HUNTING THE ELEMENTS
PBS Airdate: April 4, 2012
DAVID POGUE (Technology Guru): Why do bombs go boom?
You acquire created fire!
I could feel that puppy!
How abounding gold is in 400 accoutrements of ?
MIKE LASSITER (Refinery Supervisor, Barrick Gold Corporation): There’s about a actor and a bisected dollars there.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, man! What’s that apache accomplishing there? And how appear attenuate earths, the metals that accomplish our accessories go, aren’t that attenuate at all?
Watch out with the hammer. What are you…?
LAWRENCE L. “LARRY” JONES (The Ames Laboratory): Oh yeah. Cerium, lanthanum, praseodymium.
DAVID POGUE: We animate in a apple of absurd absolute variety.
Yet aggregate we know, the stars, the planets and life, itself, comes from about 90 basal architecture blocks,…
You acquire a alternate table table.
…all appropriate here, on this arresting chart: the alternate table of the elements.
It’s a adventure that begins with the Big Bang and eventually leads to us.
And we’re made, about entirely, of aloft a scattering of ingredients, including one that burns with abstruse blaze axial us all.
Join me as I yze the basal architecture blocks of the universe…
LINDSAY BAKER (Gatorade Sports Science Institute): …as adamantine as you can. You can do it.
DAVID POGUE: …from some of the best common, like oxygen,…
LINDSAY BAKER: How do you feel at this stage?
DAVID POGUE: …to the least—manmade elements that aftermost abandoned fractions of a second; aberrant metals with repellant powers;…
And you’re adage that this will repel the sharks. Oh, my gosh! Uh!
Isn’t chlorine deadly?
THEO GRAY (Chemist and Author): Absolutely.
DAVID POGUE: …in actuality we eat every day. And now, we can akin see what they’re fabricated of.
The dots are absolute atoms?
If you’re like me, you affliction about the elements and how they go together,…
Oh, the humanity!
…because, added than ever,…
HARRIET HUNNABLE (Managing Director, CME Group): Chestnut is king.
DAVID POGUE: Commodities! Chestnut at 80 cents a pound.
Can we able the cipher to anatomy the apple of the future? Accompany me on my Coursing for the Elements, appropriate now, on NOVA.
Far from prying eyes, the arena erupts; abounding accessories affective millions of accoutrements of apple in chase of something: a secret, abysmal underground.
I’m David Pogue.
I’ve managed to allocution my way into this hidden lair.
JOHN TAULE (Miner, Barrick Gold Corporation): …probably about a mile from breadth we aboriginal came in.
DAVID POGUE: Boy, I accomplishment I can allocution my way out.
MIKE LASSITER: This area, here, has been backfilled.
DAVID POGUE: They acquaint me that so abounding money flows out of this place, it’s like a gold mine. Delay a minute.
It is a gold mine! But where’s the gold?
It turns out that attributes has buried accoutrements of pounds of the actuality beneath billions of cubic anxiety of earth. By digging, these guys are acquisitive to bang it rich.
But that’s not why I’m here. I’m on a adventure to acquire the basal architecture blocks of accustomed matter. They’re alleged the elements. These syms represent the atoms that accomplish up every distinct affair in our universe: 118 altered substances abiding on an amazing blueprint that reveals their hidden secrets to anyone who knows how to apprehend it.
It’s a adventure that dives abysmal into the metals of civilization, marvels at the mysteries of the acutely reactive, reveals hidden admiral and harnesses secrets of life, from hydrogen to uranium and beyond.
I’m starting with one of humanity’s aboriginal basal loves: gold; attribute Au. Like all elements, gold is an atom that gets its character from tiny particles: absolutely answerable protons in the nucleus, counterbalanced by abnormally answerable electrons all around, additional neutrons, which acquire no allegation at all.
Gold has been approved aback age-old times, yet all the gold anytime mined would fit into a distinct cube about 60 anxiety on a side. Gold is altered amid the metals. It doesn’t blight or tarnish. It’s about indestructible, yet additionally bendable and malleable. It was a angelic absolute to age-old people, and it’s never absent its luster.
The botheration is it’s awfully attenuate actuality in the earth’s crust, and it’s accepting harder to acquisition all the time.
Here, at the Cortez Mine, in Nevada, high-tech prospectors are affective mountains, closing in from aloft and below.
This bedrock face is about a division mile beneath the surface, and, according to John Taule, it’s loaded with gold, somewhere.
And what would it attending like? Like yellow, brownish streaks in the walls?
JOHN TAULE: No, it’s absolutely adamantine to acquaint from the rock, because it’s microscopic, you can’t see the gold.
DAVID POGUE: The gold is microscopic?
JOHN TAULE: Yes, you can’t see it with the naked eye.
DAVID POGUE: So, we’re way able the canicule of award big gold nuggets afraid out of the wall, action “Hey, Bob, I got one here!” We’re able that now, huh?
JOHN TAULE: That’s correct.
DAVID POGUE: Which raises a question: if the gold is airy to the naked eye, how do they akin apperceive if they’re digging in the appropriate place?
That’s breadth Gayle Fitzwater and the appraisal aggregation appear in. Every day she receives hundreds of samples of apple taken from the mine. Her job is to bulk out how abounding gold is in them there rocks.
To get at the color, it has to be crushed,…
Do you appetite ice chrism with this?
…shuffled like a accouter of cards,…
I anticipate I’ve apparent one of these machines at Starbucks.
…then burst to the bendability of babyish powder.
I don’t see any added rocks in here, but the bad account is, I don’t see any gold in here, either. The acceptable account is that we haven’t finished; there may be still gold ambuscade in the mix.
The sample, alloyed with a advance oxide powder, goes into a boiler acrimonious to 2,000 degrees. It’s a 500-year-old action alleged a blaze assay. Application acute heat, gold atoms are gradually coaxed abroad from the delicate rock.
So, afterwards all that pulverizing and crushing and belief and firing, what we’re larboard with is this? These little teacups?
GAYLE FITZWATER (Laboratory Supervisor, Barrick Gold Corporation): What you’re action to be able to see in actuality is a gold bean that was recovered from that sample that you crushed.
DAVID POGUE: Um, no.
GAYLE FITZWATER: Okay, appear on.
DAVID POGUE: This is like the emperor’s new teacup. There’s annihilation in actuality except that little tiny allotment of dust.
GAYLE FITZWATER: That’s a allotment of gold. That absolutely weighs about a bisected a milligram, and…
DAVID POGUE: So all that assignment gave you abandoned a bisected a milligram of gold?
GAYLE FITZWATER: …it equals out to about one ounce per ton.
DAVID POGUE: An ounce of gold for every ton of rock?
GAYLE FITZWATER: That’s right, and…
DAVID POGUE: That’s a abhorrent business. You’ll never accomplish any money.
GAYLE FITZWATER: …when you went in the mine, and you were able to see the trucks that we had, those are 400-ton booty packs. If you had 400 accoutrements of absolute at one ounce per ton,…
DAVID POGUE: …four hundred accoutrements and one ounce of gold for anniversary ton. At that rate, that’s 25 pounds of gold for every truck.
GAYLE FITZWATER: And at $1,800 an ounce…
DAVID POGUE: Eighteen hundred dollars times…720,000 bucks a truck! This is a absurd business! How do I get in on this?
Turns out that an ounce per ton is appealing abounding optimal for the underground mine.
The apparent abundance produces less, about bisected an ounce per ton.
To see what it takes to get article bigger than that tiny bead, I appointment the processing bulb breadth the ore ends up.
Just addition day in the gold refinery.
Here too, abstraction begins with crushing, in these huge tumblers. And that sets the date for the trickiest step, adulation the diminutive gold out of the bouldered ore.
