Glossary to the Periodic Table of Elements
Actinides. A series of chemical
elements in the periodic table ranging in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103
(lawrencium), all of which are radioactive. Many are man-made.1
Alkaline earth metal. Any element in group
2 of the periodic table -- beryllium (Be), magnesium (Mg), calcium (Ca), strontium
(Sr), barium (Ba), and radium (Ra).1
The following elements in group 1 of the periodic table: lithium
(Li), sodium (Na), potassium (K), rubidium (Rb), cesium (Cs), and francium (Fr).1
Two or more forms of the same element that have different chemical
and/or physical properties.2
Alloy. A metal composed of two
or more elements.1
particle. The nucleus of a helium atom.3
Alternating current (AC).
Electric current in which the electron flow changes direction
many times a second. Alternating current is what powers most homes and businesses.4
Amalgam. A metal alloy containing
the element mercury.1
A drug doctors prescribe to treat bacterial infections.5
The basic particle of a chemical element.4
number. The number of protons inside the nucleus of
The radioactive decay of an element in which an electron or positron is given off.1/6
Organic compounds that include sugars, starches, celluloses,
and gums that are used as energy sources by the body.1/6/7
Carcinogen. A cancer-causing substance.
Catalyst. A substance that helps
promote a chemical reaction.2
Capable of burning.
A superior material created by combining two or more separate substances that maintain
their original characteristics.1/2
Compound. A substance composed
of two or more elements chemically bound together.
Condensation. The process by which a gas
converts to a liquid.4
Corrosion. The wearing away of
the surface of a substance (usually a metal) due to a chemical reaction.
Crucible. A container composed
of materials that are highly resistant to heat and corrosion, often used by scientists
to conduct chemical experiments.
Composed of crystals.
A device that accelerates charged atomic particles to speeds approaching the speed
Direct Current (DC).
Electric current in which electrons flow in only one direction.
Flashlight batteries generate direct current.4
Distillation. The process of separating
a liquid mixture by boiling it, then collecting and condensing the resulting vapors.1
Or deoxyribonucleic acid. A complex chemical compound found
in all living cells. It’s what makes up our genes, which carry the genetic code
that determines how our bodies develop.1
A metal’s ability to be drawn into wire without breaking.
The process by which dissolved metals are separated and collected
by passing an electric current through the solution containing them.
Extrude. To force a material,
such as metal or plastic through a die or very small holes to give it a certain
A communications technology in which data, in the form of light
pulses, is transmitted through thin, glass fibers.1
Filament. A thin electrical conductor,
usually a metal wire, which is heated by the transmission of electrical current
to produce light.2
A device that converts a chemical fuel (often hydrogen) into electricity.1
The process of coating a metal, usually with zinc, to protect it from corrosion.
Gamma ray. Extremely high-energy
radiation, similar to X-rays, but much higher in energy and with a shorter wavelength.8
warming. An increase in the earth’s average surface
temperatures due to heat-trapping greenhouse gases produced from the burning of
Greenhouse gas. Air pollutants, like carbon dioxide, produced from the burning
of fossil fuels, which trap heat in earth’s atmosphere and contribute to global
The time it takes for a radioactive isotope to lose one half of its potency.1
Henri Becquerel. French physicist who discovered radioactivity.1
Inert. Having a limited ability
to react chemically with other substances.
Infrared radiation. A type of radiation
invisible to the naked eye that falls between the visible light and microwave regions
of the electromagnetic spectrum.1
Not composed of plant or animal matter.2
A chemical substance used to kill insects.
A positively or negatively charged atom or group of atoms.1
Ionize. The process by which
an atom or group of atoms becomes positively or negatively charged due to the gain
or loss of electrons.
Isotope. Atoms of an element
with the same atomic number but different atomic masses and distinct physical properties.1
A series of chemical elements in the periodic table ranging in atomic number from
57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium), all of which share similar properties.
