Actinium

Atomic Number 89
Atomic Weight 227.028
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Known as an actinide in the Periodic table, actinium is the first in this series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the Periodic table and all have similar properties. Actinium is a highly radioactive metal and glows in the dark. It is extremely rare and is found in very small amounts in uranium ores. For example, only 2 parts of actinium are found in every 10 billion parts of uranium ore.

How It’s Used

Because of its extreme radioactive nature, there are few commercial applications for actinium outside of research conducted in highly controlled settings.

Aluminum

Atomic Number 13
Atomic Weight 26.9815
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

One of the most important and widely used metals known to man, aluminum is also the most abundant metallic element in the Earth’s crust. For such a common element, it’s surprising that aluminum never occurs freely in nature. Instead, it is obtained from many common minerals, including bauxite, its principle source. Aluminum is a silvery-white metal that has many desirable properties. It’s light, malleable and ductile. It is also a fine conductor of electricity and heat that doesn’t spark. Aluminum is a relatively soft metal whose strength can be greatly increased by alloying it with other metals like copper, silicon or magnesium.

How It’s Used

Aluminum’s uses vary widely. In fact, the list of its industrial applications is virtually endless. Everything from beverage cans, foils and utensils, to high-tension power cables, car bodies, aircraft frames and wings are made of aluminum. When aluminum is evaporated in a vacuum, a highly reflective substance is created which is used in mirrors, decorative packaging and toys.

Americium

Atomic Number 95
Atomic Weight (243)
Room Temperature Man-made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A man-made radioactive element, americium forms when plutonium, which is created as a byproduct in nuclear reactors, decays. It is a silvery-white element that is relatively unreactive in air at room temperature. Americium is the seventh in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the Periodic table and all have similar properties.

How It’s Used

Because it’s radioactive, americium’s uses are fairly limited, although it is used in very small amounts in some smoke detectors. In these safety devices it ionizes the air between two electrified plates and creates a flow of current which, when disrupted by the particles in smoke, sets off an alarm. Because americium emits gamma radiation, it is also used in portable X-ray machines.

Antimony

Atomic Number 51
Atomic Weight 121.75
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A brittle, toxic metalloid, antimony is not considered to be an abundant element, but it is occasionally found free in nature and in small amounts in a number of minerals, one of which, stibnite, is its chief source. It is a poor conductor of heat and electricity and is relatively unreactive in dry air; although it will tarnish in the presence of moist air. Antimony has been in use by man since ancient times. Artifacts made with antimony dating as far back as 2200 BC have been discovered in both Egypt and Iraq.

How It’s Used

Pure antimony has few industrial uses on its own, but it is commonly employed as an alloy with other metals to increase their strength and hardness. Some of its alloys have a tendency to expand upon cooling. This makes them useful in casting applications, like typesetting, since the metal spreads evenly into small openings in the mold. Antimony is often alloyed with lead to make components in lead batteries. Some of its compounds are used as flame retardants in paints, plastics and fabrics.

Argon

Atomic Number 18
Atomic Weight 39.948
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

The third most abundant gas in the air we breathe, argon is colorless and odorless. It is also inert, which means it doesn’t react chemically with other elements to form compounds. Argon falls within the group of noble gases on the Periodic table and is obtained through the distillation of liquefied air.

How It’s Used

Like neon, argon is often used in the colorful fluorescent lights seen in restaurant and shop windows. It gives off purple light when electrically charged. Since argon is inert, it is used to fill incandescent light bulbs. It keeps the filament from corroding and won’t react with the filament’s heat the way oxygen would. Welders use argon gas because it creates a safe atmosphere that won’t react with the heat generated by welding torches.

Arsenic

Atomic Number 33
Atomic Weight 74.9216
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

One of arsenic’s most interesting properties (aside from the fact that it’s a deadly poison) is that it doesn’t melt when heated, at least not at normal pressures, but turns directly from a solid to a gas in a process known as sublimation. In order to melt pure arsenic, it must be heated at high pressures. Arsenic is a dull, gray, metalloid that tarnishes in air. Rarely found in its pure form in nature, it is obtained instead from the minerals realgar and orpiment. Arsenic and its compounds must be handled with care because of their high toxicity.

How It’s Used

A few of arsenic’s compounds are used in insecticides and rodenticides. In the days before antibiotics, small doses of arsenic were used to treat various medical conditions like skin disorders and intestinal infections. Today arsenic has gained importance in the electronics industry where it is used to make the transistors for computer circuit boards, while gallium arsenide is used in the LEDs (light emitting diodes) found in flat panel television and computer screens.

Astatine

Atomic Number 85
Atomic Weight (210)
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Considered a semi-metal, less than one ounce of astatine exists naturally in all of the Earth’s crust, making it one of the rarest of elements on the Periodic table. It has, however, been synthesized in minute amounts, which is how virtually all astatine that has been studied has been obtained. Since less than one gram of it has ever been produced, very little is known about it. What is known is this: it is extremely radioactive and shares some properties with iodine, which sits directly above it on the Periodic table.

How It’s Used

Because so little astatine has ever been produced, there are no uses for it outside of scientific research.

Barium

Atomic Number 56
Atomic Weight 137.33
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

If you like rock music, barium is an element you should have no problem remembering because it’s known as a heavy metal. Barium is an extremely dense, silvery white alkaline earth metal. Like its other alkaline earth siblings, it’s fairly reactive in air, which causes it to oxidize quickly. Its reactive nature makes it necessary to keep it stored in an oxygen-free environment, usually under kerosene. Like the other metals in Group II of the Periodic table, barium is not commonly found in its pure state but rather in minerals like barium sulfate. The English scientist, Sir Humphry Davy, isolated the element in 1808.

How It’s Used

As part of the insoluble compound barium sulfate, barium is a powerful diagnostic tool used by doctors to examine the intestinal tract. Drinking a solution of barium sulfate makes the intestinal tract stand out clearly on an X-ray. Doctors then can see if there are any abnormalities that require further attention and possible treatment. Because they emit a bright green light when burned, both barium nitrate and barium chlorate are used to manufacture fireworks.

Berkelium

Atomic Number 97
Atomic Weight (247)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

Berkelium is named after Berkeley, California, where it was first discovered by scientists. A man-made, radioactive, metallic element, berkelium is synthesized by bombarding americium atoms with alpha particles. Berkelium falls within the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanide, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the Periodic table and all have similar properties.

How It’s Used

Because only small quantities of berkelium have ever been produced, it has no uses outside of basic scientific research.

Beryllium

Atomic Number 4
Atomic Weight 9.01218
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Steel-gray in color, beryllium heads up the column on the Periodic table of elements known as the alkaline earth metals. Beryllium is fairly reactive, like the other alkaline earths, and is never found in its free state in nature. It has several important properties that make it useful commercially. Interestingly, it’s one of the lightest of all metals, yet it is stiffer than steel. It also has one of the highest melting points of any light metal. Beryllium is highly resistant to corrosion and a good conductor of heat. A number of minerals contain beryllium, including beryl, the source of emeralds. Beryllium is a highly toxic element and must always be handled with care.

How It’s Used

Because it is transparent to X-rays, beryllium is used to make the tubes found in X-ray machines. Another of beryllium’s important uses is as an alloy with copper. Beryllium copper won’t spark when struck with a hard object, which makes it desirable in applications where explosive fumes might be present, such as welding or in factories that make rocket fuel. And because of its high melting point, beryllium is used in high-temperature environments like nuclear reactors.

Bismuth

Atomic Number 83
Atomic Weight 208.980
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Bismuth is a pinkish white, brittle metalloid with a very low melting point. It sometimes occurs in its pure form in nature, but is also available in the minerals bismite and bismuth glance. However, it is most often obtained commercially as a byproduct in the production of lead, copper and tin.

How It’s Used

One of bismuth’s compounds, bismuth subsalicylate, is used in over-the-counter preparations that help settle upset stomachs. Another compound, bismuth oxide, is used as a yellow pigment in some cosmetics. Some of bismuth’s alloys have a tendency to expand upon cooling, making them useful in casting applications, like typesetting, since the metal spreads evenly into small openings in the mold. Its low melting point makes it attractive as a component inside electrical fuses and in sprinkler systems. When too much electricity passes through a fuse, the heat generated melts the filament, which is often made with an alloy of bismuth, breaking the circuit. The plugs at the tip of some fire sprinklers are often made of a similar alloy, which melts in the heat of a fire, releasing water.

Bohrium

Atomic Number 107
Atomic Weight (264)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A synthesized transition element, only a few atoms of bohrium have ever been created by scientists. And because it has a half-life of only 17 seconds, little has been observed about its physical and chemical properties. Russian scientists claimed to have discovered Element 107 in 1976, but their claims were rejected because their findings could not be confirmed. Then, in 1981, German scientists synthesized it and had their findings confirmed in 1992 by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). The current name, bohrium, was adopted by IUPAC in 1997. Bohrium is one of a number of “heavy” radioactive elements that have isotopes with varying atomic weights.

How It’s Used

Because of the difficulty in synthesizing it, there are no commercial uses for bohrium outside of research.

Boron

Atomic Number 5
Atomic Weight 10.81
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Boron is considered a bit of an outsider as far as the elements go, because it doesn’t fit neatly into any of the groups in the Periodic table. The group it is a part of – Group III – contains mainly soft, weak metals, like aluminum and gallium, while boron is actually a brownish crystal.

Like many outsiders, though, boron is really very interesting and extremely useful. It’s also a bit mysterious because, even though it’s rarely found in its pure form in nature, it’s widely used in industry. How is that possible? Because boron is found as a component, along with certain other elements, in some very useful compounds.

How It’s Used

Boron’s compounds are used to create everything from soap to heat-resistant glass, like test tubes and coffee pots, to antiseptics used to prevent infections.

One of these compounds is the plentiful borax, from which boron gets its name. Mined from dry lake beds mainly in the southwestern United States, borax is used in the manufacture of, among other things, laundry detergent.

Another important boron compound is boric acid, a weak acid used as an antiseptic. Boric acid is so weak, in fact, that it’s commonly used as an eyewash to cleanse and treat irritated eyes.

In terms of strength, boron nitrate, another compound of boron, is almost as hard as a diamond, which is no minor distinction for an outsider. A relatively new industrial application associated with boron cleanly converts the boron compound sodium borohydride into pure hydrogen gas, which can be used to power a fuel cell. The byproducts of this useful chemical reaction (in addition to hydrogen gas) are borax, which can be recycled back into sodium borohydride, also known as laundry detergent, and water vapor.

Bromine

Atomic Number 35
Atomic Weight 79.904
Room Temperature Liquid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

The only non-metallic, liquid element, bromine has a strong, unpleasant odor similar to that of chlorine. Mercury also is a liquid at room temperature, but mercury is a metal; bromine is not. Bromine is reddish-brown in color, like iodine, and it will burn skin on contact. In addition, it produces thick, noxious, red vapors at room temperature that can damage mucous membranes, so it must always be handled with extreme care. Bromine is obtained from seawater, salt mines and deep brine wells located in the United States in the state of Michigan and in the Great Salt Lake in Utah.

How It’s Used

In the past, one of bromine's most important uses was in the refining of leaded gasoline to prevent lead buildup in automobile engines. Since leaded gasoline has been almost entirely eliminated today in an effort to reduce air pollution, bromine's importance in industry has been greatly reduced. Some of its compounds, however, are still used in the manufacture of photographic film, pesticides, dyes and flame retardants.

Cadmium

Atomic Number 48
Atomic Weight 112.41
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A bluish-white, difficult to find transition metal, cadmium is soft enough to be cut with a knife. It also is extremely poisonous. Cadmium is contained in the mineral greenockite, but it is rarely obtained from this mineral. That’s because greenockite is scarce so mining it is neither practical nor worthwhile. Instead, cadmium is most often obtained as a byproduct of zinc.

How It’s Used

Although toxic, cadmium does have a number of commercial uses, especially as an alloy with other metals. It’s a component in the rechargeable nickel-cadmium (nicad) batteries that power laptop computers and other electronic devices. The blue and green phosophors in color television tubes are often manufactured with cadmium. In addition, it’s used to electroplate, or coat, steel, making it more resistant to corrosion. The solder that joins copper pipes and electronic components often have cadmium as a component. Because of its low melting point, cadmium is used to cap the overhead fire sprinklers housed in office buildings, hotels and other large buildings. The heat from a fire quickly melts the cadmium, setting off the sprinklers. This element is also employed by the nuclear industry. For example, it is commonly used in the control rods that manage the nuclear chain reaction in nuclear reactors.