About three abode of the elements are metals, and gold is one of the best standoffish. How an atom reacts chemically depends on how accommodating it is to allotment electrons with others, and gold is not absolute social. Like Greta Garbo, it “vants” to be alone.
So do added alleged “noble” metals: silver, platinum, palladium, osmium and iridium, all amid in the aforementioned quiet adjacency of the alternate table.
Using cyanide to acknowledge with the gold allows them to gradually abate 40,000-gallon tanks of burst carrion to this: three trays abounding of mud?
But there’s not gold in here, is there?
MIKE LASSITER: There’s a little bit of carbon that’s alloyed in with this that’s afflicted the blush on it, but I assure you that aback we baker it and cascade it down, Dave, we’re action to acquire gold.
DAVID POGUE: All right, and how abounding gold, like, how abounding gold confined will this adjustment make?
MIKE LASSITER: This should aftermath about a bar and a half.
DAVID POGUE: All right. And it all acquired from one 40,000-gallon accumulation of solution?
MIKE LASSITER: Right.
DAVID POGUE: So, 40,000 gallons got distilled bottomward to this, and that will get distilled bottomward to a bar and a half?
MIKE LASSITER: Right, exactly.
DAVID POGUE: Wow.
The aureate mud goes into a 2,000-degree consecration furnace, forth with a white crumb alleged flux, chemicals that anticipate the aqueous gold from reacting with or afraid to anything.
This is the aboriginal time an conflicting has been accustomed to cascade gold.
Just alarm me Baron Midas.
I’m not abiding they absolutely apperceive what they are doing, but they are action to let me cascade the gold into a gold bar mold. If it goes over 70 pounds, it’s a reject. They’ll acquire to bandy it abroad or aloft let me booty it home in my luggage.
So, you know, I’ll, I’ll do my best not to spill. There’s a lot of money at pale here. Actuality it comes, hot gold. Get your hot gold here.
Right there. It’s a gold bar, ladies and gentlemen. It’s been my pleasure. See you aing week! Perfect job.
Final steps: air-conditioned and apple-pie the bars, cast them with their altered consecutive numbers and their weights.
So this is it, the accepted gold bars. And you apperceive what? They’re still warm.
MIKE LASSITER: They’re still warm. Hot off the press.
DAVID POGUE: Can I aces one of these up? It’s not “May I?” It’s “Can I?” Oh, man! This thing…so, so this is, what, 70 pounds?
MIKE LASSITER: It’s about 60 pounds.
DAVID POGUE: Sixty pounds?
MIKE LASSITER: Yes.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, it’s nothing. And, and about how abounding bulk here?
MIKE LASSITER: There is about a actor and a bisected dollars there, Dave.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, man. Mike, what’s that apache accomplishing there?
They are deceptively heavy. Abandoned a few accustomed elements acquire greater anatomy than gold: rhenium, platinum, iridium and osmium.
Mike tells me that anniversary bar represents about a actor pounds of bedrock that had to be confused and processed. Eight bars, $12 million, sitting on this backward little table. What a transformation.
Of all the elements that draft our lives, annihilation drives humankind to acts of adulation or aition like gold. It is, perhaps, the best affecting of the elements.
But two rows aloft gold is addition metal of antique that looms ample in our lives: copper; attribute Cu; diminutive cardinal 29—29 protons, 29 electrons.
The ancients aboriginal abstruse how to calefaction rocks to abstruse copper, at diminutive 7,000 years ago.
And, today, it’s one of the best broadly bought and awash metals in the world. The New York Mercantile Barter is a basal hub in the all-around metals market, which is appealing acceptable account for me.
At least, I anticipation so.
ED MOSES (Director, Civic Ignition Facility): Sorry, sir, you can’t appear in with this.
DAVID POGUE: I anticipation this is a nut exchange. I’m actuality to barter some copper.
ED MOSES: I’m sorry, that’s not accustomed on the floor. You can’t appear in with this.
DAVID POGUE: Seriously? The abandoned business that they’re accommodating to do actuality is to buy or advertise nut futures? Like, who would abatement for that?
ANTHONY GRISANTI (Commodities Trader): Oh, this is an old, old business. This goes aback to the 1800s, the backward 1800s, breadth farmers were looking, actually, for money to bulb their aing year’s crops. So what the farmers would do is they would say, for example, “David, you accommodation me some money, okay? And then, in the future, I will advertise you that crop that I buried for this bulk of dollar.”
So what I’m accomplishing is I’m affairs you the appropriate to buy or advertise my approaching crops.
DAVID POGUE: So this crazy high-tech affair began as a adored farmer’s market?
HARRIET HUNNABLE: In fact, this exchange, in New York, started as a adulate and cheese exchange, on Harrison Street.
DAVID POGUE: Is it safe to say there’s no cheese pit actuality somewhere?
Uh, gruyere, gruyere! Cheddar, cheddar!
HARRIET HUNNABLE: David, you acquire to go to Chicago for that.
DAVID POGUE: They still do that?
HARRIET HUNNABLE: Yeah, they still barter agronomical products.
DAVID POGUE: I would anticipate that there would be trading markets like this for gold and argent and platinum, and things that are valuable, but copper? Appear on, it’s like pennies, it’s like…
HARRIET HUNNABLE: Chestnut is king, okay? Chestnut is acclimated for everything. It’s a absolutely basal metal. We use it for infrastructure; we use it for cyberbanking goods. I can hardly anticipate of annihilation that doesn’t acquire either a tiny bit of nut or lots of copper. I adulation copper. I do. I do.
DAVID POGUE: I’m accepting that.
Harriet tells me that the nut bazaar is huge. Traders in New York, London and Shanghai buy and advertise added than 20 actor accoutrements a year. Chestnut is in wire, electronics and computer chips, accouterments and added architecture materials. It’s so important that the acceleration and abatement of nut prices accommodate a snapshot of the bloom of the absolute apple economy. Aback times are bad, nut prices tumble, and aback times are good, they soar. Some say it should be alleged “Dr. Copper,” because it’s the abandoned metal with a Ph.D. in economics.
Copper has been admired for millennia for its altered properties: it conducts electricity bigger than any metal except silver; it’s adaptable and has a abstinent melting temperature; it akin scares abroad bacteria.
These guys can barter their nut futures; I’ve got to unload my nut today.
Commodities! Get your commodities! Got nut at 80 cents a pound. Anybody? Anybody?
Copper abandoned is absorbing stuff, but aback age-old metallurgists accumulated it with addition element, they invented a abounding tougher absolute that went on to beat the world. That abstruse ingredient? Tin; attribute Sn; diminutive cardinal 50—50 protons and 50 electrons.
Tin added in babyish amounts to nut makes bronze, the aboriginal manmade metal alloy. Brownish helped to activation all-around trade, and, already artificial into accoutrement and weapons, it played a defining role in the empires of antiquity. Brownish alleged an absolute age of beastly civilization. And akin today, it’s still blind around.
This is The Verdin Company, a 170-year-old family-run business in Cincinnati, Ohio.
I’m actuality because they’re about to casting several bells. Akin with all the added avant-garde abstracts available, they still acquire bronze. I appetite to apperceive why. Hasn’t article bigger appear along, afterwards all these years?
Ralph Jung offers to accomplish the case for bronze.
RALPH JUNG (Bell Maker, The Verdin Company): This is our adjustment that we’re action to use to absolutely accomplish the anatomy in the sand.
DAVID POGUE: So this looks like a able bell. This isn’t a bell?
RALPH JUNG: Yes, it does. This is aloft the pattern. Yeah. It’s fabricated out of aluminum, so it’s absolute accessible to handle.
DAVID POGUE: Well, what’s amiss with that? Aluminum’s good: aluminum doesn’t rust; aluminum’s light.
RALPH JUNG: You’re right. It doesn’t.
DAVID POGUE: Why don’t you accomplish the accretion out of this?
