Tiny cities made of crystal

Ken grows crystals. Specifically, he grows free-standing crystals made of bismuth, a metal resembling lead. It has some very interesting properties - it crystallises at right angles, and tends to form shell-like "hoppers", and natural oxidation gives the crystals a very beautiful iridescence. The end result is something that looks like a tiny futuristic city of gleaming metal skyscrapers.


The good news is, Ken sells his crystals online, and of you can't afford to buy one, you can win one by correctly guessing its weight. Ken says:

Ever drink Pepto-Bismol? Well if you have, then you've swallowed some bismuth. Don't be afraid. Pharmaceutical applications are one of the main uses of bismuth. Bismuth is the 83rd element on the periodic table of elements. It sits just to the right of lead. Which means it is a bit heavier then lead. Because it is non-toxic, bismuth is now being substituted for lead in shot gun shells. No more contaminating our ponds with lead.


Great stuff!

More like this

Elemental mercury is a slippery substance. In the earth's crust, it anchors itself by bonding with other elements, creating materials like the rough coppery rock cinnabar, a crystalline combination of mercury and sulfur. Once cinnabar, or other metallic ores, are mined and crushed, mercury can be…
A lot of science-fiction writers have spent a lot of time and energy hypothesizing silicon-based life. This isn't completely insane - if you go down a column of the periodic table, stuff tends to be the same. Fluorine, chlorine, bromine, and iodine all share properties, and so do carbon, silicon,…
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…
This guest post is written by Norman Holden, a Brookhaven scientist in the National Nuclear Data Center and a member of the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). After receiving his Ph.D. in nuclear physics from the Catholic University of America, he spent a decade at the GE…

But bismuth is radioactive! So we're contaminating our ponds with a radioactive substance instead of just toxic substance. I smell a conspiracy...

Ok, ok. Bismuth has a VERY long half-life and is not radioactive for any practical purpose.

By Alex Besogonov (not verified) on 24 May 2009 #permalink

Bismuth is actually a little less dense than lead: 9.78 g/cm³ versus 11.34 g/cm³. Next in the periodic table is polonium, which has two allotropes, both of which are even lighter than bismuth!

It seems like something very new and interesting for me because I have never read or seen anything like that in my life. By reading Alex's comment, I was afraid that it is something nuclear or whatever(radioactive) but thanks to the 2nd reply.

A rough estimation;

Given the density of bismuth in 2 above, and the pic that shows a very rough sphere of 2 - 3 cm radius, that lump is between 330 and 1100 grams.

I'll go see what my prize is.

If you've ever had pepto-bismol and had your tongue turn black/brown afterwards I believe that this is what causes that effect as well.

By Siveambrai (not verified) on 26 May 2009 #permalink

I think the coolest thing about bismuth is that is is diamagnetic, you can levitate a tiny magnet between two bigger chunks of bismuth!
This site showed me how, they offer kits, but I found all the stuff I needed between some old hard drives and some bismuth shotgun shells.

oh wow, those are beautiful. For some reason they remind me of Nicholas Fisk, i always thought the trillions would look a bit like thaat :)

I just had mind delivered from Ken, having read this blog months ago.

It's far more interesting and beautiful than his photos show - which is really quite something. I thought I knew what I was expecting in the box, but it isn't like that at all.

Quite, quite extraordinary.

that is really very interesting the shapes are very beautiful
so thanks god for creating the many beautiful thing

By khalid shehab (not verified) on 15 Apr 2010 #permalink

How is it that just anybody can write a blog and get as popular as this? Its not like you've said anything incredibly impressive --more like you've painted a pretty picture over an issue that you know nothing about! I don't want to sound mean, here. But do you really think that you can get away with adding some pretty pictures and not really say anything?

Wow, what a pretty crystal! I have some bismuth metal myself, could you explain how you made the crystal? It's large and fantastic.

@ 10 Thomas
You'd have to ask Ken!