Or light emitting diode. A semiconductor (often made of gallium, aluminum and arsenic,
among other elements) that produces light when electricity is passed through it.6
Linear accelerator. A device in which subatomic particles
are accelerated in a straight line to produce radiation, sometimes X-rays.6
Malleability. The ability of a metal to
be worked into varying shapes.2
Polish-born French physicist and two-time Nobel Prize winner
best known, along with fellow physicist and husband Pierre Curie, for her discovery
of several radioactive elements.1
Metal. A substance with the ability
to conduct heat and electricity that is also ductile, malleable and highly reflective.1
A chemical element that falls between the metals and non-metals in the periodic
Methanol. A flammable liquid
alcohol often used as a solvent, a fuel or a fuel additive.1
Molecule. A group of atoms bound
together in a definite arrangement.4
Or National Aeronautics and Space Administration. Government
agency established in 1958 for the exploration of space.1
Neutron. A subatomic particle
with no electric charge that resides in an atom’s nucleus.1
Any of the elements in the right-most column of the periodic table, including helium
(He), neon (Ne), argon (Ar), krypton (Kr), xenon (Xe), and radon (Rn).
Nuclear accelerator. A device that accelerates electrically
charged atomic or subatomic particles and collides them with targets to produce
Nuclear battery. A device that produces electricity by capturing electrons from
a radioactive material.9
Nuclear chain reaction. The process
by which a uranium atom splits, or fissions, and collides with other uranium atoms
causing them to split as well, generating intense heat.
Nuclear control rods. Devices made of neutron-absorbing
materials used to control the nuclear chain reaction in a nuclear reactor.
Nuclear fission. The splitting of an atom’s nucleus,
resulting in a high amount of energy.1
A mineral deposit containing a valuable constituent, like iron,
that can be mined.2
Organic. Composed of plant or
A chemical process by which an element’s atoms lose electrons,
commonly by combining with oxygen.6
Oxide. A chemical compound composed
of oxygen and another element.2
A region in Earth’s upper atmosphere composed of high concentrations
of ozone which filter out the sun’s harmful ultraviolet radiation.1
An electronic device implanted in the chest to help steady the heartbeat.2
The characteristic of a material to be weakly attracted to
a strong magnet.1
table. A matrix of the chemical elements arranged in
order of increasing atomic weight.1
A material that luminesces when excited by electrons. Often used in television picture
The process by which the chlorophyll in the leaves of green
plants converts sunlight into energy.1
French physical chemist and husband of physicist Marie Curie.
Co-winner of the Nobel Prize for physics in 1903. He and Marie Curie are credited
with having discovered the radioactive elements radium and polonium.1
Pigment. A substance that adds
color to other materials, often paint.
group. Six metallic elements in groups 8, 9
and 10 of the periodic table which share similar chemical and physical properties.
They include ruthenium (Ru), rhodium (Rh), palladium (Pd), osmium (Os), iridium
(Ir), and platinum (Pt). 10<
Radioactivity. The tendency of some
elements to spontaneously emit subatomic particles or radiation as their nuclei
Rare earth elements.
Thirty elements in group 3 of the periodic table that compose
the lanthanide and actinide series of elements.11
Refractive index. A measure of the bending of a beam
of light as it passes through a medium such as glass.6
A chemical substance used to kill rodents.
Salts. A substance that results from the
chemical reaction between an acid and a base. Common table salt is one example of
A controllable conductor of electricity. The element silicon
is an example of a semiconductor.
Silicate. A large group of minerals
containing primarily the elements silicon and oxygen. Often used in the manufacture
of glass and cement.1/2
Smelting. The process of separating
a metal from its ores.1
Solder. A metal alloy with a
low melting point used to join metal surfaces like pipes and electronic components.1
Steel. A metal alloy composed
primarily of carbon and iron, usually incorporating other elements as well.1
The changing of a solid to a vapor without it passing through
the liquid phase.1/6
A negatively charged (anion) oxygen molecule. 10<
Synthesize. To create something
from individual parts.2
Tarnish. The tendency to become
discolored due to exposure to air. Usually applies to metals.6
Any chemical compound that includes the element tellurium as one of its components.
The man-made elements following the actinide series in
the periodic table with an atomic number greater than 103. 10<
Transition element. Any of the
elements in groups 3 to 12 in the periodic table.
Transition metal. See transition
radiation. Often referred to as UV rays. A form of radiation
produced by the sun that extends from violet to X-rays within the electromagnetic
Chief ore of tungsten, commonly associated with tin ore in and around granite. Such
occurrences include Cornwall, England; Northwestern Spain; Northern Portugal; Eastern
Germany; and Myanmar, the former Burma.1
- A Guide to the Elements, Second Edition, Albert Stwertka.
- Science Encyclopedia.
- Webster’s New World Clilege Dictionary