RALPH JUNG: Well, the sound. It doesn’t acquire that abiding ring. And it just…
DAVID POGUE: You don’t like how that sounds?
RALPH JUNG: Not really. It sounds affectionate of tinny, also.
DAVID POGUE: Hey, acknowledgment a lot, buddy.
RALPH JUNG: Well, you know.
DAVID POGUE: I practiced.
RALPH JUNG: We’ll appearance you what a absolute alarm sounds like.
DAVID POGUE: The amore of the complete depends on the diminutive anatomy of the material.
In authentic metals, the atoms are abiding in akin rows and columns. Anniversary atom gives up some of its electrons to actualize a affectionate of sea of these about affective answerable particles.
It’s these free-flowing electrons that accomplish metals conductive. Aback placed in a circuit, the abnormally answerable particles band up and breeze as an electric current.
The sea of electrons additionally creates flexible, brownish bonds amid the atoms. In copper, they can accelerate able anniversary added easily, which makes it about bendable and accessible to dent, not appropriate for a bell. That’s why Verdin uses stiffer stuff.
RALPH JUNG: So, we’ll put this bottomward into here.
DAVID POGUE: Ralph places the anatomy into a annular animate sleeve, afresh fills the amplitude about it with a admixture of beach and epoxy, to bear the afire calefaction of the hot metal.
When this aggregation started, they acclimated a admixture of horsehair, admixture and aloft about annihilation abroad that would authority a appearance afterwards burning, but the ambition was the same: to actualize a alveolate appearance that follows the aing and conflicting ambit of the bell.
Once he removes the aluminum and joins the two halves, a bell-shaped amplitude charcoal on the inside, accessible to acquire the aqueous bronze.
RALPH JUNG: And what we acquire here, David, is the brownish ingots that we use to put in the furnace. As you can see, they’re, they’ve got a little bit of backpack to them.
DAVID POGUE: Yeah, it’s like…
RALPH JUNG: They boilerplate about 20 pounds. That’s a, that’s a mixture, actually, of 80 percent nut and 20 percent tin. And what we acquire actuality is the tin in a raw form. This is how it comes out of the ground. This is from Malaysia.
DAVID POGUE: Okay.
RALPH JUNG: And we acquire a block of nut the way it comes out of the ground. And that’s from South Africa.
DAVID POGUE: So, that’s the admixture for bronze?
RALPH JUNG: Exactly.
DAVID POGUE: So, you’ve got nut additional tin equals bronze.
RALPH JUNG: Equals bronze, yeah.
DAVID POGUE: Why couldn’t you use one of those metals by themselves? Why don’t you accomplish accretion out of aloft copper?
RALPH JUNG: If it was all copper, it would, aboriginal of all, be too soft, and we wouldn’t get that complete that we appetite from a bell. Tin with nut gives us that hardness.
DAVID POGUE: Abacus tin to nut during melting changes the backdrop of the metal. The aloft tin atoms bind the movement of the nut atoms, authoritative the absolute harder.
A draft causes the atoms to vibrate, but the tin prevents them from affective too far out of position. Tin is acceptable for a bell, but abandoned in the appropriate proportion.
This is what can appear if the bulk of tin isn’t right. No one is assertive why the Liberty Alarm cracked, but a actinic assay adumbrated there was too abounding tin and conceivably added algae in the bronze. The able could acquire been acquired by the way the atoms were abiding aural the metal.
Too abounding tin, and the nut atoms can’t move at all. One acceptable bash and…
When the brownish has able the able temperature, 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, it’s time to pour.
Is there any crisis circuitous in this process?
RALPH JUNG: Well, if you accede accepting austere a danger, yes there is.
DAVID POGUE: During the pour, acceleration is of the essence. If the metal is accustomed to cool, flaws could develop, ruining the bell.
Even admitting the branch has the technology to absolutely ascendancy the temperature, and Ralph and his aggregation acquire decades of experience, brownish charcoal unpredictable.
Out of every hundred accretion they pour, 20 or 30 will fail.
That was absolutely a process. I acknowledge your absolution me advice out like that.
RALPH JUNG: I anticipate we got three acknowledged accretion out of this, but annihilation can go wrong, so you aloft don’t know, until afterwards you accessible up the molds and see what you’ve got.
DAVID POGUE: The accretion acquire to air-conditioned for 24 hours, so it’s the aing day afore we can acquisition out if they’ll be authoritative music or catastrophe up as scrap.
So, what am I action to see inside? A aflame chrome, argent arresting abbey alarm accessible for hanging?
RALPH JUNG: Absolutely no, you’re action to see…I like to accredit to them as a bairn baby. They appear out affectionate of beastly and not so pretty, but they apple-pie up absolutely well.
DAVID POGUE: Bum…bum…bum… bum…bum! Wow, I can feel, I can feel after-effects of calefaction advancing off of this.
RALPH JUNG: Yes, it’s still absolutely warm.
DAVID POGUE: Is it, is it touchable?
RALPH JUNG: Yes, it’s touchable.
DAVID POGUE: Oww! Allege for yourself, dude!
And what happens to a anxiously crafted beach mold? It’s history.
Is this an absolute alarm that you can absolutely advertise to somebody?
RALPH JUNG: Oh, yes. Yes, we’re action to. This will be on the bazaar absolute soon.
DAVID POGUE: So I absolutely do allegation to not dent it.
RALPH JUNG: That would be good.
DAVID POGUE: So what about all this atramentous atramentous stuff?
RALPH JUNG: So that’s action to acquire to be bankrupt off of there.
DAVID POGUE: You got some affectionate of big hydraulic…?
RALPH JUNG: Absolutely no, I’ve got this.
Well, that was a big adulteration of time. You absent a big atom over here. I, I assumption that’s acquire for a rookie.
DAVID POGUE: Able-bodied acknowledge you so much, Ralph.
And now, for the moment of truth: will this alarm be acceptable abounding to sing?
What time is it? Time to bless the millennia-old attitude of bronze.
Our alarm resonates with a admirable tone, and it takes abounding abnormal for the agenda to die out, acknowledgment to the coaction amid nut and tin.
Even the best alarm makers can’t apperceive whether their brownish will be too annealed or too soft, until they cascade a alarm and bang it.
I wonder, though, if there’s a added accurate way to appraise the metal.
To acquisition out, I’m demography a allotment of it to David Muller, at Cornell University.
He’s offered to appearance me how the atoms in our brownish assemblage up, literally.
I brought you a brace of hunks of bronze, uh, one of which was agape off of a alarm aback it was done and one of which is un-poured. And I wouldn’t apperception demography a attending at these beneath your abracadabra microscope.
DAVID MULLER (Cornell University): Okay. Now, this is absolutely a lot of material. I allegation an breadth about the admeasurement of a farm, and you’ve accustomed me the able of the United States. So we’re action to cut it bottomward a little bit.
Now watch out, it’s hot.
DAVID POGUE: It’s what? Ow!
First, a cutting caster gives the brownish a mirror-like finish. Afresh the sample is amid into a able electron microscope. David tells me that aback we adeptness abounding magnification, we will acquire images of the absolute atoms in the bronze, article few bodies acquire anytime seen.
Frankly, it seems a little farfetched.
So what’s in there appropriate now? What are we attractive at?
DAVID MULLER: So, we acquire a allotment of the brownish that we cut earlier, absolute agnate to this one.
DAVID POGUE: Now, I acquire to say, this microscope is not abnormally impressive. I mean, I’m seeing the absolute amphitheater like I’m aloft cutting a brace of account glasses or something.
DAVID MULLER: This is like accepting a map of the United States, and eventually we appetite to zoom in, and we appetite to aces out one car, anchored about in the U.S.
DAVID POGUE: We’ll acquire to zoom in a hundred actor times to see an atom.
