they danced, they fell into place and they did follow a cycle, but not the forced one of John Newland's. 

Amazing quite pertec somehow as well. Didn't know he was also a consultant for the government where one of his tasks was improving agricultural productivity and cheese making. And we all know that cheese gives you odd dreams. 

The 63 elements we had discovered weren't the complete set. There were holes in the table in the cycle. We were missing 32 germanium, 61 promethium, 72 hafnium while leaving spaces for these unknown elements. Order could be given to those we didn't know. 

Yes, it might seem obvious to us now that there were holes in the table, but it can be hard to appreciate. Just the genius of this idea, because it seems so simple, but. We don't know what we don't know, do we? 

Why? Why would there be holes in the table? 

These scientists they are trying to categorise the most diverse range of materials. Materials that make up everything, materials that too small for us to see. Materials that change properties with temperature. Materials that mix and combine. I mean, amazing to be able to find that pattern. 

And with mendelevich, table chemists were able to predict the properties of the missing elements based on their column and position. Suddenly the atomic world started to make sense. 

But now the question was why do they follow this cycle? I'm going to try and simplify this for you as it's quite complex. 

OK you. 

Mean you don't understand, it's easy. 

OK answer the basics and this comes down to. 

I'm not a genius. 

Well, basically the number of electrons they have. So if you remember back to the beginning, the atomic number increases with the number of protons, neutrons and electrons. The electrons orbit the nucleus, don't they? So as the number of electrons increases, so do like the layers in which they orbit or what's called shells. So if you got a periodic table which shows you the electron orbits, so it gets scientific, you'll see that within each column you will typically have the same number of electrons. So if you look at the Nobel gases, that's gonna be the far right hand column of your table. And you'll see that the last or the outer shell and all of them contains 8 electrons, doesn't it? If you gave one column to the left, they got fluorine, chlorine, bromine, iodine, et cetera. The outer shell contains 7 OK. Then if you go to the first column you've got, what is it? Potassium and sodium and things and I think it is, isn't it? And then they have only one electron in their outer. Shell, now it's actually the number of electrons that they have, which gives a lot of the properties of the element itself. So the Nobel gases, all of those, when they react to the electricity, like xenon, they illuminate it and they, and then with the potassium and sodium, put those in water and they catch on fire. So that's a really key factor for how they behave, and that's what the period is. That's what that cycle is, and that repeating. You also get the electrons. How they orbit around the nucleus. It forms different shapes and these are shared by groups of elements as well, and that's where we get like our metals and non metals and our Nobel gases etc from it from the shapes that the orbits make. And then finally some atoms they actually like to trade or share electrons, and this is what's called covalent bonds. And there's a couple different ways this can happen. So what most atoms will want to do to try and get 8 electrons in their outer shell? This is called the octet rule, and this is when they're they're most stable and least reactive, which why the Nobel. Prices don't react with many things. So if you take your last column of mobile gates with eight on, now each side of that is going to be elements with seven to the left of it and one to the right of it. Yeah, because remember the tables looping for each row, which means that. 

The cycle again. 

Exactly, it's the cycle, yeah? So when elements from these two columns come into contact with each other, they are going to try and share electrons in their shell. As an example, you've got element 11 is sodium, and then that's got what one electron is outer shell, doesn't it? Then element 17 is chlorine and that's got 7. So what happens when you combine chlorine? And sodium together. 

You get an 8. 

Yeah, so what's gonna happen is the one from stadium. It's gonna hop over into the chlorine. What is sodium chloride salt salt exactly? Yeah, common table salt. Another example is water, so watch that made. 

Oxygen and hydrogen. 