Cesium

Atomic Number 55
Atomic Weight 132.905
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

It may be hard to find… Cesium is the rarest naturally occurring alkali metal in the Periodic table. It’s also the softest metal known to man. With a melting point of 77 degrees Fahrenheit, it will melt if you hold it in your hand. It’s also fiercely reactive. When cesium comes into contact with water it releases hydrogen gas in a violent explosion. It’s rarely found in nature in its pure form but is contained in the mineral pollucite, which is found in great quantities in Manitoba, Canada’s Bernic Lake.

How It’s Used

… but it’s always on time. Really on time. Cesium is commonly used in atomic clocks. It gets a bit complicated to explain, but cesium atoms resonate at such a consistent frequency that it would take 60 million years for the cesium fountain atomic clock at the National Institute of Standards and Technology in Boulder, Colorado, to gain or lose one second.

Because cesium is strongly photoelectric, meaning it easily loses electrons when struck by light, it is used extensively in photoelectric cells and in television cameras to form the electronic image. It also has been proposed for use in plasma propulsion engines for deep space exploration.

Calcium

Atomic Number 20
Atomic Weight 40.08
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

You know your bones and teeth are strong, but did you know they’re made of metal? Calcium is one of the alkaline earth metals, and it’s a major component in healthy bones and teeth. As our bodies develop, huge amounts of calcium are required to help them grow and stay healthy. Calcium is available from many sources, milk and cheese being chief among them. Other dairy foods like ice cream and yogurt – the yummy ones – contain calcium, too. And, it’s also found in vegetables, like broccoli, Brussels sprouts and cabbage.

Calcium is a fairly reactive metal and is rarely found in its pure state. Instead, it’s found in a wide variety of common compounds. When exposed to air, pure calcium forms calcium oxide. When it reacts with water, it forms calcium hydroxide. Mollusks, sea creatures like snails and clams, need it to build their shells. When mollusks die, the breakdown of their shells creates limestone, a rich source of calcium for industry. Limestone deposits are found all over the Earth, making calcium the fifth most abundant element found in Earth’s crust.

How It’s Used

Calcium is not only important in building human frames, it’s vital in the construction of skyscrapers. That’s because limestone is a key ingredient in the cement used in building construction. And lime, or calcium oxide, another important calcium compound, is used to make iron. In the classroom, calcium sulfate is found in the chalk teachers use to write on the blackboard.

Californium

Atomic Number 98
Atomic Weight (251)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A man-made, highly radioactive, metallic element, it was first synthesized by researchers in 1950 in Berkeley, California, hence its name. Californium is the tenth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and all have similar properties.

How It’s Used

As a portable neutron source, californium has many potential applications. It is currently used in both land mine detection instruments and neutron moisture gauges, which are used to locate water and oil reserves. Both of these devices use similar technologies in that they locate a target by measuring the speed at which the neutrons they emit get reflected back at them.

Carbon

Atomic Number 6
Atomic Weight 12.011
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Sometimes Compound Form

What is it?

Good question. Let’s see. How about the primary building block of all life forms? That’s correct! Carbon is essential to all life on earth, both plants and animals. In fact, without it, the DNA that controls how our bodies develop would not exist, because DNA is basically a long carbon molecule. Carbon is freely available in nature in different forms called allotropes. One such allotrope is diamond, which is the form it takes when it exists under enormous pressures for millions of years. Another allotrope is graphite, also known as pencil lead. Carbon also exists in minerals. The mineral in which it occurs most abundantly is coal. Carbon atoms are extremely adaptable and capable of bonding with many other elements to form chains that result in millions of known compounds. An example is carbon dioxide (CO2), which we exhale as we breathe. And plants use carbon dioxide for photosynthesis, the process of turning sunlight into energy. This process also results in the formation of other carbon compounds, as well as the oxygen we need to live. This process is part of what is known as the carbon cycle. Carbon is also a component in hydrocarbons, or fossil fuels, from which oil and natural gas are derived. Carbon is so pervasive in the world around us that it is the basis of an entire intellectual discipline known as organic chemistry, which is the study of chemical compounds consisting primarily of carbon and hydrogen.

How It’s Used

Carbon’s uses are limitless. And new applications for it are being developed by scientists every day. In the form of diamonds, one of the hardest natural substances known to man, it’s used in jewelry and also in high-speed cutting tools. In addition to pencil lead, graphite is also used as a dry lubricant and in steel making. Coal is used as a fuel source in electric power plants and to heat homes and buildings around the world. But one of the drawbacks to burning coal is that it is a major source of the greenhouse gases believed to be responsible for global warming. Carbon is also used in plastics and composites manufacturing. Carbon composites are extremely strong substances that are used by aircraft manufacturers to make planes lighter and stronger, resulting in better fuel efficiency and fewer greenhouse gas emissions.

Cerium

Atomic Number 58
Atomic Weight 150.11
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Known as a rare earth metal – or lanthanide – in the periodic table, cerium is the second in this series of elements, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. All lanthanides have similar properties. Cerium is the most abundant of the rare earth elements. A soft and ductile metal, cerium is iron-gray in color. It is never found in its natural state but, instead, is obtained from monazite sand, which contains all of the rare earth elements. Cerium is the only rare earth metal that can be easily separated from the others. It is a fairly reactive element. Simply scratching it with a sharp object will cause it to ignite. Cerium is the only rare earth metal that can be easily separated from the others.

How It’s Used

Pure cerium’s reactive properties make it useful as a component in lighter flints. One of its compounds, cerium oxide, is used to coat the walls of self-cleaning ovens. It is also used in high-intensity lights, like search lights and movie projector bulbs.

Chlorine

Atomic Number 17
Atomic Weight 35.453
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

You know it’s used to keep swimming pools clean and clear, but did you know you use one chlorine compound to season your food? Scientists know it as sodium chloride. We know it as table salt. Chlorine is a greenish-yellow gas and although corrosive and poisonous, it is actually very friendly, in a chemical sense. It combines with just about every element on the periodic table. Because of this ability to mix and mingle, it never occurs freely in nature. Instead, it must be obtained through electrolysis from a number of abundant minerals, which are usually found in salt mines. One of these minerals is sodium chloride.

How It’s Used

In addition to its use as a water purifier, chlorine has many other industrial uses. It’s used in the manufacture of plastics, textiles, solvents, disinfectants, and dyes. It’s also an important component in the bleach we use to keep our laundry clean. Chlorine is a component in chlorofluorocarbons, which were widely used in aerosol spray cans and air conditioning systems until they were found to play a key role in damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. Chlorofluorocarbons such as these have been phased out over the years in an attempt to reverse this damage.

Chromium

Atomic Number 24
Atomic Weight 51.996
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Without chromium the world would be a much duller place. In its pure state it’s what makes car bumpers sparkle, while its colorful compounds make rubies red and emeralds green. Pure chromium is a lustrous, hard, steel-gray metal that shines brightly when polished and has a high melting point. In some of its forms it’s also quite toxic and must be handled with care. Chromium is primarily obtained from the mineral chromite, but it has been known to exist in its pure state in trace amounts.

How It’s Used

In addition to the shiny chrome plating on a car’s bumper, chromium and its compounds are also used to give paint various colors. Glass manufacturers use it to give glass a green sheen. It’s used heavily by the steel industry to harden steel and protect it from corrosion. Chromium is also used to manufacture stainless steel, the metal found in utensils. That knife and fork you use to cut your broccoli probably contain some amount of chromium.

Cobalt

Atomic Number 27
Atomic Weight 58.9332
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A hard, shiny, bluish-white transition metal, cobalt is also ferromagnetic. This means it becomes magnetic in the presence of other magnets. Cobalt can be extracted from minerals like cobaltite and erythrite, but it is more commonly obtained as a byproduct of nickel, silver, lead and copper ores.

How It’s Used

If you’ve ever heard the sky described as being cobalt blue, it’s because compounds of cobalt have been used for centuries to color porcelains, tiles and glass. And, because of its lustrous appearance, cobalt is occasionally used in electroplating. It is most commonly used as an alloy with other metals to create high-strength magnetic steels with high-temperature resistance properties. When cobalt is alloyed with the metals aluminum and nickel, an alloy called alnico is created. Alnico is used to make permanent magnets. Because of their strength and resistance to extremely high temperatures, other cobalt alloys are used to manufacture high-speed cutting tools and dyes, as well as jet engine parts.

Copernicium

Atomic Number 112
Atomic Weight 285
Room Temperature Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Copernicium is a synthetic radioactive element and a member of the transuranic group of elements. First synthesized in 1996 by scientists in Darmstadt, Germany, it was given the temporary name ununbium in accordance with chemical naming conventions before being renamed copernicium, after Polish astronomer Nicolaus Copernicus. Copernicium is a heavier relative of zinc, cadmium and mercury. It has no known biological role.

How It’s Used

Due to its radioactive nature, copernicium does not have any commercial uses.

Copper

Atomic Number 29
Atomic Weight 63.546
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

If you’ve ever held a penny in your hand, flicked a light switch on or off, or turned on a water faucet, you’re familiar with the ubiquitous element copper. A brownish-red, soft, ductile transition metal, it is one of the best conductors of electricity, second only to silver, and an excellent conductor of heat. Copper is relatively unreactive with air and water, so it is excellent at resisting corrosion. Although copper turns green when exposed to moist air, this oxidation layer actually protects the metal underneath from further corrosion. Copper is chiefly obtained from many widely available minerals, but is occasionally found in its pure state in nature as well.

How It’s Used

Because of its many useful properties, copper has been mined and used by man for thousands of years. From coins to copper wire to the pipes that carry water to our homes, even to the Statue of Liberty (which is made of copper plates), copper and its alloys and compounds have seemingly limitless uses. All American coins are made from copper alloys primarily because they resist corrosion. In the past, pennies were made of pure copper. Today they are made of zinc with a copper coating. Copper alloys are used widely because they are almost always tougher than the original metals from which they are derived. Brass (copper alloyed with zinc) is a good example. It’s used to make things like musical instruments, as well as corrosion-resistant screws and other decorative hardware. Bronze (copper alloyed with tin) is stronger than wrought iron and more resistant to corrosion. It is used to make metal statuary, bearings, and some musical instruments.

And let’s not forget about copper’s biological importance. In trace amounts, it is an essential nutrient to plants and animals, including humans.

Curium

Atomic Number 96
Atomic Weight (247)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A man-made, radioactive, metallic element, curium is synthesized by bombarding plutonium atoms with alpha particles. Curium is the eighth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. All have similar properties.

How It’s Used

Currently there are few uses for curium outside of scientific research, but its isotopes are being studied as potential fuel sources for nuclear batteries.

Darmstadtium

Atomic Number 110
Atomic Weight 271
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Darmstadtium is named after Darmstadt, the German town where it was first discovered by scientists in November 1994. Its discovery involved a complicated, painstaking process. To produce one darmstadtium atom with a half-life of 1/1000th of a second, a lead atom was bombarded with billions upon billions of nickel ions over a period of several days in a nuclear accelerator. Subsequently, a longer-lived isotope of darmstadtium, darmstadtium-281, was produced. It has a half-life of about 1 minute.

How It’s Used

Because it is so difficult to synthesize and only a few atoms of darmstadtium have ever been created, it has no commercial uses.

Dubnium

Atomic Number 105
Atomic Weight (262)
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

Dubnium is an extremely radioactive synthetic element reportedly first produced by scientists in Dubna, Russia, in 1967. Like rutherfordium, its next door neighbour in the periodic table, dubnium experienced a bit of a naming dispute. Its discovery was challenged by researchers at the Lawrence Berkeley Laboratory in Berkeley, California, who were using more sophisticated methods but couldn’t confirm the Russians’ findings. After developing their own methods, the Americans successfully synthesized the element in 1970. The naming controversy quickly ensued. After years of controversy, its current moniker was officially adopted in 1997 by the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC). Dubnium is one of a number of “heavy” radioactive elements that have isotopes with varying atomic weights.

How It’s Used

Because of its very short half-life of 34 seconds, little is known about dubnium. To date, it has no industrial uses.

Dysprosium

Atomic Number 66
Atomic Weight 162.50
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Dysprosium has similar properties to most of the other rare earth elements. It’s a shiny, silvery metal that, although it oxides slowly, is relatively stable in air and soft enough to cut with a knife. And, like most other rare earths, it is principally obtained from monazite sands, a mineral that contains most of the rare earth elements. Dysprosium is the tenth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides, all of which have similar properties, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table.