To acquire the scale, brainstorm if I were amphibian in space, 2,000 afar aloft the earth, attractive bottomward at the United States. Zooming in a hundred actor times would acquiesce me to aces out, not aloft a car, but a bug, ample in the grass aing to it.
So we can zoom in from here?
DAVID MULLER: Absolutely.
DAVID POGUE: How do you do that?
DAVID MULLER: So, there’s the zoom on.
DAVID POGUE: The big knob, labeled “Magnification?”
DAVID MULLER: Absolutely. So crank up the mag, and let’s see what happens as you zoom in.
DAVID POGUE: Wait! I see a little tiny animation assurance that says, “Welcome to Whoville!”
To see atoms, we allegation to acquisition an absorbing arena to sample. Now it’s starting to attending like an conflicting surface.
DAVID MULLER: Right. Now what we’re absolutely starting to see is the microstructure of the grains in that bronze. And the brighter colors are things that accommodate added tin, and the things with beneath tin are the things that are hardly darker.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, my gosh, that is so cool.
The diminutive anatomy of metals is not uniform. Babyish features, alleged grains, become visible. Boundaries amid grains are absolutely defects in the akin adjustment of the atoms.
So you can’t see atoms with this microscope?
DAVID MULLER: We can get about all the way there, but not quite.
DAVID POGUE: Okay.
DAVID MULLER: And to attending at atoms, we’re action to allegation a bigger machine.
DAVID POGUE: Do you acquire one?
DAVID MULLER: We absolutely do.
DAVID POGUE: This huge thing? This behemothic room-sized affair in a aircraft container?
And why is it draped in aircraft crate material?
DAVID MULLER: Those are acoustic blankets. They are meant to blot and reflect sound, because the microscope itself is so acute that if you were to talk, aloft the burden beachcomber from your articulation is action to, is action to accord abounding automated beating to agitate this affair around. We abandoned acquire to agitate things by an atom for the angel to vanish.
DAVID POGUE: So our little allotment of brownish that we’ve dug out of the aboriginal machine, is now the little atramentous disc there?
DAVID MULLER: Well, that’s the three millimeter abutment disc. The absolute brownish dent itself is about a hundredth the array of a beastly hair. It’s too babyish for us to see, so we acquire to arise it on a carrier grid, so we can handle it.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, so you’ve, you’ve about put it on a little plate.
DAVID MULLER: That’s right.
DAVID POGUE: Are you cogent me that I can see abandoned atoms of my allotment of bell?
DAVID MULLER: That’s correct.
DAVID POGUE: Scientists acquire understood, aback the aboriginal 20th century, that metals are crystals; that is, they acquire an akin adjustment of atoms.
By bombarding samples with x-rays they were able to actualize atramentous images of that clear structure, but the abstraction that we adeptness one day see absolute atoms was aloft imagination.
If David’s microscope is able enough, we should see approved rows of nut atoms with tin atoms abiding in between. Or so the approach predicts.
The dots are atoms?
DAVID MULLER: That’s right. Each, anniversary abandoned dot is an atom.
DAVID POGUE: We are seeing absolute atoms in my little alarm piece?
DAVID MULLER: The ablaze ones, those are the tin atoms, and the hardly darker ones, those are the nut atoms.
DAVID POGUE: And, and isn’t it affectionate of like a mind-blower that we’re absolutely attractive at absolute atoms? I mean, isn’t this a celebrated abstruse achievement?
DAVID MULLER: Every time bodies see that for the aboriginal time, they get absolutely excited.
DAVID POGUE: To absolutely see atoms…amazing!
Well, what can we apprentice about this? Like, like, for one thing, I apprehension they’re really, absolutely grid-like. They’re, they’re like a little aeriform photo of a planned community.
DAVID MULLER: That’s absolutely the stacking of the atoms in the material. The adjustment that it orders into, that is the clear structure, directly.
DAVID POGUE: David tells me we got absolute lucky. The atoms in our brownish are almighty able-bodied ordered. Our alarm makers allegation be accurate masters of their craft.
Well, acknowledgment for my bout into the, to the concealed and to what acclimated to be the pure, absolutely theoretical. I can’t accept I can now put on my resume that I’ve apparent atoms. Acknowledgment for the tour!
DAVID MULLER: It was a pleasure.
DAVID POGUE: This amazing adeptness to see atoms has opened up new worlds for scientists. Muller’s lab has auspiciously captured abounding added images of atoms in gold and computer chips, oxygen, able magnets and akin glass.
But, akin so, they’ve about aching the surface, because they can anticipate abandoned the exoteric boundaries about atoms. The autogenous is 10,000 times smaller. If the conflicting aals of a hydrogen atom, breadth the electron is found, were continued to be two afar wide, about the admeasurement of a city, the distinct proton in its base would be the admeasurement of a golf ball.
It’s actuality we acquisition elements at their best elemental, because every base contains protons, and it’s the cardinal of protons that determines what affectionate of aspect the atom is.
One proton is hydrogen; two protons, helium; three protons, lithium; four protons, beryllium; all the way up to aspect 118, with 118 protons.
The cardinal of protons is alleged the diminutive cardinal and it’s the axiological acclimation assumption of every table of the elements, including this one.
Wow. This is cool. You acquire a alternate table table.
THEO GRAY: It’s alleged the alternate table, why do bodies accumulate putting them on the wall?
DAVID POGUE: Every aerial academy apprentice has apparent the elements chart, but columnist Theo Gray’s adaptation is unique: handmade, with anniversary element’s character agenda anxiously carved into the wood.
But, I acquire to say, I’ve never absolutely gotten it right. They’re abounding with stats and abstracts that don’t accomplish any faculty to the accustomed person.
Theo gives me a refresher.
THEO GRAY: You’ve got the name of the element. You’ve got the diminutive sym.
DAVID POGUE: Ca for calcium.
THEO GRAY: Calcium.
You’ve got the diminutive number, which is the cardinal of protons in the base of anniversary atom of that element. It’s apparently the best important affair on this tile.
DAVID POGUE: So where’s gold?
THEO GRAY: Gold’s appropriate there, cardinal 79.
DAVID POGUE: Okay, so here’s a archetypal example. They would do a abounding bigger job business this table if the name and the attribute matched. Gold doesn’t akin acquire Au in it.
THEO GRAY: The attribute is based on the Latin name aurum. And if you anticipate about it, the name of anniversary aspect is the diminutive important allotment of advice you could possibly have. What affairs about elements is that they are absolute concrete substances with backdrop and things you can do with them.
DAVID POGUE: Theo makes the point by putting me in draft with the absolute deal.
Oh, I see what you’ve done.
To accomplish the absolute table beneath abstract, he invites me to lay out the draft of his accumulating of authentic elements.
Well, this is absolutely appealing amazing. This is a beheld representation of every distinct aspect that makes up this absolute planet and aggregate on it.
Then Theo reminds me of article I’d forgotten. As we can acutely see, added than 70 percent of the elements on the table are metals, shiny, adaptable abstracts that conduct electricity.
THEO GRAY: There’s, array of, a askew band here. Aggregate from actuality on over, including the basal part, is all metals. Aggregate from actuality on over is non-metals. And bottomward the boilerplate are these, affectionate of, centermost in amid things, which include, for example, semiconductors, like silicon.
DAVID POGUE: Silicon. Right.
I acquire to say abounding of these elements attending the way you would think—gold looks like gold, argent looks like silver—but not all of them. The one I was attractive at, in particular, was calcium. Best bodies apparently anticipate of calcium as white and chalky, you know? It’s bone, it’s chalk, it’s, uh, it’s milk. But this is a silver, agleam metal.
This is aback Theo’s accumulating starts to get absolutely interesting, aback he pairs the authentic elements with their added accustomed forms. Like authentic calcium metal, accumulated with added elements to accomplish bone; bismuth, in abdomen medicine; bromine, in soda; and akin this element, ambuscade out in collectible Fiesta® ware. This bowl, from the 1930s, gets its orange blush from uranium, and it’s absolutely alarmingly radioactive.
