Adventures in Ethics and Science

Periodic table of wow!

I suspect I’m late to the party on this one, but I just had occasion to check out The Periodic Table of Videos produced at the University of Nottingham. It’s a collection of 118 short videos (ranging in length from approximately one to ten minutes each), one for each of the elements currently in the Periodic Table of the Elements.

I did not watch all 118 of them, but the ones that I did watch covered, among other things:

  • What mercury has to do with doorbells.
  • What molybdenum has to do with beans.
  • What sulfur has to do with Silly Putty.
  • What lead has to do with submarines.
  • What fluorine *might* have to do with The Wizard of Oz.
  • What “Derbyshire neck” is.
  • How to keep tadpoles from turning into frogs.
  • How much you can expect to pay (in pounds sterling) for a balloon full of xenon.
  • Why manganese is hard to pour.

The videos feature chemistry professor Martyn Poliakoff speaking about the various elements from his office in the Nottingham chemistry department. His delivery is low-key and personable, with an English accent most Americans will find charming. Much has been made about his Einsteinian cloud of hair, but personally, I’m more taken with his extensive water bottle collection and the random pieces of glassware he pulls out of his desk.

Many of the clips also include University of Nottingham lecturer Peter License talking about — and doing stuff with — the featured element in the lab. We see beautiful crystals of various solids, lovely purple vapor as solid iodine sublimes, and many, many balloons filled with different elemental gases.

As you might predict, you’ll have the opportunity to cry, “Oh, the humanity!” at least once.

In the process of these demonstrations, License tells us about elements he used to play with at school (before concerns about their toxicity were as strong) and shows us his scars from playing with white phosphorous (right before he shows us white phosphorous in action). Given this background, when he mentions that chlorine gas is something he’s happy enough to leave in its cannister, I share his respect for it and am glad to be separated from that gas cannister by a continent and an ocean.

The video clips are updated periodically. My favorite demonstration may be in the recently updated video for cesium. It features a small metal collider (SMC) in action on a glass-encased gram of cesium poised above a container of water.

No matter what your favorite group or period on the Periodic Table, you will find something to like — and something you didn’t know — in these videos.

Comments

  1. #1 Kim
    September 30, 2008

    Too cool!!! The cesium demonstration was pretty funny, especially as I was anticipating a huge pooofff and flare!

    My son watched the gold video and then we had to figure out how many $ were equivalent to 10 pence. So we got some math, some international banking, and some science all combined in a 3-minute video.

    I’m forwarding the link to my son’s 7th grade science teacher. She could probably use an “element a day” bribe.

  2. #2 Harris Kol
    September 30, 2008

    Why doesn’t the cesium going in the water lead to an explosion?

    If sodium does shouldn’t cesium? Maybe the cesium came out of the water bowl. With sodium, the solid chunk of sodium usually, I gather, gets tossed away by the initial explosion before it can react.

  3. #3 IBY
    October 1, 2008

    Quiet late, I would say. It doesn’t matter, though, they are still cool videos, they don’t get old for me.
    @kim: I expected more too, but the speed and intensity
    in which it reacted was incredible.
    @harris: At High School, a teacher put sodium in water, and the reaction is far slower, and equally explosive, but it wasn’t exactly a bomb. Maybe what you are talking is getting a huge chunk of sodium in water, which I say, would be pretty stupid.

  4. #4 Alex Besogonov
    October 1, 2008

    There’s a great throw-sodium-in-water resource: http://www.theodoregray.com/PeriodicTable/Stories/011.2/

  5. #5 Taxorgian
    October 1, 2008

    Harris:

    The reason cesium does not act the same way as the other alkali metals is that it is more dense than water. Instead of the reaction being at the surface, so the hot hydrogen is vented directly from the hot water-metal surface to the air, it bubbles through the water first, so the hydrogen is not above ignition temperature when it gets to the water surface.

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