How It’s Used

There are only a few commercial uses for dysprosium. Its magnetic properties make it useful in the manufacture of compact discs. And because of its high melting point and ability to absorb neutrons, which is key to controlling the nuclear chain reaction in a nuclear reactor, it has the potential to be used for this purpose.

Einsteinium

Atomic Number 99
Atomic Weight (252)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

Can anybody guess who this element was named after? If you guessed Albert Einstein, you’d be correct. (That was too easy.) A man-made, highly radioactive, metallic element, first synthesized by researchers in 1952, einsteinium is the eleventh in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and all have similar properties. Einsteinium is extremely difficult to produce. It takes years to synthesize even small amounts. The process requires a long series of nuclear reactions, each immediately followed by a period of beta decay. Only extremely small amounts have been synthesized for nuclear research.

How It’s Used

Because einsteinium is so difficult to produce and extremely radioactive, there are no uses for it outside of research.

Erbium

Atomic Number 68
Atomic Weight 167.26
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Like many of the other rare earth metals, erbium is shiny and silvery in color. It’s also soft and malleable, which means it can be worked into different shapes, and it’s relatively stable in air. Erbium, however, does distinguish itself in at least two ways. It is more scarce than most of the other rare earths and although present in monazite sands, the commercial source for almost all the other rare earth elements, erbium is instead extracted primarily from xenotime and euxerite. Erbium is twelth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. All have similar properties.

How It’s Used

Industrial uses for erbium are limited. The pink color of erbium oxide is sometimes used to color the glass used in sunglasses. In addition, glass fibers treated with erbium are used in fiber optics to help amplify electrical impulses as they traverse the length of the fiber-optics cable.

Europium

Atomic Number 63
Atomic Weight 151.96
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Europium is one of the most reactive rare earth metals. It is obtained principally from monazite sands, a mineral that contains all of the rare earth elements. It is the seventh in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. All lanthanides have similar properties. Europium is silvery-white in color that oxidizes quickly when exposed to air. It is one of the rarest and most costly of the rare earth metals. It is quite ductile and about as hard as lead.

How It’s Used

Europium metal has few, if any, commercial applications, but one of its compounds, europium oxide is used to make the red phosphors in color television tubes.

Fermium

Atomic Number 100
Atomic Weight (255)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A man-made, intensely radioactive, metallic element first discovered by researchers in 1952, fermium is the twelfth in the actinide series of elements. The actinides range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). Like the lanthanides, the actinides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and most have similar properties. Fermium is similar to einsteinium, its next door neighbor on the periodic table, in that the processes required to produce both elements is complicated and lengthy, requiring a long series of intense nuclear reactions, each immediately followed by a period of beta decay. In the case of fermium, this lengthy process produces very little of the element, which has a half-life of only about 20 hours. Since very little of it has ever been produced, not much is known about fermium’s chemical properties.

How It’s Used

Because of the difficulty involved in producing even small amounts of fermium, its uses are limited to scientific research.

Flerovium

Atomic Number 114
Atomic Weight 289
Room Temperature Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Flerovium was discovered in 1999 by scientists from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia and Livermore National Laboratory in Livermore, California. Flerovium was created by bombarding a target of plutonium-244 with ions of calcium-48, producing FI-289, which had a half-life of 30 seconds. The element is named after the Russian physicist Georgy Flerov who founded the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research. Flerovium is a highly radioactive metal, of which only a few atoms have ever been made.

How It’s Used

Due to its radioactivity it’s only used for research purposes.

Fluorine

Atomic Number 9
Atomic Weight 18.9984
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Did you know you brush your teeth with the most reactive element known to man? Actually, you brush with some of its compounds, sodium fluoride, stannous fluoride and sodium monofluorophosphate, all of which help prevent tooth decay. Sodium fluoride is also added, in minute amounts, to many municipal water systems for the same reason. In its pure, undiluted form, fluorine is a highly corrosive, yellow gas that will react with just about any organic or inorganic substance to which it is exposed. Glass, metals, ceramics and even water will burn with a bright flame upon exposure to pure fluorine gas. So, it’s probably a good thing that it doesn’t occur freely in nature. Instead, it is obtained mainly through the electrolysis of potassium fluoride and hydrofluoric acid, two of its compounds.

How It’s Used

As mentioned above, fluorine and some of its compounds are used in toothpaste and municipal water systems to prevent tooth decay. Hydrofluoric acid is used to etch – or dissolve – glass, giving it a frosted appearance. A form of fluorine plastic is used to make non-stick surfaces for frying pans and cooking utensils. Fluorine is a component in fluorocarbons, which were widely used in aerosol spray cans and air conditioning systems until they were discovered to play a key role in damaging the Earth’s ozone layer. Fluorocarbons such as these have been phased out over the years in an attempt to reverse this damage.

Francium

Atomic Number 87
Atomic Weight (223)
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Francium is an element with a number of important distinctions. Highly radioactive, it is the most unstable of all the alkali metals. It is also the heaviest. In addition, it is one of the rarest naturally occurring elements known to man. Some estimates say the Earth’s crust contains less than one ounce of it.

Francium was named after France, where it was discovered in 1939 by Marguerite Perey, a female chemist working at the famous Curie Institute in Paris.

How It’s Used

Because of its scarcity and extremely reactive nature, francium has no commercial applications. It is, however, occasionally used for research purposes.

Gadolinium

Atomic Number 64
Atomic Weight 157.25
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Like most other rare earth elements, gadolinium is a silvery-white metal that is obtained principally from monazite sands, a mineral that contains all of the rare earth elements. It is the eighth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides, all of which have similar properties, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the Periodic table. Gadolinium is lustrous, malleable and quite ductile. It can be worked easily and be drawn into wire. Despite the fact that it tarnishes in moist air, gadolinium is relatively unreactive in air. This makes it different from most of the rare earths. Below room temperature it becomes ferromagnetic, meaning if it is exposed to magnetism, it will become magnetic itself.

How It’s Used

When small amounts of gadolinium are added to steel alloys, their malleability and resistance to heat increase. Compounds of gadolinium are used in the phosphors in color television tubes.

Gallium

Atomic Number 31
Atomic Weight 69.72
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A very shiny, silvery metal, gallium is one of only a few metals that melts when held in your hand. When it solidifies, it expands like water does when it turns to ice, so it must be stored in flexible containers. Gallium doesn’t exist in its pure state in nature, but is available in trace amounts in a number of minerals, including bauxite and germanite. It is most often obtained commercially as a byproduct in the refining of aluminum, which is generated from bauxite. Unlike mercury, another liquid metal, gallium moistens the surfaces it touches, so handling it can be a challenge. In addition, it is not believed to be toxic like mercury.

How It’s Used

The temperature range at which gallium remains a liquid is the widest of any metal. This makes it useful in high-temperature thermometers. One of its compounds, gallium arsenide, is used widely in electronics manufacturing to make light emitting diodes (LEDs). LEDs are used as the light source in flat panel televisions, laptop computer screens, traffic lights, remote controls and even some Christmas tree lights.

Germanium

Atomic Number 32
Atomic Weight 72.59
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Primarily obtained as a byproduct in the production of zinc, germanium is a shiny, gray-white element that falls into a category in the periodic table known as the metalloids, which are a group of elements that fall between the metals and non-metals. Germanium is crystalline in structure and brittle and is an important semiconductor, which means it is a controllable conductor of electricity. Germanium shares many of its physical and chemical properties with those of silicon, which is located just above it on the periodic table and is also a semiconductor. Germanium is never available in its pure form in nature but is found in the minerals argyrodite and germanite.

How It’s Used

Germanium’s semiconductor properties make it important in the manufacture of transistors, which are tiny switches that control the flow of electricity on computer chips. Millions of transistors made of germanium can be placed on one small chip. This is what has made possible the miniaturization of electronic devices like cell phones and mp3 players.

Gold

Atomic Number 79
Atomic Weight 196.967
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

One of the most precious of all metals, gold is also the most ductile, which means it can be easily drawn into wire, and the most malleable, meaning it can be easily worked into various shapes. Gold is so malleable it can be hammered into extremely thin sheets, known as gold leaf. A sheet of gold leaf could potentially be worked to 400 times the thickness (or thinness!) of a human hair. Gold does not react with air and won’t tarnish like silver. It’s also soft. So soft, in fact, that it’s usually alloyed with other metals to increase its strength and durability. Jewelers use the term ‘karat’ to describe the amount of gold included in a piece of jewelry, which is almost never pure gold but rather a gold alloy. To determine how much gold is used, the alloy’s makeup is measured in 24 parts, or karats. A gold ring of 18 karats is 18 parts gold and 6 parts of some other metal. Silver, copper and platinum are common alloys. Twenty-four karats means the gold is pure. Gold is most often found in its pure state in the form of flakes or nuggets. It is also found in certain minerals called tellurides.

How It’s Used

The discovery of gold has been a pursuit of man for millennia. Its use can be traced back over 5,000 years to ancient Egypt, where it was most famously used to make the solid-gold coffin in which King Tutankhamun was buried. For centuries, gold has been used in many countries as a form of currency. To this day, gold coins are still in circulation, mainly for investment purposes. Since the late 1800s it has been used as the standard for the monetary systems of many European countries. The U.S. used it, too, but abandoned it in 1971 because of extreme fluctuations in its value. Of course, a common use for gold is in jewelry making. It’s also used in electronics, where a high resistance to corrosion is required. Dentists use gold for fillings and crowns. Gold flake is often used to decorate foods.

Hafnium

Atomic Number 72
Atomic Weight 178.49
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A shiny silvery transition metal very similar to zirconium, hafnium has two important properties that make it attractive to the nuclear power industry: it’s extremely resistant to corrosion and it’s a neutron absorber. Never found in its pure form in nature, hafnium is instead found, along with zirconium, in the mineral zircon. In fact, the two elements are so chemically similar that completely separating them is nearly impossible.

How It’s Used

Used mainly in nuclear reactors, hafnium is a component in the rods that control the nuclear reaction. Because they absorb the neutrons generated during nuclear fission, the hafnium-containing control rods are used to manipulate a reactor’s power output. When the rods are lowered into the reactor, neutrons are absorbed by the hafnium and the chain reaction is slowed, cooling the reactor and decreasing power. By lifting them out of the reactor, the chain reaction speeds up, raising the temperature and increasing power.

Hassium

Atomic Number 108
Atomic Weight (265)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A radioactive, artificially produced element, hassium was discovered in 1984 by scientists in Darmstadt, Germany. Little is known about hassium’s chemical and physical properties because it decays quickly. Hassium-265, the isotope synthesized by the German scientists, has a half-lifeisotope of hassium, hassium-270, was discovered in 2006, and has a slightly longer half-life of 30 seconds.

How It’s Used

Because such small quantities of hassium have ever been produced, there are no uses for it outside of research.

Helium

Atomic Number 2
Atomic Weight 4.00260
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Ever wonder what makes a birthday balloon float? It’s helium gas, the second most abundant element in the universe, after hydrogen. Helium is a noble gas. Odorless and colorless, it is lighter than air, which gives it its lifting properties. Helium is also inert, which means it’s completely unreactive. Think of helium as being antisocial, because it doesn’t combine with any other element in the periodic table. It stands alone. So alone, in fact, that it doesn’t even combine with itself. And, in addition to its antisocial properties, helium has the lowest boiling point of any other gas. To return helium to a liquid, you’d have to drop the temperature to –452 degrees Fahrenheit. Talk about the cold shoulder.

How It’s Used

Apart from making birthday parties more festive, helium gas has several other, slightly more important applications. It is used in weather balloons, helping to carry them to the highest layers of Earth’s atmosphere so scientists can perform climate research. NASA uses helium balloons to sample the atmosphere over Antarctica to study damage done to the ozone layer, which protects us from the sun’s harmful ultraviolet rays. In addition, helium, along with neon gas, is used to produce the lasers found in grocery store scanners. And, in its cold liquid state, helium is used in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines, which doctors use to see inside the human body in order to diagnose diseases without the need for surgery.

Holmium

Atomic Number 67
Atomic Weight 164.930
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Holmium is one of the scarcest of all the rare earth elements. Many of its properties are like those of the other rare earths. It’s a shiny, silvery metal that is relatively stable in air and soft enough to be cut with a knife. And like most other rare earths, it is principally obtained from monazite sands, a mineral that contains most of the rare earth elements. One of holmium’s most distinguishing characteristics is that it’s one of the most paramagnetic substances known to man. Holmium is the eleventh in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides, all of which have similar properties, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table.