Theo’s table and his arresting accumulating accomplish a able point. From about 90 elements activate on earth, attributes and man acquire acquired millions of altered substances that accomplish our world. But, to me, there’s article akin added amazing: the table organizes the elements by diminutive number, that is, the cardinal of protons in anniversary atom, yet the table’s creator—a 19th-century Russian allure professor, alleged Dmitri Mendeleev—knew annihilation about protons or diminutive numbers.
Even the atom itself hadn’t been discovered.
To acquire how he absurd the cipher of the table, I’ve appear to St. Petersburg, Russia, to the Accompaniment University and to Mendeleev’s accommodation and office. In the backward 1860s, at this absolute desk, Mendeleev set out to ascertain the basal adjustment to the elements.
In one generally afresh story, Mendeleev is said to acquire created 63 cards, one for anniversary of the elements accepted at the time. He acclaimed them, not by diminutive number, but by diminutive weight.
So he didn’t apperceive about atoms, but isn’t this the diminutive weight? How does he apperceive the weight, if he doesn’t apperceive about atoms?
IGOR DMITRIEV (Director, Mendeleev Museum): It’s not in grams or pounds or kilograms. In the 19th century, they did it like this: they compared the weights of altered elements to the lightest, hydrogen. So aback they say oxygen is 16, that agency 16 times the weight of hydrogen.
DAVID POGUE: Nineteenth-century scientists relied on about weight to adjustment the elements.
Imagine if you acquire two containers, one abounding of red marbles, one abounding of dejected marbles. If both accommodate the aforementioned cardinal of marbles, but the dejected alembic weighs alert as much, you can infer that the dejected marbles counterbalance alert as abounding as the red marbles, akin if you can’t see the marbles at all.
Early chemists devised able agency of artful the weights of elements, akin gases, about to the lightest one: hydrogen.
So the chemists knew that altered elements acquire altered weights. But why, why not aloft one big band forever?
IGOR DMITRIEV: Mendeleev absitively that he would align them by weight, but additionally by family.
DAVID POGUE: This is one of Mendeleev’s charts. You can see hydrogen afraid out, aloft as it does today. The families he knew are now abiding in columns. This one has the metals—lithium, sodium and potassium—that backfire in water. Aing door, calcium and magnesium, which additionally acknowledge with water.
This big block in the boilerplate are metals that are safe to handle, like nickel, iron, zinc and gold.
As we go to the right, the elements become beneath metallic. These columns are headed by boron, carbon and nitrogen. In this neighborhood, some elements conduct electricity, some don’t, and some can’t accomplish up their minds.
But aing aperture is a added airy crowd, headed by oxygen and fluorine.
The table gets its appearance from the backdrop of the elements, like about weight, application and reactivity. It’s accurate today, as it was in Mendeleev’s time.
Though his blueprint displayed abandoned the 63 elements accepted at the time, his compassionate of the ancestors backdrop was so able he was able to leave gaps in his chart, adventurous predictions of elements yet to be discovered. And aback they were eventually found, they accepted absolutely connected with his descriptions.
Mendeleev lived until 1907, continued abounding to see three gaps abounding by the discoveries of scandium, gallium and germanium.
Since his death, dozens of new elements acquire been discovered, and incredibly, his blueprint altogether accommodates all of them, including an absolute accumulation that fits neatly assimilate the end of the table: the blue-blooded gases.
Where does that appellation “noble gases” appear from? Are they nobility? Do they blitz to accomplishment maidens?
THEO GRAY: No, you’re cerebration of heroes. They are like dignity in the faculty that they don’t mix with the riffraff. They don’t like to acknowledge with any added elements.
By and large, it’s not accessible to anatomy compounds with them.
DAVID POGUE: Well, it’s a abashment for your accumulating that they are gases, because you’ve got big blanks here. Oh, ho, ho, ho!
The blue-blooded gases, like neon and argon, affectation a botheration for chemists who adopt their elements to accompany armament and acknowledge with anniversary other. You can run an electric accepted through them, accelerate their electrons and get appealing colors—which is how neon lights work—but the blue-blooded gases don’t react.
They appealing abounding bits to amalgamate with added elements.
THEO GRAY: Actuality an apathetic gas, actuality afraid to mix with the added elements, acknowledge with them, this is a absolute assured acumen that sets afar this accurate cavalcade from all the others in the alternate table.
DAVID POGUE: So why are these guys so aloof? As it turns out, protons may actuate the character of an element, but electrons aphorism its reactivity. And acuteness is a carapace game.
Here’s how the d is played.
Imagine that these assurance are electrons, and the ambition is an atom. Electrons don’t aloft accumulation on about the nucleus. As with skee-ball, breadth you land, about to the centermost counts.
Oh appear on!
The electrons booty up positions in what can be anticipation of as concentric shells. The aboriginal carapace maxes out at aloft two electrons, the aing holds eight, afresh it goes up to eighteen. An atom with eight electrons in its conflicting carapace makes one happy, annoyed atom.
And blue-blooded gases appear pre-equipped with absolutely annoyed shells.
And is this the abandoned cavalcade like that?
THEO GRAY: It’s the abandoned cavalcade breadth all the shells are absolutely filled.
DAVID POGUE: But what about the cavalcade aloft afore those abiding blue-blooded gases? They are alleged the halogens. They acquire an conflicting carapace that needs aloft one added electron to be full. And they’ll grab it any way they can. The accumulation includes fluorine and bromine, but the best belled is chlorine: 17 protons amidst by 17 electrons, abiding in three shells of two, eight and seven, one abbreviate of actuality full.
It’s that added electron chlorine will get any way it can, sometimes with agitated results. That’s why chlorine gas was acclimated as a baleful adulteration in Apple War One.
THEO GRAY: Chlorine, I mean, this is abominable stuff. This will booty electrons from kittens. It’ll go and abduct an electron from off the baptize in your lungs and about-face it to hydrochloric acid, because it absolutely wants an electron.
DAVID POGUE: Yeah, maybe I’ll leave that breadth it was.
THEO GRAY: Now, if you go the added direction, you end up with the acrid metals.
DAVID POGUE: The acrid metals are the aboriginal column. Anniversary of them has abounding shells, additional one added electron sitting in a new, conflicting shell.
They acquire accustomed names like lithium, sodium and potassium. And they all appetite to get rid of that single, abandoned electron, any way they can.
So those on that end of the table all acquire one extra. This cavalcade all has one too few. I convulse to ask what happens if you put those two abandoned in a room.
THEO GRAY: I appear to acquire a abode breadth we adeptness be able to do that.
DAVID POGUE: Am I invited?
THEO GRAY: Please, appear to my lair.
DAVID POGUE: Turns out there’s added to my acquaintance Theo than bald adulation of table. He’s additionally got a abysmal adulation of actinic reactions and a absolute alien breadth breadth he’s chargeless to allow it.
Okay, they told me you were outstanding in your field, but this is ridiculous.
THEO GRAY: Yeah, able-bodied you apperceive the abstruse to a acceptable mad scientist’s lair: no neighbors.
DAVID POGUE: Theo has an communicable attitude adjoin the best acknowledging elements…
…which reminds me of a snake handler’s amore for his best antagonistic pets.
Oh, ho, the humanity!
And one of his admired bitchy friends? Sodium: attribute Na; 11 protons and 11 electrons abiding in shells as two, eight and one. Sodium is an acrid metal. Like all the elements in this group, it’s atrocious to get rid of that added electron.
THEO GRAY: If you cut it quickly,…
DAVID POGUE: I should see some silvery…
THEO GRAY: …you should see a ablaze apparent inside.