Yeah, so oxygen has six. Electrons in its outer shell, then hydrogen only has one, but it, what's it's H2O, isn't it? It's two hydrogen, yeah, one oxygen. So what's that add up to 88 exactly? So that's why they form these bonds and combined together. And then what you'll find is because of how. Elements atoms want to combine together with other ones to become stable. You don't often find them alone by themselves. In nature, they're always going to be in different combinations of these molecules, but something I'd like to look at in a later episode to actually discuss more. It's about 7,000,000 different compounds that we know about and there's actually a new one recently discovered on the meteoroids that hit the Earth. So there's a lot more to it than what I've explained here, but this basic principle helps you understand why many elements behave the way they do, and why they react and why. They form molecules. When put into the periodic table, we can suddenly see why lithium, sodium, and potassium all react with water and why? Xenon neon and argon delay when electrically stimulated, or why some elements are not as conductive as others. It gives order to the invisible. The periodic table shouldn't be remembered as. A chart of random numbers and letters on the classroom wall is so much more than that. By understanding a few simple rules, you unlock the building blocks of the universe. There's a beauty in its structure and in the elements of its chance. They give rise to the magnificence of nature of the stars that take our breath away of the air we breathe of food we eat of life itself, every taste, feeling, sensation, and emotionally feel all fully boiled down to the chemistry of the elements. Simultaneously complex and incredibly simple, visible and invisible, solid, yet mostly empty space. They are a paradox of our reality. For thousands of years we have strived to understand the building blocks of the world, but their story is so much longer. It stretches back to the beginning of time itself and it will continue until the very end. We are made of the remnants of exploded stars and long after our death. When no trace of humanity exists, the atoms that form our bodies and allow us to hear and understand the words that I'm saying now they could be part of a new star or even a. New alien life form. I think this is reason enough to want to understand to want to know our place in the universe. Many of the scientific pioneers followed a dead end paths such as trying to convert lead into gold or experimented purely out of curiosity or discovery. And the understanding or discover these new elements happened by accident. And this can be science at its best, play discovering curiosity, not for a fixed outcome with budgets and deadlines and performance reports, but just for something new for something undiscovered. And should we treat it more like art as something creative as ultimately a medium in which we find our place in our meaning? 

Very good. 

The view of science should be taken more of as a creative discipline at times and yeah, not forced into agendas like, oh, you got to hit this XYZ. We don't do that with other things. Maybe a little bit passionate there. 

Why not is everything that we just talked about? 

Exactly because you get people saying, oh, why do we spend millions growing plants in space when people on earth are hungry, but that that's the wrong question. I think it should be why do we spend millions on a single football player or painting or billions on entertainment or buying Twitter? Really, because through all this exploration and scientific knowledge, and we we can then. Progress ourselves as a species. I see one thing that I was reading about petrol cars used to have lead. They said that when there was lots more lead in the air because of that people's average IQ dropped by 12 points. So that's why you're cleverer than I am. 

But I was stupid as well at the beginning. 

So just I was imagining a point where in the future where if you don't understand these elements of these chemicals of what we're doing, could it be where we start putting so much of XY or Z into the atmosphere that we reach a point where we're too stupid? To fix it. And yeah, that's our episode on the elements mate, that's good. 

Well, I can say. It was good. One last patch go. On one last push, it was really good. 

Wow, thank you yeah, so I'd like to do a little bit more on maybe chemical compounds and things, but this is looking at the structure of the atom mostly and the little bit about the discoveries. 

Maybe a mini series on individual atoms as well? Maybe that could be on a. Patreon, Oh yeah, that's a good. 

Idea, yeah. 

Hey John, we're actually doing stuff. 

I hope we've done OK, so first time recorded for two months, so a bit rusty. 

I still got a bit of a blocked nose, that's why we couldn't record because before every 5 minutes I was just sniffing. So and also we were locked in the. 

Pits of her. Oh, we were locked in the pits of hell and we have escaped and so remember you could back on some patron where I'll be able to cover cost of books and then buy untamed rate education. Speaking of which, you can follow us on Twitter at. 

At Curie child pod. 

That's right Instagram. Yeah, you can also find us on Facebook if you look there. Yeah, so you find on social media come say hi, visit our website whichisthe.com. That's right. 12 days of Christmas. 

At Curie child pod. 

These little builds Christmas theme which is really good. 

Oh yeah. That is the curiosity of gaming on YouTube. 

That's right, yeah. So thank you very much for listening. I hope you found this interesting and I hope I didn't make. Too many mistakes with the science. Thank you very much for listening and we will be back soon with another episode when I what what we're going to do next episode. 

It's like. 

I don't know, maybe we should ask our listeners. 

Yeah, contact us. What do you want to learn about? We want to hear from all of you and don't. Forget to review us at the same time. Wink, wink uh-huh. 

Maybe we'll do a yeah, leave a review and ask and tell us what you want to hear next. Maybe we'll do a poll on Twitter as well, potentially of a couple of. Different subjects, we'll see. 

Yeah, yeah, that's a good idea. Anyway, thanks very much and stay curious and look out for atoms. 

Uh, I haven't seen any for a. While actually they're everywhere, everywhere, everywhere. Bye bye.