How It’s Used

Holmium has few applications outside of research. However, one of its compounds, holmium oxide, is occasionally used to make yellow glass.

Hydrogen

Atomic Number 1
Atomic Weight 1.0079
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Hydrogen is a colorless, odorless, gaseous element. It is the most widely available element in the universe and is found in the sun and most of the stars. It is also the lightest of all the elements. So light, in fact, that Earth’s gravity isn’t strong enough to keep it from drifting out into space. So the hydrogen we find here on earth is the stuff that’s weighed down by the other atoms with which it occasionally binds. For example, when two hydrogen atoms bind with oxygen, the result is water (H2O), which, as we know, is very heavy and isn’t in any danger of floating away.

How It’s Used

Clean and green. That’s hydrogen. In fact, when hydrogen is used to power a fuel cell – which generates electricity and could be used to run everything from the lights on the international space station to a laptop computer – the only byproduct it leaves behind is water.

Scientists all over the world are working to make hydrogen an inexpensive and widely available fuel source for our cars and homes because it’s so clean. You might ask, if hydrogen is the most widely available element in the universe, if it powers the stars, why aren’t we using it already? Well, the problem is that hydrogen is not abundant on Earth in its pure, gaseous state. Instead, it exists here mainly as a component of molecules that make up things like water or methanol, and has to be extracted from them first in order to be useful. Right now, the processes required to do that are energy-intensive and require the burning of fossil fuels, which defeats the purpose. In fact, extracting pure hydrogen from nature would pollute the atmosphere just like burning gasoline does. Plus, it’s expensive. In the meantime, researchers are continuing their work to perfect the extraction processes so that one day hydrogen may become an alternative energy source.

Other uses for hydrogen include the manufacture of rocket fuel, which is used to launch the space shuttle, and ammonia, which we use in household cleaning. Hydrogen is also used in food preparation. In a process called hydrogenation, hydrogen is used to make the margarine we spread on our toast in the morning.

Indium

Atomic Number 49
Atomic Weight 114.82
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Indium is a very soft metal that is shiny and silvery-white in color. Considered rare, it is roughly as abundant as silver, but easier to obtain. Most indium is generated as a byproduct in the refining of zinc, but it’s also available in the ores from which iron and lead are obtained.

How It’s Used

Indium is used as an alloy with other metals to reduce their melting points, and when alloyed with silver and lead it makes them better conductors of electricity. It’s also occasionally used as a coating for other metals to protect them from corrosion and to help lubricating oils disperse more evenly across their surfaces.

Iodine

Atomic Number 53
Atomic Weight 126.905
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Among other things, iodine is an important nutrient our bodies require to stay healthy. Seafood is the primary source of dietary iodine, but many people don’t eat enough of it. That’s why small amounts of iodine are often added to table salt (iodized salt). Too much iodine, on the other hand, can be poisonous. It is considered to be a relatively rare, reactive element that is most commonly obtained from the mineral caliche, which is mined in Chile. Iodine also can be extracted from seawater and seaweed. At room temperature, iodine is a shiny, blue-black solid that produces noxious, violet fumes. It can stain and burn the skin, and its fumes can damage mucous membranes, so it must always be handled with great care.

How It’s Used

Iodine's compounds have many commercial uses, one of the most well-known being as a disinfectant for cuts and bruises. It's also used to make dyes, halogen lights and photographic film. One of its radioactive isotopes, iodine-131, is used to treat thyroid disease.

Iridium

Atomic Number 77
Atomic Weight 192.22
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

What do dinosaurs, meteors and the Earth’s crust have in common? Iridium, possibly. Consider this: iridium is more plentiful in meteors than in the Earth’s crust, yet there are unusually high concentrations of iridium present in the layer of Earth’s crust formed during the end of the Cretaceous period. It was during this period when dinosaurs roamed the Earth, and dinosaur fossils are only found below this level. Thus, the evidence of iridium in this particular section of the Earth’s crust lends credence to the theory that a meteor strike was responsible for the extinction of dinosaurs. Iridium is an extremely hard, brittle transition metal that falls within the platinum family on the Periodic table. Silvery-white in color, its brittleness makes iridium nearly impossible to work with or machine. Considered the most corrosion-resistant metal known, it is unaffected by any acid. It is obtained principally during the refining of nickel, but it also can be extracted from platinum ores.

How It’s Used

Iridium is most often used as a hardening agent in platinum alloys, which are used to make spark plugs and crucibles, the containers scientists use to do high-temperature, chemical experiments.

Iron

Atomic Number 26
Atomic Weight 55.847
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

The most inexpensive and common of all metals, iron probably has more uses than any other element on the periodic table. It’s a silvery-white, shiny transition metal that corrodes, or rusts, quickly when exposed to moist air. It is found as a component in hundreds of different minerals, but is most commonly obtained from hematite and magnetite, from which it is extracted through a process called smelting. Smelting separates the iron from its minerals, also known as ores, by heating them to extremely high temperatures and combining them with a reducing agent, usually carbon, often called coke. Pure molten iron is believed to make up a large percentage of the Earth’s core.

How It’s Used

Iron’s importance in steel making cannot be overstated. In fact, without it, there would be no steel. Which means no skyscrapers. No cars. No trains. No bridges. No dishwashers. No bicycles. Yikes! The list goes on. When alloyed with various other elements like molybdenum, vanadium, chromium, and many other metals on the periodic table, a wide array of varying steels are made. Stainless steel, for example, which is shiny and corrosion-resistant, is made by combining chromium with iron. Molybdenum steel, a super-strong and heat-resistant steel, is used to make bicycle frames and aircraft parts. Vanadium steels are tough and shock-resistant and are found in jet engines and gears for cars.

And let’s not forget that iron is an important nutrient we need to stay healthy. It makes up the hemoglobin in red blood cells, which transports oxygen from our lungs throughout our bodies. Red meat, eggs and green, leafy vegetables are excellent sources of iron.

Krypton

Atomic Number 36
Atomic Weight 83.80
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Famous for being the planet on which Superman was born, krypton, in reality, is not a planet at all. It is an inert, noble gas. (Planet Krypton exists only in the movies.) Even though krypton is inert, it does form compounds, particularly with fluorine. Krypton is colorless and odorless and is obtained through the distillation of liquefied air, in which it exists in extremely minute amounts.

How It’s Used

Because krypton is relatively rare and expensive to obtain, it does not have many industrial uses. It is used to make fluorescent light bulbs, which produce a bluish-white glow. And it’s sometimes used in a mixture with argon for incandescent and fluorescent lights, as well as lasers. Krypton is also used occasionally in the flashes necessary for high-speed photography.

Lanthanum

Atomic Number 57
Atomic Weight 138.906
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Known as a rare earth metal – or lanthanide – on the periodic table, lanthanum is the first in this series of elements, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides, all of which have similar properties, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. Lanthanum is often found together with the other lanthanides in minerals like monazite and bastnasite. Lanthanum is a ductile, silvery-white metal that is soft enough to be cut with a knife. It is also one of the most reactive of the rare earth metals, oxidizing rapidly upon exposure to air. And, when mixed with warm water, lanthanum releases hydrogen gas.

How It’s Used

Lanthanum’s reactive nature makes it a common ingredient in the manufacture of cigarette lighter flints. It is also a component in the arc lights used to illuminate movie sets, in high-power search lights and in movie projector bulbs.

Lawrencium

Atomic Number 103
Atomic Weight (262)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A man-made, radioactive, metallic element, lawrencium is the fifteenth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and most have similar properties. Very little is known about lawrencium. That’s because only extremely small quantities of it have ever been produced. Its most stable isotope, lawrencium-262, has a half-life of only four hours.

How It’s Used

Because so little of it has ever been produced, there are no uses for lawrencium outside of scientific research.

Lead

Atomic Number 82
Atomic Weight 207.2
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A soft, heavy, malleable, dull-gray metal, lead is sometimes found in its pure form in nature but more commonly is obtained from the mineral galena. It is also corrosion-resistant and quite dense and can be toxic if ingested. Lead has been identified as a cumulative poison, which means with persistent exposure it slowly builds up in the human body over time and can cause damage to the brain, liver and kidneys. Lead exposure is especially harmful to young children.

How It’s Used

The use of lead dates back over 5,000 years to ancient Egypt. The ancient Romans used lead to make pipes, some of which still exist. Today, lead is used primarily in the manufacture of the lead acid batteries used in cars. Because it is a good absorber of radiation, it is often used in the shielding around nuclear reactors. Many dentists drape a lead shield over patients to protect them from the radiation emitted from X-rays. The electronics industry utilizes lead. Its low melting point makes it useful in solder, an alloy of lead and tin, which is used to join the electrical components on the circuit boards found in computers and many other electronic devices. Plumbers use solder to join copper pipes. Several of lead’s colorful compounds used to be employed as paint pigments. Nowadays, it’s hard to find lead paint because of the toxicity issues.

Lithium

Atomic Number 3
Atomic Weight 6.941
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Did you ever think you’d see a metal that could float? Lithium does. In its pure state, a small piece of lithium placed on the surface of water will zoom around like a little motor boat. This is because it’s very light and extremely reactive, especially with water. This reactivity causes it to produce bubbles of hydrogen gas. Lithium is the lightest of all the alkali metals, its density being only about half that of water. Because it’s so reactive, lithium, like sodium, should be stored in a liquid, such as kerosene or mineral oil, in order to keep these reactions from occurring spontaneously in the air. And lithium is soft, too. So soft, you can slice it with a knife. Lithium doesn’t occur naturally in nature, but it can be extracted from naturally occurring minerals found in igneous rocks and mineral-rich lakes, like Searles Lake in California.

How It’s Used

Lithium has many diverse uses. For example, lithium carbonate is a medicine used to treat people who suffer from a mental disorder known as manic depression. It is also a component in batteries commonly used in laptop computers, cell phones and digital cameras. And even though lithium is extremely soft, when combined with other metals like aluminum, it produces very light, strong new metals known as alloys, which are often used by the aerospace industry to manufacture aircraft that are safer and more fuel efficient.

Livermorium

Atomic Number 116
Atomic Weight 293
Room Temperature Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Livermorium was created on December 6, 2000 by scientists working at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, along with scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Observatory. The element was produced by bombarding atoms of cirium-248 with ions of calcium-48. Through this process, Livermorium was created.

How It’s Used

Due to its radioactivity, livermorium does not have any commercial uses.

Lutetium

Atomic Number 71
Atomic Weight 174.967
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Lutetium shares many of its characteristics with the other rare earth elements. It is a shiny, silvery-white metal that is relatively stable in air. Like the other rare earths, it is obtained primarily from monazite sands. Lutetium can boast a few distinctions, however: it is the most difficult and expensive of the rare earth’s to extract. It’s the hardest and heaviest, too. Lutetium is the fifteenth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and all have similar properties.

How It’s Used

Because it’s difficult and costly to produce, there are almost no industrial applications for lutetium.

Magnesium

Atomic Number 12
Atomic Weight 24.305
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

One of the alkaline earth metals, dissolved magnesium can be found swirling around in the Earth’s oceans in almost unlimited quantities. It is also abundant in a number of compounds and salts, yet it is rarely found in its pure form in nature. Magnesium is a reactive metal, but not as reactive as its neighbors in Group I of the periodic table. And unlike most other alkaline earth metals, magnesium can be stored out in the open because, even though it reacts with air, the reaction forms an oxide layer which protects it from further corrosion. Biologically, magnesium plays an important role in maintaining healthy cells and is therefore essential to human and plant life. Green plants derive an additional benefit from magnesium as it’s an important component in chlorophyll, the green pigment in plant leaves. Without chlorophyll, and by extension magnesium, plants would be unable to turn sunlight into the energy they need to grow.

How It’s Used

Magnesium powder burns easily and gives off a brilliant white light. This property makes it a common ingredient in emergency flares and fireworks. It’s also used in flashbulbs, which are filled with pure oxygen to make the magnesium burn rapidly. Magnesium hydroxide, also known as milk of magnesia, is used as a laxative and as a stomach antacid. Pure magnesium can be mixed with aluminum to form an alloy that is very strong and light. This alloy is often used by the auto and aerospace industries to make cars and planes lighter, more durable, and thus more fuel efficient.

Manganese

Atomic Number 25
Atomic Weight 54.9380
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Pure manganese is a gray-white transition metal that is very hard, yet brittle. It shares many properties with iron, its next door neighbor on the periodic table. In fact, it resembles iron in appearance and, like iron, oxidizes in moist air. It is paramagnetic, meaning it is magnetic when in the presence of a magnetic field. In its pure form, manganese can be found in nodules on the ocean’s floor. Most commonly, though, it is extracted from a common mineral, pyrolusite, which is mined in many parts of the world.