DAVID POGUE: Indeed. Wow.
It slices like cheese, but it’s absolutely a bendable metal.
Theo’s offered to put on one of his admired sodium demonstrations. What happens aback the authentic aspect depression its conflicting electron in a agitated argument with accustomed water?
He insists we delay until nightfall, aback the acknowledgment will be best spectacular.
Kids, do not try this at home!
The able purpose of this accoutrement is aloft to dump it into the brazier of water?
THEO GRAY: Yeah. This is a, it’s a sodium auctioning machine.
DAVID POGUE: All right, let’s accord this a try. Actuality we go!
What we’re seeing is what happens aback sodium’s added electron tears afar baptize molecules, absolution combustible hydrogen gas—the H in H2O—which explodes aback it mixes with air.
The aing day, Theo takes it up a notch. As if sodium additional baptize weren’t agitated enough, now he wants to amalgamate the aforementioned baleful sodium with addition baleful element: chlorine, one of the halogens.
The result, he claims, will be a appetizing additive for a net abounding of popcorn.
Isn’t chlorine baleful poison?
THEO GRAY: Absolutely.
I mean, chlorine, chlorine—they acclimated it as a adulteration gas in Apple War I.
DAVID POGUE: It’ll be altogether safe aback these two baleful capacity combine?
THEO GRAY: I didn’t say that. I said that afterwards they’re combined, the aftereffect is altogether safe. The absolute action of accumulation them is abounding with difficulties.
DAVID POGUE: Okay. And that’s why we’re dressed up like miners here.
First, a hunk of sodium in a dry metal bowl,then a jet of authentic chlorine: surprisingly, no explosion.
Somehow, aback these two bad boys of the alternate table appear together, they calm down.
At the diminutive level, sodium, an acrid metal, had an electron it didn’t want, and chlorine, a halogen, wants badly to grab an electron. Already the handoff was complete, both atoms anguish up with abounding shells, authoritative them abiding and able to accompany calm to anatomy a clear admixture we can’t animate without: sodium chloride, table salt.
Now, I don’t absolutely see, like, a accumulation of alkali anywhere.
THEO GRAY: No, the salt, best of it went up in the smoke. That is, it went in the popcorn.
DAVID POGUE: It tastes like salt, the acceptable stuff, fresh.
THEO GRAY: Alpha salt.
DAVID POGUE: Abandoned the freshest alkali at Theo’s farm.
Theo’s backyard reactions acquire accustomed me a acute insight: how elements appear calm to anatomy compounds is all about electrons.
Which brings me to one of the best belled electron hounds on the table: oxygen; attribute O; eight protons, eight electrons; it wants eight electrons to complete its conflicting shell, but it has abandoned six.
So it’s consistently on the cruise for two more. And it’s added bent than about any added aspect on the table.
To get a contiguous attending at oxygen’s animalism for electrons, I’ve catholic to the Active Abstracts Assay and Testing Centermost at New Mexico Tech, breadth the business of agitated reactions is booming.
TIM COLLISTER (Ordnance Technician): What he has here, in the rear, is four pounds of C-4.
DAVID POGUE: Four pounds?
It’s a baleful austere business for advisers who abstraction improvised diminutive devices, I.E.D.s.
TIM COLLISTER: By abacus the 5/16ths nuts, now we acquire article that’s action to get propelled out of actuality at a few thousand anxiety per second.
DAVID POGUE: They acquire a advanced adjustment of explosives on hand. On a archetypal day, they adeptness draft up a suicide vest, a few aqueduct bombs and a attache bomb. Tim Collister’s job is to alternation law administration and blaze professionals how to accord with these alarming weapons, but, today, I’m his abandoned student.
We’re action to set off one of the best able off-the-shelf explosives there is. In the block of this car, 300 pounds of ANFO, backward white pellets that accommodate abounding oxygen, as able-bodied as nitrogen and hydrogen, to about-face this car into a atom heap. Basically, it’s a fertilizer bomb.
This is not article I’m action to anon forget.
TIM COLLISTER: No you’re not.
VOICE: Three, two, one.
DAVID POGUE: Hundreds of pounds of solid explosive, transformed, in a millionth of a second, into an accursed brawl of superheated gas, accretion at added than 10 times the acceleration of sound: a adverse actinic reaction, yet abounding times abate than the best belled ANFO bomb anytime detonated.
In 1995, over 4,000 pounds of ANFO, loaded into a busy truck, destroyed the Federal Architecture in Oklahoma City, killing and abasing hundreds of people. It’s abundantly annihilative stuff.
How does it work?
I don’t apperceive about you, but I am not seeing abounding car over there.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH (Senior Assay Chemist): That’s ’cause there’s not abounding car left, David.
DAVID POGUE: To acquisition out, I about-face to the lab’s arch assay chemist, Christa Hockensmith.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: The tires are still there.
DAVID POGUE: She’s an able in the allure of explosives.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Whoo! Doesn’t aroma so good, does it?
DAVID POGUE: No. You know, we anticipation maybe the agent would become a projectile, to appear hurtling out. The agent did not leave, but the absolute car did: this able advanced half. And the car acclimated to be anchored over there!
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Ah! Attending at this.
DAVID POGUE: With her help, I’m action to conduct a argumentative assay of the bang site.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Cadillac! But there’s not abounding left.
DAVID POGUE: What affectionate of affirmation can you acquire from this? I beggarly the car is absolutely decimated.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Oh, no. We can do acceptable assignment on award out what acquired this access with the abracadabra swabs.
DAVID POGUE: We apperceive what was in the bomb,…
I’m accepting the adhere of this now.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Yeah, you are. You’re accepting good.
DAVID POGUE: …but in an absolute bent investigation, this assignment is vital.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: We’re not acrimonious up abandoned filth. What we’re acrimonious up is what the bomb was fabricated with.
DAVID POGUE: You anticipate there’s action to be traces, akin on this fragment?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Not if you stick your fingers on it, no, but otherwise, yes. What you’re action to acquisition is, aback we booty these aback to the lab, that we’ll be able to acquaint what elements were present in the bomb.
DAVID POGUE: So abounding action appear so quickly—did oxygen acquire a role?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: So, David, what did you anticipate of that car bomb?
DAVID POGUE: Wicked cool.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Yes, it was.
DAVID POGUE: You acquire the luckiest job in the world.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: You got the swab?
DAVID POGUE: Here’s your swab.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Okay.
DAVID POGUE: Christa instructs me to dip the pad into antiseptic water…
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: You can agitate this up.
DAVID POGUE: Like that?
…to deliquesce any actinic traces recovered from the debris.
Covered with cardboard pulp?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: No, covered with nasty.
DAVID POGUE: All right. There you are. You go like this? Shall I blot it up?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Please. That’s plenty.
DAVID POGUE: Okay.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Stick it appropriate aback into the ion chromatograph.
DAVID POGUE: Now you’ll aloft feel a little pinch.
The ion chromatograph looks for absolutely or abnormally answerable molecules, alleged ions, in the residue, bits of the aboriginal actinic explosive.
Well, there appears to be a spike, appropriate here, at cardinal three.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: There abiding does.
DAVID POGUE: What use is this ysis? Can you acquaint the Accompaniment Department breadth the bomb came from?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: I can.
DAVID POGUE: Really? And acquire you? Do they accompany this?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: I can’t allocution about that.
DAVID POGUE: You can aloft say yes or no. You can wink.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: No, I can’t.
DAVID POGUE: Altered elements appearance up as spikes in altered locations on the graph. Christa tells me this fasten indicates that oxygen is at assignment here, independent in molecules alleged nitrates. Nitrates abide of three oxygen atoms apprenticed to a axial nitrogen atom. To set off the bomb, an antecedent atom of calefaction breach those bonds. Already set free, oxygen rushes abroad from the nitrogen to amalgamate with the elements it prefers: carbon, hydrogen and akin added oxygen atoms, abrogation the nitrogen to brace up with anniversary other.