How It’s Used

An indispensable component in steel production, manganese-alloyed steels are extremely tough and used in the manufacture of bank vaults and railroad tracks. One of its compounds, manganese dioxide, is used to make flashlight batteries.

Meitnerium

Atomic Number 109
Atomic Weight (266)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A man-made transition metal, meitnerium was discovered by German scientists in 1982 when they bombarded bismuth atoms with iron atoms in a linear accelerator. In fact, this element is named after Lise Meitner, the first woman in Austria to earn a Ph.D. in physics. The most stable isotope of meitnerium, meitnerium-276, has a half-life of only about three-quarters of a second, making it very difficult to study. Therefore, very little is known about it.

How It’s Used

Because it has an extremely short half-life and very little of it has ever been synthesized, there are no uses for meitnerium outside of research.

Mendelevium

Atomic Number 101
Atomic Weight (258)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A man-made, radioactive metallic element first discovered by researchers in 1955, mendelevium is the thirteenth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and most have similar properties. Mendelevium is similar to fermium, its next door neighbor on the periodic table, in that very little of either element has ever been produced for scientific study. In fact, when it was first discovered by researchers at the University of California, Berkeley using a cyclotron, mendelevium had to be synthesized one atom at a time.

How It’s Used

Because of the difficulty involved in producing even small amounts of mendelevium, its uses are limited to scientific research.

Mercury

Atomic Number 80
Atomic Weight 200.59
Room Temperature Liquid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A metal you can pour into the palm of your hand (but wouldn’t want to, because it’s toxic!), mercury is the only transition metal that occurs in a liquid state at room temperature. It’s shiny and silvery-white in appearance and quite heavy. Rarely found in its pure form in nature, mercury is typically obtained from the mineral cinnabar. To separate mercury from cinnabar, the mineral is heated, producing a vapor that is then condensed and collected as mercury.

How It’s Used

One of the most common uses for mercury is in thermometers, but it has other uses, too. Mercury vapor is used to make fluorescent bulbs, as well as the bluish-white street lights common along most highways. One of mercury’s more useful properties is its ability to dissolve other metals into mixtures called amalgams. One such amalgam is the mixture of mercury and silver that dentists use to fill teeth. It is also used to recover gold by dissolving the gold out of its ores and then boiling off the mercury. Unfortunately, mercury is extremely toxic. So toxic, in fact, that many of its compounds have been banned. Those still in use are highly regulated by agencies tasked with reducing pollution generated by them.

Molybdenum

Atomic Number 42
Atomic Weight 95.94
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Molybdenum is a silvery-white, hard transition metal with a high melting point. Never found in its pure state in nature, it is instead principally obtained from the mineral molybdenite. It is also available as a byproduct of copper and tungsten mining.

How It’s Used

Think of molybdenum as a super tough guy, because its principal industrial use is in the manufacture of ultra high-strength steels, which are created by alloying them with molybdenum. Molybdenum alloys are used in aircraft engines because they can easily withstand the heat and pressures these engines generate without expanding or contracting. At the same time, molybdenum keeps its cool, too. One of its compounds, molybdenum sulfide, is used as a lubricant in applications too hot for regular oils to withstand.

Neodymium

Atomic Number 60
Atomic Weight 144.24
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Neodymium is a rare earth metal, or lanthanide. It is the fourth in this series of elements, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides, all of which have similar properties, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. Neodymium is a shiny, silvery metal that is one of the more reactive of the rare earths. One of its more interesting characteristics is that it’s powerfully magnetic. In fact, when two small neodymium magnets are stuck together it’s nearly impossible to pry them apart with your fingers. Because it tarnishes in air, neodymium is usually stored in plastic or under oil. It is never found in its pure state in nature but is readily obtained from the mineral monasite, the primary commercial source of most of the rare earth elements.

How It’s Used

Neodymium makes up about 15 percent of misch metal, the metal used to make lighter flints. Its colorful oxides are used to manufacture the glass used in welder’s goggles. Its powerful magnetism makes it a perfect candidate to determine the difference between authentic and counterfeit paper money by detecting the weak magnetic properties of the ink used to print real currency.

Neon

Atomic Number 10
Atomic Weight 20.179
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Although it’s the fourth most abundant element in the universe, neon is actually considered a rare element here on Earth. It exists mainly as a component of the air we breathe, yet makes up only a tiny fraction of it. Lighter than air, neon is an inert, noble gas that doesn’t react chemically with any other element to form compounds. It is odorless and colorless and is obtained by distilling liquefied air. Neon’s boiling point is -411 degrees Fahrenheit.

How It’s Used

Most of us are familiar with neon lights, which glow with a bright, red-orange color. Lights that give off other colors are often referred to as neon, but they are generally made with other gases like argon and xenon. Neon is also used in television tubes and to generate laser lights. Additionally, its low boiling point contributes to its use as a refrigerant in the field of cryogenics.

Neptunium

Atomic Number 93
Atomic Weight 237
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Neptunium is the fifth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. All have similar properties. A radioactive, silvery metal, neptunium was first discovered as a byproduct of the splitting of uranium atoms in nuclear reactors. It is considered a man-made element even though minute traces of it have been found as a decay product of uranium ores.

How It’s Used

Neptunium’s industrial applications are very limited. It’s used mainly by the nuclear industry to detect radioactivity.

Nickel

Atomic Number 28
Atomic Weight 58.69
Room Temperature Natural solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Nickel is a hard, magnetic, corrosion-resistant, silvery-white transition metal that is commonly found in meteors. It is believed that large nickel deposits located in Ontario, Canada, where nickel is often mined, are the result of a meteor impact that occurred early in Earth’s geologic history.

How It’s Used

Nickel has a variety of important uses, but it is principally used as an alloy with other metals. The United States five-cent coin, or nickel, is made of 25 percent nickel and 75 percent copper. Nickel’s corrosion-resistance makes it an important component in stainless steel. It is extremely tough, which makes it useful in the manufacture of bank vaults and the plating used in armored cars. Nickel-cadmium batteries are used in everything from computers to electric shavers.

Niobium

Atomic Number 41
Atomic Weight 92.9064
Room Temperature Natural solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

One of the transition metals on the periodic table, niobium is a shiny, white, ductile metal that oxidizes readily in air. It is never available in its pure state in nature, but rather as a component in the mineral columbite. Its chemical makeup is very similar to that of tantalum, the element that falls directly below it on the periodic table. These two elements are always found together. Separating them into their pure states is extremely difficult.

How It’s Used

Niobium is often alloyed with steel. At extremely high temperatures steel can weaken and become brittle. Niobium enhances steel so it can be used in high-temperature environments like nuclear reactors. It is also an important superconductor, a material that conducts electricity with no resistance or power loss. Niobium is a component in the superconducting magnets found in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) machines doctors use to see inside the human body in order to diagnose illness. In the fashion industry, jewelry makers are also using niobium. By controlling the oxidation layer on the surface, they are able to control light reflected off the surface and create jewelry with captivating colors.

Nitrogen

Atomic Number 7
Atomic Weight 14.0067
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Sometimes Compound Form

What is it?

It’s a colorless, odorless gas that makes up more than 75 percent of Earth’s atmosphere. That’s right. There’s more nitrogen in the air we breathe – much more – than there is oxygen. Nitrogen is a relatively inert element, which is why we don’t sense it, even though it’s all around (and inside!) us. It is a component in all living things and is found throughout the universe. On Earth, it is present in, among other things, soil, air, rain and seawater. It’s also found in the sun and stars. And even though pure nitrogen is inert, it bonds with other elements to create hundreds of thousands of diverse compounds. Some of these compounds replenish the nitrogen in soil, which is taken up by plants, which in turn provide us with the proteins we require to stay healthy. As plants decompose, they return nitrogen into the atmosphere as part of an important process known as the nitrogen cycle. This cycle is crucial for all life on Earth.

How It’s Used

Compounds of nitrogen have many important uses. For example, most fertilizers have nitrogen, in the form of ammonia, as a primary ingredient. Farmers use fertilizers to replenish the nitrogen in soil, which gets depleted from continual growing. The behavior of nitrogen’s compounds varies greatly. For instance, nitrogen compounds called nitrates have been used as food preservatives. But sodium azide, when brought into contact with an electrical spark, explodes. Surprisingly, this violent reaction, which produces nitrogen gas, can be used to save lives. Sodium azide has been used to make a car’s air bags inflate during an accident. Liquid nitrogen is created by cooling nitrogen gas to -196.5 degrees Celsius (-321.7 degrees Fahrenheit) and is used as a cryogen, or refrigerant, for scientific purposes and to prevent food from spoiling while in transit.

Nobelium

Atomic Number 102
Atomic Weight (259)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A man-made, radioactive metallic element, nobelium is the fourteenth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and most have similar properties. Only extremely small quantities of nobelium have ever produced, so very little is known about it. Its most stable isotope, nobelium-259, has a half-life of only 58 minutes.

How It’s Used

Because so little of it has ever been produced, there are no industrial uses for nobelium outside of research.

Osmium

Atomic Number 76
Atomic Weight 190.02
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Because so little of it has ever been produced, there are no industrial uses for nobelium outside of research.

How It’s Used

Because osmium is so toxic and difficult to obtain, it is not used widely by industry, but it does have a few applications. It creates a very hard, durable, platinum alloy that is highly resistant to wear. This alloy is used mainly in devices like electrical switches, fountain pen tips and turntable needles, which would otherwise wear out due to their constant use.

Oxygen

Atomic Number 8
Atomic Weight 15.9994
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Sometimes Compound Form

What is it?

You probably already know oxygen is one of the most abundant elements in the universe and here on Earth. That it’s in the air we breathe. That it’s colorless, tasteless and odorless. And you might even believe oxygen is harmless. But oxygen is full of surprises! While it does indeed make up the air we breathe, it only comprises 21 percent of it. (The rest is mostly nitrogen.) And, while you can’t see it, smell it or taste it, it’s extremely reactive. Without oxygen, there would be no such thing as fire, because fire needs oxygen to burn. On the other hand, oxygen also makes up 88 percent of water (H2O). And water extinguishes fire. When it comes to fire, you might call oxygen both a creator and destroyer.

Oxygen reacts with almost all of the other elements on the periodic table. One of the most common oxygen reactions is corrosion. Many metallic elements, like iron and copper, for example, corrode, or rust, in the presence of oxygen. Other elements, such as magnesium catch fire spontaneously when exposed to it.

Most of the oxygen in our atmosphere is created by plants during photosynthesis. In this process, the chlorophyll in plants converts sunlight into complex carbohydrates, releasing oxygen in the process. Oxygen’s easygoing ability to combine with other elements results in a multitude of known compounds.

How It’s Used

Pure oxygen has many industrial applications. It’s used by steel manufacturers to remove impurities from the molten iron used to make steel. It’s also used in the chemical industry to make fabrics and plastics. Of course, hospitals use it to treat patients who have breathing difficulties. Oxygen is also used to treat drinking water, and it’s one of the key gases found in acetylene welding torches.

Palladium

Atomic Number 46
Atomic Weight 106.42
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Palladium is a rare, silver-white transition metal that is most often obtained as a byproduct in the refining process of platinum, nickel, copper, silver and gold. It is a malleable metal, making it easy to work into different shapes or to draw into wire. It is soft and the lightest of the platinum group, metals with the lowest melting point. One of its most interesting characteristics is its ability to absorb hydrogen, during which it visibly swells up like a sponge.

How It’s Used

Finely divided palladium is an effective catalyst and is used in the catalytic converters used to clean up car exhaust. Considered a precious metal, palladium is alloyed with gold to produce white-gold. Because of its excellent resistance to corrosion, it is often used to make surgical and dental instruments, as well as watch parts and jewelry.

Phosphorus

Atomic Number 15
Atomic Weight 30.9738
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Some elements exist in more than one form in their pure states. These forms are known as allotropes. Phosphorus exists in three basic allotropic forms: white, red and black. Phosphorus is a soft, colorless solid that is never found in its pure state in nature. Instead, it is primarily obtained from phosphate rock and is considered a relatively abundant element. In the presence of damp air, white phosphorus glows in the dark, but is extremely poisonous and reactive. It will burn spontaneously when exposed to air, so it must be stored under water. Red phosphorus is created by heating white phosphorus or exposing it to sunlight. It is less reactive and not quite as toxic as white phosphorus but still will ignite under friction. Black phosphorus is the least reactive of all.

How It’s Used

Phosphorus is important biologically and industrially. It’s an essential nutrient our bodies require to stay healthy. Among other things, it plays a key role in maintaining our DNA, the chemical blueprint that oversees how our bodies develop. Cells also require it for proper functioning. In industry, phosphorus is used to make everything from detergents, pesticides and fertilizers to toothpaste, baking powder and stick matches.

Platinum

Atomic Number 78
Atomic Weight 195.08
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Platinum is a heavy, malleable, gray-white transition element that is more precious than gold. It is sometimes found in its pure form in gold-bearing sands, but is more commonly obtained as a byproduct of nickel mining operations in places like Ontario, Canada.

How It’s Used

Platinum is an excellent catalyst, meaning it acts as a stimulus to bring about a change. As such, it is used in most catalytic converters, a part of the exhaust system in cars that helps decrease air pollution by cleaning up engine exhaust. Platinum is also used as a catalyst in fuel cells, devices that cleanly convert hydrogen into electricity with water vapor as the only byproduct. Its excellent corrosion-resistance properties make platinum useful in jewelry-making and in the manufacture of electrical contacts. Its ability to withstand high temperatures makes it an excellent component in jet engines, too.

Plutonium

Atomic Number 94
Atomic Weight (244)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Plutonium’s sinister properties are legendary. It’s a silvery, man-made metal that is so radioactive it generates heat just by existing. A big enough piece of plutonium can get hot enough to boil water. And it is so unstable that if too much of it accumulates in one place, it can cause a nuclear explosion. Even the shape of a piece of plutonium affects its stability. As a result, it must be handled with extreme care. It’s long-lived, too. One of its isotopes, plutonium-244, has a life of over 80-million years.

Plutonium is the sixth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and all have similar properties. Plutonium is a by product of nuclear fission, the splitting of uranium atoms that occurs in nuclear reactors. It is considered a man-made element even though minute traces of it have been found in the minerals from which uranium is obtained, also known as uranium ores.

How It’s Used

Even though many of its isotopes are extremely unstable and toxic, one of them, plutonium-238, which has a half-life of 87 years, is actually safe enough to be used as a power source in pacemakers. Its long energy life has made plutonium useful to NASA in its efforts to fuel deep-space probes that wander so far into space they can no longer generate power from the sun. The space agency also employed plutonium in the Apollo lunar missions to power scientific equipment used by the astronauts.

Polonium

Atomic Number 84
Atomic Weight (209)
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

An extremely scarce, intensely radioactive metal, polonium has a low melting point and is relatively volatile. It is available in trace amounts in pitchblende, a mineral from which uranium is commonly obtained. Small amounts of polonium are commercially produced at research laboratories by a series of nuclear reactions in which bismuth is bombarded with neutrons and then allowed to decay into polonium. Polonium is a strong emitter of alpha particles (helium nuclei) and generates its own heat spontaneously.

How It’s Used

Because it is dangerously radioactive, polonium’s commercial uses are limited. As a lightweight, transportable heat source, it has the potential to be used in satellites and other spacecraft to generate electricity.

Potassium

Atomic Number 19
Atomic Weight 39.0983
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

With each step we take down the alkali metals column in the periodic table, the elements become more and more reactive. Sodium, the element immediately preceding potassium, reacts vigorously with water, releasing bubbles of hydrogen gas. When potassium is mixed with water, it releases hydrogen gas, too, but it goes one step further and explodes. That’s because potassium’s reaction with water is much hotter. So, like sodium, potassium must be stored under oil to keep it isolated from the air’s moisture. Otherwise it would quickly corrode. This is why pure potassium is rarely found in nature. Like sodium, potassium is a soft metal which can be cut with a knife. And like so many other elements, potassium is full of contradictions. For example, even though it’s a metal and dangerous to handle, potassium is essential to keeping us healthy. Our bodies require potassium for the proper functioning of nerve cells. It’s found in many of the foods we eat, including milk, meats, fruits and vegetables.

How It’s Used

Pure potassium has few useful applications, but in compound form it is used as a plant fertilizer (potassium chloride), in the manufacture of liquid soap (potassium hydroxide) and in glass manufacturing (potassium carbonate).

Praseodymium

Atomic Number 59
Atomic Weight 140.908
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

One of the most effective tongue-twisters on the periodic table, praseodymium is also a rare earth metal, or lanthanide. It is the third in this series of elements, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and all have similar properties. Praseodymium is a soft, silvery, malleable, and ductile metal that is fairly reactive in air. It is never found in its pure state in nature. Instead, it is commonly obtained from the mineral monasite, which is a primary commercial source of all of the rare earth elements.

How It’s Used

Alloyed with magnesium, praseodymium is used to create extremely strong steels that are used in jet engines. Misch metal, which is used to make lighter flints, contains a small percentage of praseodymium. High-intensity lights, like search lights and movie projector bulbs, also contain praseodymium. The salts from this element are used to create the protective yellow glass that shield welders’ helmets.

Promethium

Atomic Number 61
Atomic Weight (145)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

Promethium is a synthesized, radioactive rare earth metal that is created during the splitting, or fissioning, of uranium atoms in nuclear reactors. It is the fifth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the and all have similar properties. No trace of promethium has ever been found in Earth’s crust, and very little is known about its properties.

How It’s Used

Some nuclear batteries use promethium to generate electricity by exposing the soft blue glow it gives off to photocells, which are silicon wafers that convert the light into electricity. Nuclear batteries made with promethium can last for up to five years and are used in some spacecraft.

Protactinium

Atomic Number 91
Atomic Weight 231.036
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Protactinium, a member of the actinide series of elements, is one of the rarest, naturally occurring elements in the periodic table. Only a little more than 100 grams of the silvery-white, radioactive transition metal exist for scientists to study. What little of it there is was obtained at high expense in England by the Great Britain Atomic Energy Authority in 1961 from more than 60 tons of pitchblende, a uranium ore. Its high radioactivity demands it be handled very carefully.

How It’s Used

Not much. Because of its scarcity, very little is known about protactinium and its chemical properties. Thus, there are no commercial applications for it outside of research.

Radium

Atomic Number 88
Atomic Weight 266
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

The heaviest and most reactive of the alkaline earth metals, radium is also dangerously radioactive. It was discovered in 1898 by the French chemist Marie Curie and her husband, Pierre, both of whom, along with Henri Becquerel, discovered radioactivity a few years later, in 1903. In its pure state radium is brilliant white in color and glows in the dark. When exposed to air, it turns black. It reacts violently to water. Another notable characteristic of radium is its ability to raise the temperature of anything it’s prepared with above the surrounding temperature. Radium is found most commonly in uranium ores.

How It’s Used

Before its dangers were discovered, radium had many uses. As late as the 1950s, its ability to glow in the dark made it a popular ingredient in the paint found on clock faces. Pure radium is relatively rare and very little of it is produced annually. Much of what is produced today is used by hospitals for the treatment of cancer.

Radon

Atomic Number 86
Atomic Weight (222)
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Radon is a radioactive, noble gas that is odorless, colorless and tasteless and is present in air in extremely minute amounts. It is a byproduct of the radioactive decay of uranium and thorium. Since uranium is scattered in trace amounts throughout the Earth’s crust, radon is present in soil. Radon is a heavy gas (it’s about eight times heavier than air), so it has a tendency to collect in the basements of homes in areas that have high concentrations of radon in the soil. Since radon is radioactive and carcinogenic, it can become hazardous if enough of it collects indoors. Simple tests can be performed to determine if a home contains dangerous levels of radon. Simply improving ventilation can often alleviate this problem.

How It’s Used

Radon’s radioactivity limits its industrial applications. It is used in some hospitals to treat certain types of cancers.

Rhenium

Atomic Number 75
Atomic Weight 186.207
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Rhenium’s claim to fame is that it is the last naturally occurring element on the periodic table to be discovered. It is a rare, silvery-white transition metal that was first obtained in 1925. Like technetium, its existence was predicted by a gap in the periodic table, which allowed scientists to forecast its behavior even before it was isolated. Because it’s so rare, rhenium is considered to be one of the most expensive metals on earth. It has one of the highest melting points. Only tungsten and carbon can withstand more heat. Rhenium is also one of the densest metals. It never occurs in its pure form on Earth, but is often obtained as a byproduct of molybdenum and copper refining.

How It’s Used

Its high melting point makes rhenium a perfect component in the flash lamps used by photographers and in the filaments used in mass spectrographs, machines used by scientists to help them identify the individual components of chemical compounds.

Rhodium

Atomic Number 45
Atomic Weight 102.9055
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Known as one of the most expensive precious metals, rhodium is a rare, shiny, silvery-white transition metal that falls within the platinum group on the periodic table. There are very few minerals that contain rhodium. It is obtained primarily as a byproduct during the refining of copper and nickel.

How It’s Used

Rhodium is primarily used as an alloy with platinum and palladium to produce extremely hard, heat-resistant metals. Because of their low electrical resistance and high resistance to corrosion, rhodium alloys are also used in electrical switches. Rhodium’s shiny, highly reflective qualities make it useful in electroplating, or coating, jewelry to heighten luster.

Roentgenium

Atomic Number 111
Atomic Weight (280)
Room Temperature Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Roentgenium is a synthetic radioactive chemical element. It was first made by research scientists at the Heavy Ion Research Laboratory in Darmstadt, Germany in 1994. Scientists bombarded nickel-64 with bismuth-209 in a heavy ion accelerator. The element is named after physicist Wilhelm Conrad Röntgen who discovered X-rays in 1895.

How It’s Used

Roentgenium is harmful due to its radioactivity. Therefore, its only use is for research purposes.

Rubidium

Atomic Number 37
Atomic Weight 85.4678
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A rare element, rubidium is a powerfully reactive alkali metal that burns spontaneously when exposed to air and becomes explosive when brought into contact with water. For safety reasons, it must always be stored under oil. Rubidium is a very soft, silvery-white metal with a low melting point. It can be found in a liquid state at just slightly above room temperature (approximately 103 degrees Fahrenheit). Because of its highly reactive characteristics, it is almost never found in its pure form in nature. Unlike the other alkali metals found above it on the periodic table rubidium is found in trace amounts in only a few minerals.

How It’s Used

Because of its scarcity and highly reactive nature, rubidium has few uses outside of research. While slightly radioactive, it is considered non-toxic and has been used by medical professionals to locate brain tumors, which absorb it.

Ruthenium

Atomic Number 44
Atomic Weight 101.07
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A hard, white metal, ruthenium is considered a rare element. It occurs freely in platinum ores and is usually obtained as a byproduct in the refining of platinum.

How It’s Used

Ruthenium’s industrial uses are limited. It is used as an alloy with other metals, like platinum and palladium, to increase their hardness. It also is used as a catalyst in some chemical processes. Because of its ability to harden other metals, alloys of ruthenium are used to manufacture products that must be resistant to wear, like fountain pen points and electrical switches.

Rutherfordium

Atomic Number 104
Atomic Weight (261)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

A synthetic element that is highly radioactive, rutherfordium is the first of what are known as the transactinide elements on the periodic table. Its most notable distinction is the naming controversy surrounding its discovery. Russian scientists claimed to have discovered the element first in 1964, but since its half-life was only three-tenths of a second, their evidence failed to convince the scientific community. Adding to the controversy was the fact that afterward, other scientists failed to reproduce the Russian team’s results, despite using their stated methods. Then, in 1969, American scientists at the University of California, Berkeley, successfully synthesized isotopes of what was then known as element 104 using different methods. Other scientists were able to duplicate these results in large enough amounts to convince the scientific community of its existence. Consequently, the Americans got naming rights, and element 104 was renamed after the atomic scientist Ernest Rutherford.

How It’s Used

Very little is known about rutherfordium. It has no uses outside of basic scientific research.

Samarium

Atomic Number 62
Atomic Weight 150.36
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Samarium is a fairly stable, rare earth metal obtained principally from monazite sands, a mineral that is the common source of the rare earth elements. It is the sixth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides, which have similar properties, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. Samarium is silvery-white in color and quite shiny.

How It’s Used

Samarium plays a role in the production of ethanol, a synthetic fuel manufactured from corn. Ethanol is gaining popularity as a cleaner-burning alternative to fossil fuels like gasoline and diesel fuel. Samarium is also used, along with many other of the rare earth elements, in the carbon arc lights used in movie studio lighting and movie projector bulbs. In addition, it is used to make optical lasers. When combined with cobalt, samarium is used to manufacture permanent magnets that have a high resistance to demagnetization.