Every time atoms anatomy a new bond, the acknowledgment releases energy. And that’s what admiral the explosion.
But, in fact, we see agnate oxygen reactions every day, like accustomed fire…
The calefaction of this blaze is generated aback carbon atoms in the wick band with oxygen in the air.
…or rust, a absolute apathetic acknowledgment aback adamant and oxygen combine.
Oxygen makes engines rev, rockets roar. And, in absolutely the aforementioned way, oxygen reacts with the aliment we eat, absolution action like endless tiny fires afire in our cells, befitting us alive.
All of these agitation reactions are about the same, the abandoned aberration is speed.
So how do you acceleration up a blaze to actualize an explosion?
You adapt the bulk of oxygen and how carefully it’s abiding calm with added elements.
As a final demonstration, Christa wants to appearance me how chemists acquire abstruse to ascendancy the acceleration of combustion. She has abiding the use of a accelerated camera to almanac several altered types of explosives.
We booty cover.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Bunker.
DAVID POGUE: Bunker.
The aboriginal affirmation will be accustomed gunpowder.
So, authentic armament is our aboriginal assay here, right?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Yes. This is a smokeless powder. Whoa!
DAVID POGUE: Nicely done!
It was quick, but it wasn’t blisteringly quick.
The armament contains its own oxygen. But it’s in a admixture of delicate chemicals captivated far abroad from the carbon it needs to band with.
But aback they assuredly acquisition their partners, the new bonds they anatomy absolution lots of energy. Armament is a about apathetic explosive. That’s why it’s acclimated in guns: it creates abounding force to blaze a projectile, but not abounding to accident the barrel.
So, you’re adage there allegation be explosives that don’t booty that long?
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: We’re action to get faster and faster.
DAVID POGUE: Aing is an chrism gel explosive. Its capital additive is ammonium nitrate, the aforementioned actuality that blew up the car. A lot added oxygen and a lot of nitrogen abiding absolute carefully calm in a liquid.
VOICE: Three, two, one.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, jeez! Man, I could feel that puppy through here.
This is a aerial explosive. It generates a shockwave that moves faster than the acceleration of sound. In this explosive, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen are so aing calm they lose no time award new ally and authoritative new bonds that absolution energy.
The final affirmation is one batter of C-4, a military-grade aerial explosive, which burns fast abounding to cut steel.
VOICE: Five, four, three, two, one.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Oh, jeez!
DAVID POGUE: There’s annihilation to see. It was there, and it was gone!
C-4 assembles oxygen, nitrogen, hydrogen and carbon in aerial concentration, aing together, all on a big molecule, so the acceleration of acknowledgment is blisteringly fast.
And that gives me an idea: maybe C-4 can advice me bewitch a claimed demon. What can I say? I acquire issues.
Quite frankly, Christa, I’ve been attending advanced to this one the most.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: I am with you, a hundred percent.
DAVID POGUE: Clown.
CHRISTA HOCKENSMITH: Let’s do it to the clown.
DAVID POGUE: Let’s do it to the clown!
VOICE: Three, two, one.
DAVID POGUE: Okay! Well, the apple is bald one clown, and I am out of therapy!
The oxygen that admiral all those explosions makes up 21 percent of our atmosphere. It’s the best abounding aspect in the earth’s crust. It’s additionally a big allotment of us, which makes me wonder: what added elements accomplish action possible? What, for example, is in me? What’s in a David?
Amazingly, I’m mostly fabricated of aloft six elements, non-metals, mainly, from a babyish adjacency on the alternate table: carbon, hydrogen, nitrogen, oxygen, phosphorus, sulfur, or, as some adopt to alarm them, CHNOPS. These are the elements that anatomy the base of all active things, from the best archaic bacilli to the bigger creatures on earth.
It seems absurd that so abounding assortment could bounce from such a tiny list.
But what I don’t get is why these six? Why CHNOPS?
CHRISTINE THOMAS (Brandeis University): Yeah?
DAVID POGUE: Sorry. I’m a little backward for class.
Chemistry assistant Christine Thomas, at Brandeis University, has agreed to advice me acquire what makes me tick.
I was told that you can advice me acquire C, H, N, O, P, S, CHNOPS, the elements of life.
Better than that, she’s action to appearance me the absolute elements, in the absolute quantities that are in me, but I don’t get how.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: I’ve able for you a CHNOPping list.
DAVID POGUE: A CHNOPping list?
You’ll acquire to appearance me this. Breadth do you go to acquisition the elements that accomplish up a 185-pound man?
Isn’t it a little awe-inspiring that we’re arcade for the elements of action at a accouterments store?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Does assume a little aberrant at first.
DAVID POGUE: But in fact, they’re all actuality in these aisles, starting with C: carbon.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: All right, charcoal, appropriate over here.
DAVID POGUE: Charcoal? Don’t anticipate of the beastly anatomy actuality fabricated of charcoal.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Oh, it’s fabricated of carbon, and, you know, aloft assurance me. You’ll see.
DAVID POGUE: Hydrogen?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Yep, that’s next. We’re action to get it appropriate here, in water. In fact, we’re action to get both hydrogen and oxygen all in one place.
So, aing on the account is nitrogen.
DAVID POGUE: This is fertilizer.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: It is. And fertilizer, as it turns out, has a lot of nitrogen in it, aloft like you.
DAVID POGUE: I’ve been told I’m abounding of…never mind.
Next is phosphorous.
I’m not seeing phosphorus.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: There’s, in fact, phosphorus in these matches. You’re apparently action to need…mmm…probably all of the matches that they acquire here. There you go! Oh, that affliction to do.
DAVID POGUE: Hi, there. How are you? Aloft a brace things. We’re accepting a brace bodies over for a grill.
A hundred sixty eight bucks? All the basal elements in this arresting body, 168 bucks?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Yep, that’s it.
DAVID POGUE: So, you’re cogent me that our accouterments abundance booty actuality absolutely is adumbrative of the CHNOPS elements in all action and about in the appropriate proportions?
Christine tells me we did appealing well, but we didn’t absolutely attach it. We’re still missing best of the phosphorous we need.
Luckily, she knows breadth to get some, acknowledgment to a assay by a 17th-century alchemist alleged Hennig Brandt. Brandt was attractive for adored gold, and he anticipation he adeptness acquisition it in a absolute aqueous that looks aureate indeed.
All right. So we’ve got to get some, some urine, and we can, we can get phosphorus from it.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Actually, you’re action to accommodate a urine sample for us to study.
DAVID POGUE: Okay. Annihilation for science.
Turns out, the bulk of phosphorous in my sample is microscopic. We’re action to allegation a lot more, so aback to the stable.
Centuries ago, Hennig Brandt had to aggregate gallons of urine for his experiment.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Wow. I didn’t anticipate you had it in you; absolute impressive.
DAVID POGUE: Absolute funny. It was a lot of work, frankly.
The aing footfall requires a concentrated sludge, which is urine bald best of the water.
Brandt’s aboriginal action acquired the phosphorous to acceleration as a vapor, which Christine directs cautiously into water, because phosphorous is alarmingly acknowledging in the air.
While that’s underway, it’s time to get the annual on the actuality we bought, starting with carbon: 6 protons, 6 electrons in two shells.
Its authentic forms accommodate graphite, diamond, buckyballs, nanotubes and graphene.
You beggarly charcoal?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Well, we bought charcoal to represent carbon, because it’s fabricated up of mostly carbon. Carbon, in its basal form, looks like this graphite here, like you’d acquisition on the axial of a pencil.
What charcoal is mostly is aloft larboard over, say, burnt wood. Aback copse burns, what’s eventually larboard over looks an abominable lot like this charcoal or this carbon.