Scandium

Atomic Number 21
Atomic Weight 44.9559
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Scandium is the first of the transition elements that make up the middle section of the periodic table It is an extremely rare metal found in minerals like wolfanite, which is also rare. Scandium is a fairly unreactive under normal conditions, but is mildly toxic.

How It’s Used

The transition metals are often alloyed with other metals to make them stronger and lighter. Scandium, however, is so rare that its industrial uses are quite limited. It is occasionally used to manufacture high-end sports equipment like hockey sticks and bicycle components because it is so light and strong. The compound, scandium iodide, is used in high-intensity lights, which give off a pure white light similar to natural sunlight.

Seaborgium

Atomic Number 106
Atomic Weight (266)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

Like a few other elements on the periodic table, one of seaborgium’s most interesting characteristics is the naming controversy that surrounded its discovery. In 1974, Russian scientists claimed to have discovered seaborgium three months prior to American scientists, but additional experiments could not confirm their findings. At the same time, the American scientists at Lawrence Livermore Lab in Berkeley, California, who claimed discovery were only able to produce very small amounts of element 106 with a half-life of less than one second. This left the dispute up in the air for a number of years. Almost 20 years later, in 1993, the Berkeley scientists were able to duplicate their discovery to the satisfaction of the scientific community. As a result, they were given naming rights.

How It’s Used

Very little is known about seaborgium, so there are no commercial applications for it presently.

Selenium

Atomic Number 34
Atomic Weight 78.96
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Considered to be a relatively rare element, selenium occurs in several minerals but in amounts too small to be commercially viable. Instead, it is more commonly obtained as a byproduct of copper production. Selenium exists in several allotropic forms, the three most common being: amorphous, which is a red, powdery substance; red crystalline; and gray powder. One of selenium’s most interesting properties is its varying ability to conduct electricity when exposed to light. In the presence of bright light, it is a good conductor of electricity; in dim or no light, it is a poor conductor. It also generates electricity from sunlight.

How It’s Used

One of selenium’s more important industrial uses is in the manufacture of photoelectric cells, which generate electricity directly from sunlight without producing any of the greenhouse gases associated with global warming. Its sensitivity to light makes it useful in electronic sensors. It is also found in devices called rectifiers, which convert electricity from alternating current (AC) into direct current (DC). Glass manufacturers use selenium to make the red glass found in traffic signals. Trace amounts of selenium are added to dietary supplements because of its ability to help the body manufacture important, disease-fighting enzymes, known as antioxidants, which are believed to prevent cancer and heart disease.

Silicon

Atomic Number 14
Atomic Weight 28.0855
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Sometimes Compound Form

What is it?

Silicon is one of the most abundant elements on Earth, second only to oxygen. While silicon is not found in its pure form in nature, one of its most common minerals, beach sand, certainly is. Silicon is a main ingredient in the mineral quartz, which is found in granite rocks. Quartz is also found in flint, which was used to make weapons in the Stone Age. Other minerals that contain silicon include clay, mica, and feldspar. Pure silicon exists in two allotropic forms: amorphous silicon, which is a brown powder; and crystalline silicon, which is gray in color and metallic in appearance.

How It’s Used

Pure silicon crystals are used widely to manufacture computer chips, which are mainly produced by companies in an area of northern California known as Silicon Valley. The silicon wafers used in computer chips are treated, or “doped,” with impurities like arsenic or boron to make them extremely controllable conductors of electricity, which can be turned on and off like an electric light switch. In this highly controllable form, silicon is known as a semiconductor.Semiconductors are also used to make solar cells, which transform sunlight into electricity. The most important silicon compound, silicon dioxide, or silica, which is obtained from beach sand, is a key ingredient of glass. All kinds of glass, from the lenses in reading glasses to coffee pots to the windows in our homes, are made from silica. Silica, in the form of quartz crystals, is used to make watches. When an electrical current is applied to quartz, it vibrates at an extremely exact frequency which makes it possible to maintain accurate time. Silicone, another silicon compound, is an extremely versatile material that can be produced in the form of a liquid, which is used to make lubricants. Or, as a water-resistant rubber, it can be used to make caulk. Silicone also can be produced as a gel and used in grooming products like shampoo. In addition, silicone gels are used as lubricants and electrical insulators.

Silver

Atomic Number 47
Atomic Weight 107.868
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Sometimes Compound Form

What is it?

A brilliant-white, lustrous precious metal, silver is also soft and considered valuable by many. Of all the metals on the periodic table, it is the best conductor of heat and electricity. Silver has been in use for a very long time. Man first learned to refine it about 5,000 years ago by separating it from lead. Now, it is primarily obtained as a byproduct of copper, gold, and lead mining. However, unlike most metals, silver can also be found in its pure state in nature. It is ductile, which means it can be easily drawn into wire, and malleable, or easy to hammer into different shapes.

How It’s Used

Most people know that fine utensils and jewelry are commonly made of silver, but many may not know that it is actually silver alloyed with a bit of another metal, like copper, to add strength and hardness. A high percentage of silver actually goes into making photographic paper and electronics, too. Silver’s uses are extremely varied. For example, it is used to make electrical contacts and silver-cadmium batteries, and one silver compound, silver iodide, has even been used to seed clouds in an effort to produce rain.

Sodium

Atomic Number 11
Atomic Weight 22.9898
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Here’s a hint: it’s part of a very common compound most of us use to flavor the food we eat every day. Do you know it? Table salt. In its guise as sodium chloride, sodium is an extremely useful (and tasty) element indeed. But surprisingly, sodium is a metal. It’s part of the alkali metals group in the periodic table and in its pure form, sodium is extremely reactive. That is why it is never found in its pure state in nature, because it reacts so violently with water, including moisture in the air. To keep it from melting down, sodium is usually stored in a liquid, such as kerosene. Interestingly, for a metal and one that’s so excitable, it’s really very soft and can be sliced with a knife.

How It’s Used

Because of its hazardous nature, there are only a few, very specific applications for pure sodium. One use is to transfer heat out of nuclear reactors. When used for this purpose, sodium is in a liquid state. On the other hand, as part of a number of different compounds, sodium is used widely in the manufacture of many diverse products. In addition to sodium chloride, or table salt, sodium carbonate is used to manufacture glass. Lye, which is used to unclog pipes and to make oven cleaner, is made from sodium hydroxide. Sodium bicarbonate, also known as baking soda, is used to make cakes rise and, as an antacid, helps to settle stomachs that may have consumed too much cake and other goodies.

Strontium

Atomic Number 38
Atomic Weight 87.62
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

The fourth alkaline earth metal in Group II of the periodic table, strontium is a bit more reactive than its predecessor, calcium. It is a soft, silvery metal that must be stored under kerosene to prevent oxidation. If ground up into a fine powder and exposed to air, strontium will burn spontaneously. Because it is so reactive, strontium is never found in nature in its pure form. Instead, it is extracted primarily from the minerals celestite and strontianite.

How It’s Used

Its ability to burn with a bright, crimson flame makes strontium desirable in fireworks manufacturing. It also is used by manufacturers to make color picture tubes for television sets. Apart from these, strontium has few industrial applications.

Sulfur

Atomic Number 16
Atomic Weight 32.06
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Sometimes Compound Form

What is it?

A component in many common minerals, sulfur is one of the most abundant elements in the universe. In its pure form, sulfur is a yellowish, brittle solid. It is obtained commercially from several sources: as a byproduct of petroleum refining; from the preparation of copper, zinc and lead; and, in its pure state, from naturally occurring, deep, underground deposits. Sulfur is one of the most reactive of all the elements. It burns with a bright, blue flame, and combines freely with nearly all of the other elements to form an unlimited number of compounds.

How It’s Used

Sulfur has been known and used by man for millennia. In the Bible, it is referred to as brimstone. The phrase “fire and brimstone” derives from sulfur’s ability to burn hotly. Today, sulfur has many important commercial applications. Its reactive properties make it important to manufacturers of fireworks and matches. It also is used in the rubber-making process known as vulcanization. Found widely in fertilizers and fungicides, sulfur also is the primary component in sulfuric acid, one of the most important industrial chemicals in use today.

Tantalum

Atomic Number 73
Atomic Weight 180.948
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Usually Compound Form

What is it?

Very similar in chemical makeup to niobium, its neighbor just above on the periodic table, tantalum is a very strong, ductile transition metal. Rarely occurring free in nature, tantalum is most commonly extracted from the minerals columbite and tantalite. Gray in color, tantalum is very heavy and is nearly impervious to chemical corrosion at room temperature. Its characteristics are so similar to niobium that for years scientists believed its discoverer, Anders Gustav Ekebert, had actually confused it with niobium.

How It’s Used

Tantalum’s strength, combined with its resistance to corrosion and its high melting point, make it a key component in the construction of nuclear reactors. It’s also used as an ingredient in the containers and tools used to make corrosive chemicals like hydrochloric acid. Tantalum’s chemical inertness renders it virtually unreactive with human tissue. This makes it ideal for medical purposes. Today, it can be found in various medical devices, such as surgical instruments, sutures and artificial joints.

Technetium

Atomic Number 43
Atomic Weight (98)
Room Temperature Man-Made Solid
Apperance in Nature Atomic Solid

What is it?

Technetium was first isolated in 1937, making it the first artificially synthesized element on the periodic table. Due to an empty space, however, between molybdenum and ruthenium, scientists predicted technetium’s existence even before they actually discovered it. It is a silvery-white transition metal that is radioactive and occurs naturally in the Earth’s crust in minute traces as a result of spontaneous fission in uranium ores. Technetium is most commonly obtained, however, during fission in nuclear reactors. It is this process that is largely responsible for the production of technetium.

How It’s Used

Small amounts of technetium are used to manufacture corrosion-resistant steel, but because it is radioactive, applications for such steels are extremely limited. On the other hand, its radioactivity makes technetium-99m, an isotope of technetium, an important tool for doctors. When injected into the body, it collects in certain organs. The gamma radiation it emits can help doctors see how these organs are functioning or malfunctioning. Its short half-life of about six hours means it loses its radioactivity rather quickly, rendering it harmless over time.

Tellurium

Atomic Number 52
Atomic Weight 127.60
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Sometimes Compound Form

What is it?

Pure tellurium is a shiny, crystalline, silvery-white, semi-metallic element that is considered rare, yet, at the same time, available freely in nature. Occurring in gold-bearing ores, tellurium is often obtained during the refining of gold. It also can be obtained as a byproduct of copper refining. Tellurium is considered a semiconductor, meaning its ability to conduct electricity can be controlled. Like other semiconductors, tellurium’s ability to conduct electricity increases somewhat when it is exposed to light.

How It’s Used

Tellurium’s primary industrial use is as an alloy with other metals. When small amounts of it are alloyed with copper or stainless steel, it makes those metals easier to machine. And, when mixed with lead, tellurium increases the metal’s resistance to corrosion.

Terbium

Atomic Number 65
Atomic Weight 158.925
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Terbium is a silver-gray, rare earth metal that is relatively stable in air. Soft enough to cut with a knife, terbium also is malleable and ductile, which means it is easily worked and can be drawn into wire. Like most other rare earth elements, terbium is obtained principally from monazite sands, a common source of the rare earth elements. It is the ninth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and most have similar properties.

How It’s Used

Terbium has only a few commercial applications. It is used to help stabilize high-temperature fuel cells, environmentally-friendly devices that convert hydrogen and oxygen into electricity with water vapor as the only byproduct produced. It also is used in some electronic sensing devices and to produce laser light.

Thallium

Atomic Number 81
Atomic Weight 204.383
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

In its pure form, thallium is a very shiny, heavy metal that reacts quickly with air, turning a dull gray, similar to the color of lead. It is soft enough to be cut with a knife and is quite malleable, meaning it can be worked into different shapes. A relatively rare element available in trace amounts in some minerals, thallium is more frequently obtained as a byproduct from the preparation of sulfuric acid. It also is generated during the smelting of lead and zinc ores. Considered to be highly toxic, thallium must always be handled with great care.

How It’s Used

Due to its toxicity and tendency to corrode quickly in air, pure thallium has few commercial uses. Its compounds, on the other hand, have many applications. For example, certain thallium compounds are used to make infra-red radiation detection equipment and in photoelectric cells, which generate electricity when exposed to sunlight. Because it only binds to healthy heart muscle when introduced into the body, one of thallium’s radioactive isotopes, thalium-201, is used to diagnose heart disease. It allows doctors, using special detection instruments, to see areas of the heart receiving inadequate blood flow.

Thorium

Atomic Number 90
Atomic Weight 232.038
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Thorium is the second in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table. Most actinides have similar properties. Thorium is silvery-white in color. It is soft, ductile and mildly radioactive. With a half-life of 14 billion years, thorium takes a very long time to decay. It has an extremely high melting point, but when finely divided, it burns in air. Never found in its pure state in nature, thorium is a by-product of the separation of rare earth elements from monazite sands. It is also found in the minerals thorite and thorianite.

How It’s Used

Its high melting point makes thorium an important player in high-temperature industrial applications. For example, when alloyed with magnesium at high temperatures, its strength greatly increases. The crucibles used by researchers in high-temperature lab experiments are made of thorium. Thorium oxide-coated mantles are used in gas lamps to produce a brilliant white light. Thorium also has a high refractive index, which makes it desirable to manufacturers of the high-end lenses found in professional cameras and lab equipment. Because of thorium’s wide availability in the Earth’s crust, the nuclear power industry is experimenting with it as a new source of fuel for nuclear reactors. To date, however, its wide-scale use for this purpose is not yet commercially viable.

Thulium

Atomic Number 69
Atomic Weight 168.934
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

The least abundant of the rare earth metals, thulium has characteristics similar to most of the other elements in this group. Like them, thulium is a bright, shiny, silvery metal. It is malleable, soft enough to be cut with a knife and relatively stable in air. Obtained primarily from monazite sands, thulium is the thirteenth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table and most have similar properties.

How It’s Used

Thulium has few commercial applications because it is scarce and expensive to produce.

Tin

Atomic Number 50
Atomic Weight 118.71
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Some elements exist in more than one form in their pure states. These forms are known as allotropes. Tin exists in two allotropic forms: gray tin and white tin. At temperatures below 13.2 degrees Celsius (approximately 55 degrees Fahrenheit), tin exists as a gray, powdery substance that has no metallic properties at all and very few uses. Above 13.2 degrees Celsius, however, gray tin converts to white tin, which has a different crystalline structure and the shiny, metallic properties most of us associate with tin. To prevent white tin from reverting to gray tin at lower temperatures, either antimony or bismuth is added to it as it is being prepared. Rarely found in its pure state in nature, tin is primarily obtained from the mineral cassiterite. A silvery white, malleable, ductile metal with excellent corrosion-resistance properties, tin was among one of the first metals ever used by humans. Archaeologists have discovered artifacts from ancient Egypt made of bronze, an alloy of tin and copper, that date back over 5000 years.

How It’s Used

Because it resists corrosion so well, tin is often applied as a protective coating over other metals. Tin cans, for example, are actually made of steel that have a tin coating. Tin also is used as an alloy with other metals. As mentioned, bronze is an alloy of tin and copper. Pewter is made by alloying tin with lead. Tin plays an important role in glassmaking, too. In the Pilkington process, molten glass is poured over molten tin, with the two substances reacting like oil and water. The tin remains at the bottom, while the glass floats above it and cools, creating a perfectly flat surface.

Titanium

Atomic Number 22
Atomic Weight 47.88
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Named for the mythological giants, the Titans, because of its great strength, today titanium is indeed the titan of metals. In its pure form, titanium is a shiny white transition metal that has a high strength-to-weight ratio. It’s much lighter than, yet just as strong as steel. On the other hand, it’s more expensive to produce than steel. That’s because the processes required to extract titanium from its minerals – rutile and ilemnite are among titanium’s most common sources – are much more complicated.

How It’s Used

Due to its many valuable properties, titanium is used widely in industry. Its superior strength and light weight make it important to aerospace manufacturers who use it to produce safer, more fuel-efficient aircraft. In humans, titanium won’t react with living tissue so the body won’t reject it. That makes it a valuable component in a variety of medical devices that are implanted in the body. Artificial bones and joints are made of titanium, as are the metal pins surgeons use to secure broken bones. On the consumer product side, titanium dioxide (titanium white) is a brilliant white pigment used in paints, lacquers, plastics, paper, textiles and rubber.

Tungsten

Atomic Number 74
Atomic Weight 183.85
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Tungsten is one of the tough guys of the periodic table. It has the highest melting point of any metallic element and the second highest of any element after carbon. In its pure state, tungsten is a tin-white transition metal that is hard enough to withstand enormous pressures, yet ductile enough to be extruded into various shapes. If you’re wondering why tungsten’s symbol is W, it’s because it was originally named wolfram, after wolframite, the mineral from which it is principally obtained.

How It’s Used

Tungsten’s robust properties make it extremely useful in some of the most demanding industrial applications. For example, the aerospace industry uses it in spacecraft parts because of its ability to withstand heat. Its alloys, often referred to as super-alloys because of their incredible strength, are used in jet engine turbine blades and rocket nozzles. X-ray tubes, television tubes and the filaments in light bulbs are all often manufactured using tungsten.

Ununoctium

Atomic Number 118
Atomic Weight 294
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Ununoctium is an artificially produced radioactive chemical element. Scientists from the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia, and Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory in California collaborated in the discovery of ununoctium in experiments conducted in 2002 and 2005. It is the heaviest known element.

How It’s Used

Ununoctium is of research interest only.

Ununpentium

Atomic Number 115
Atomic Weight 289
Room Temperature Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Ununpentium is a radioactive synthetic super-heavy element and is artificially produced. The element is not found free in the environment. It was discovered in 2003 by scientists working at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia along with scientists from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

How It’s Used

Due to its radioactivity, it’s only used for research purposes.

Ununseptium

Atomic Number 117
Atomic Weight 294
Room Temperature Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Ununseptium is a superheavy artificial chemical element known as a transactinide. It’s the second-heaviest element created. The element is claimed to have been created in Dubna, Russia by a joint Russian-American collaboration.

How It’s Used

Ununseptium’s only use is for research purposes as a result of its radioactivity.

Ununtrium

Atomic Number 113
Atomic Weight 286
Room Temperature Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Ununtrium is synthetically produced. It is believed to be metallic in nature. The element is very unstable, making it very difficult to observe in the laboratory. Ununtrium cannot be found in nature. Scientists must use expensive and time-consuming techniques to integrate ununtrium in order to study it.

How It’s Used

Ununtrium is used for research purposes only.

Uranium

Atomic Number 92
Atomic Weight 238.029
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Most people think of uranium as being intensely radioactive, but, in fact, it is not. Uranium is actually only weakly radioactive. What really gives uranium its awesome reputation is its unique fissionable properties, meaning its nucleus can be split. With uranium, this is relatively easy to do. As its nucleus splits, a uranium atom’s neutrons ricochet off other uranium atoms, splitting them as well, creating what is known as a nuclear chain reaction. This chain reaction, when controlled properly, can continue for long periods of time, generating a great deal of heat. This is what makes uranium such an important power source.

Uranium is the fourth in the actinide series of elements, which range in atomic number from 89 (actinium) to 103 (lawrencium). The actinides, like the lanthanides, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table Most actinides have similar properties. Pure uranium is silvery-white in color. It is much denser than lead and the heaviest of the naturally occurring elements. Once thought to be rare, it no longer is. Over the years it has been found in a number of minerals, including monazite sands, but is most commonly extracted from pitchblende ore.

How It’s Used

There is little use for pure uranium metal, but uranium’s isotopes, particularly uranium-235, which has the fissionable properties mentioned above, make it a key fuel in nuclear reactors. The intense heat generated by the uranium chain reaction is used to heat the water that drives the steam generators that produce electricity.

Vanadium

Atomic Number 23
Atomic Weight 50.9415
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A soft, shiny, silver-gray, transition metal, vanadium is never found in its pure state, but occurs in trace amounts in many minerals, including vanadinite and carnotite, which are its primary sources. Vanadium’s most distinctive property is its ability to resist corrosion.

How It’s Used

The vast majority of vanadium is used by the steel industry to manufacture corrosion-resistant metals like stainless steel. Once produced, these metals are used by the aerospace industry to make jet engines and airframes. Vanadium also is widely used by the auto industry because it helps prevent rust. Its compounds are employed as catalysts in chemical manufacturing. In order to make sulfuric acid, for example, vanadium is required.

Xenon

Atomic Number 54
Atomic Weight 131.29
Room Temperature Gas
Apperance in Nature Elemental Form

What is it?

Xenon is an inert, noble gas that is present in air in extremely minute amounts. Like the other noble gases above it on the periodic table, it is colorless, odorless, and tasteless and is obtained through the distillation of liquefied air. Unlike the other noble gases, however, xenon is capable of producing several compounds, making it one of the most reactive elements in this group.

How It’s Used

When exposed to an electrical charge, xenon produces a bright white light, a characteristic that lends itself to the flash tubes and strobe lights often employed in high-speed photography.

Ytterbium

Atomic Number 70
Atomic Weight 173.04
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Ytterbium shares many of its characteristics with the other rare earth metals. It is shiny, silvery, malleable and ductile. Soft enough to be cut with a knife, ytterbium is relatively stable in air, but should be stored in closed containers to prevent it from oxidizing. And, like the other rare earths, ytterbium is obtained primarily from monazite sands. Ytterbium is the fourteenth in the series of elements known as the lanthanides, which range in atomic number from 57 (lanthanum) to 71 (lutetium). The lanthanides, most of which have similar properties, are usually displayed in a separate row below the main body of the periodic table.

How It’s Used

There are few commercial uses for ytterbium. It has been used as an alloy with steel to increase strength and hardness. One of its isotopes, ybberbium-169, is a gamma ray emitter that could potentially be used as a radiation source for portable X-ray machines.

Yttrium

Atomic Number 39
Atomic Weight 88.9059
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Yttrium is a silvery, metallic transition metal. It is fairly unreactive, but if ground up, it will burn spontaneously in air. On Earth, it is rarely found in its pure form. Out in the universe, it’s a different story. Consider rocks returned from the moon during the Apollo space mission were found to contain relatively high amounts of pure yttrium. Here on Earth, yttrium is contained in almost all rare earth minerals. From these, it must be extracted before it can be put to its many commercial uses.

How It’s Used

If you watch television, you’re familiar with yttrium. Its compounds are used to make the red phosphors, or glowing dots, that are a component of the picture tube in your TV set. It’s also used in powerful laser systems. Today, some of yttrium’s compounds are being used in the development of superconductors, extremely energy efficient materials that conduct electricity with no resistance or energy loss. In the jewelry industry, yttrium aluminum garnet is used to simulate diamonds.

Zinc

Atomic Number 30
Atomic Weight 65.39
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

Zinc compounds have been in use for over 2000 years, but the pure metal is believed to have been discovered somewhat later, around the early 1500s. Zinc is a bluish-white, shiny transition metal that is fairly reactive. It tarnishes in air, and at room temperature, it tends to be brittle. At higher temperatures, it becomes more malleable and can be worked into various shapes.

How It’s Used

One of zinc’s most common uses is to coat, or galvanize, other metals, such as iron, to prevent rust and corrosion. Nails, garbage cans and chain link fences are all often galvanized with zinc. Another common use for zinc is in the dry-cell batteries we use in things like flashlights and portable radios. Pennies have been made of zinc since 1982; copper is only used to coat them. Zinc also is often alloyed with other metals like nickel and aluminum to increase their strength and workability. One of these alloys, a mixture of zinc and aluminum, is said to be as easy to mold as plastic and nearly as strong as steel. Zinc’s other uses vary widely. Its oxides are used as a component in cosmetics, sun screen, pharmaceuticals and rubber products. They’re also used to make paint pigments, luminous watch faces, television picture tubes and many other products.

Zirconium

Atomic Number 40
Atomic Weight 91.224
Room Temperature Natural Solid
Apperance in Nature Compound Form

What is it?

A lot of people know cubic zirconium is used to simulate diamonds. But pure zirconium is actually a metal, and a very corrosion-resistant one at that. A member of the group of transition metals on the Periodic table, zirconium is a gray-white element that is extremely durable and heat resistant. Zirconium shares so many of its chemical properties with hafnium, the element that falls directly below it on the period table that the two are very difficult to separate. Zirconium is never found in its pure form in nature, but occurs mostly as a silicate in the mineral zircon.

How It’s Used

Aside from its uses as costume jewelry, zirconium is also used in the nuclear power industry. The metal rods holding the uranium fuel in a nuclear reactor are made of a zirconium alloy. These rods get extremely hot and are constantly submerged in water or some other coolant. Zirconium is the element that prevents them from corroding.