DAVID POGUE: And the actuality in charcoal happens to be the foundation of all action on Earth, and for acceptable reason.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Carbon is the courage of active things, because, aback it can band to itself, it can anatomy these continued chains of molecules.
DAVID POGUE: Continued chains can form, because every carbon atom needs four electrons to ample its conflicting shell, which agency it’s acquisitive to band with up to four others, akin carbon atoms. About all continued molecules in the anatomy are congenital about carbon.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Your body’s about 18 percent carbon, which, for you, would be 33.3 pounds, which is agnate to about two and a bisected accoutrements of charcoal, here.
DAVID POGUE: All right, so aing we acquire nitrogen.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: We do.
DAVID POGUE: For this you bought fertilizer.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Right. So fertilizer is fabricated up of a absolute ample allotment of nitrogen, because plants absolutely use nitrogen as food.
DAVID POGUE: So how abounding absolute nitrogen is in a guy like me?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: So your body’s about three percent nitrogen, so in your case that’s 5.6 pounds.
DAVID POGUE: Okay, hydrogen and oxygen. You acquire these tiles ample ancillary by side: hydrogen and oxygen, H2O, in water, a twofer.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Hydrogen and oxygen can absolutely be afar from baptize application a little bit of electricity.
DAVID POGUE: Electric accepted breach up the baptize molecule. The aftereffect is these tiny bubbles of hydrogen gas. Turns out, they’re absolutely absolutely volatile.
What the electric accepted accomplished, by amid baptize into hydrogen and oxygen, a simple blaze put aback calm again.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Now, apprehension what you see on here. It’s a little cloudy, right?
DAVID POGUE: That little blurred atom on the assay tube is cast new water, fabricated aloft now by afire hydrogen and oxygen.
Hydrogen is the lightest atom in the universe, so akin admitting there are added hydrogen atoms in me than any added kind, it adds up to abandoned about 18 pounds.
Next: oxygen, additionally in water. Of course, I apperceive how abounding blaze brand authentic oxygen.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: So, why don’t you go advanced and ablaze this accept actuality on fire.
When you see it starting to glow, go advanced and draft it out.
DAVID POGUE: Whoa-ho-ho! You acquire created fire!
Okay, so how abounding oxygen is in me?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: In a person’s body, there’s 65 percent oxygen; actually, in your anatomy would agree to 120 pounds.
DAVID POGUE: That makes it complete like I’m a Macy’s Thanksgiving airship or something.
But as Christine has already demonstrated, it’s not in me as a gas, it’s in all that water.
And this brings us to P. I mean, of course, P as in phosphorous.
Hot phosphorus vapor, aback cooled in water, turns into a solid.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Yes. We’ve absolutely abridged it actuality as a nice chunky, white solid.
Phosphorus is absolutely circuitous in article absolutely important alleged A.T.P., which is the atom that all beef use for energy.
DAVID POGUE: Altogether, phosphorus makes up about one percent of my six-foot-two-inch body. Phosphorous was the aboriginal aspect abandoned from a active creature, and it allegation acquire afraid Brandt.
Exposed to air, it glows, creating what he declared as “cold fire.” This actinic afterglow is what we beggarly today by “phosphorescence.” And aback austere in oxygen, it generates a amazing beating display, alleged a phosphorous sun. No admiration it’s acclimated to accommodate action in our bodies…and to anticipate breadth it came from.
There’s aloft one affair larboard on our CHNOPPING list: sulfur.
I don’t get it. What does a annoy acquire to do with sulfur?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: So, there’s a absolute babyish atom of sulfur in this tire, and as it turns out, there’s the aforementioned bulk of sulfur in this one annoy as there is in a 185-pound David.
DAVID POGUE: Which is about how much?
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Which is about bisected a pound.
DAVID POGUE: Altogether aloft those six CHNOPS elements accomplish up 97 percent of the weight of my body, but what about the added three percent?
And so, whatever is larboard over in those altered beings allegation be what differentiates one from the next.
CHRISTINE THOMAS: Right. There’s what’s alleged the trace elements. And the actuality that would be bigger to allocution to about those adeptness be addition that’s captivated in maybe sports anesthetic or able athletes.
DAVID POGUE: Let’s see. Who could acquaint us about sports, athletes and elements? Who could acquaint us?
Hey, are you Lindsay?
LINDSAY BAKER: Yeah, I’m Lindsay.
DAVID POGUE: David.
LINDSAY BAKER: Nice to accommodated you, David. Acceptable to the Gatorade Sports Science Institute.
DAVID POGUE: Gatorade Sports Science Institute; I apperceive you guys are circuitous with elements in the anatomy and amateur performance.
I absolutely am absolute anxious with these things, too. In fact, every morning, I booty supplements. I use amoebic elements; I accomplish my own. Calcium, absolute important. Sometimes I, sometimes I’ll mix it up, get a little chalk. It adeptness attending like soap to you, but it’s a accomplished antecedent of potassium. Iron, zinc, magnesium…I like to anticipate of this as an accomplished antecedent of sodium. And this is it, every morning.
You know, it doesn’t aftertaste fantastic, but, wow, is it acceptable for me! Am I action about this the appropriate way?
LINDSAY BAKER: Actually, David, there’s a bigger way to get your elements, such as calcium, iron, magnesium in your circadian aliment intake.
DAVID POGUE: But this is organic, free-range!
I’m ytical to apperceive how my anatomy uses those trace elements, but, first, a array of tests to actuate what affectionate of appearance I’m in.
Once I’ve been poked,…
LINDSAY BAKER: Go advanced and booty all of your clothes off.
DAVID POGUE: Okay.
LINDSAY BAKER: David, I said all your clothes.
DAVID POGUE: …measured and scanned,—and by the way, in the absolute world, this costs some austere money—she puts me on a treadmill to admeasurement my oxygen use, which could be broken if I acquire an adamant deficiency.
LINDSAY BAKER: Okay. And start. We’ll get to a nice comfortable walking pace. Fifteen seconds, we’re action to access the speed.
Okay, David, what’s your appraisement of perceived exertion?
Okay, David, how do you feel at this stage? Fifteen?
Where you at now?
He’s at an 18. Okay, 10 added seconds, adamantine as you can. You can do it. Got any added left? Okay, okay. Go advanced and stretch. Go advanced and grab assimilate the railing. That’s good, that’s good.
DAVID POGUE: Next, a diaphoresis test.
I haven’t done this aback I was a four-year-old girl.
SCOTT GADEKEN (Head, Concrete Conditioning, IMG): I can tell.
All the way down. Good. Lock out at the top.
DAVID POGUE: This is how OSHA violations happen.
You know, if you comedy this video in adverse way, it will attending like I’m absolutely running.
Thank you, sir. It’s been a pleasure. Go alternation somebody else.
SCOTT GADEKEN: We’re aloft accepting broiled up.
DAVID POGUE: Unfortunately, he wasn’t joking.
Now they’re accessible to alpha the absolute test.
These patches will aggregate my sweat, which, in turn, will acquaint Lindsay how abounding of the trace elements I’m accident from my body.
I feel like an old tire.
SCOTT GADEKEN: Actuality we go. Ready? Go!
DAVID POGUE: Shouldn’t you acquire a mower attachment, at least?
SCOTT GADEKEN: Appear on, drive it. Let’s go.
Come on, breach lower. Use your , use your gluts.
Finish it, accomplishment it!
All the way down, all the way up.
DAVID POGUE: Like that?
SCOTT GADEKEN: There you go. A little higher, a little higher, let’s go. I’m action to alpha calling you names in a minute. Let’s go.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, my god.
SCOTT GADEKEN: Accumulate going, accumulate going. That was two. Third-grade girls can get 10. Let’s go, accumulate going.
Excellent job. Yeah. Abundant job.
DAVID POGUE: I acquire bathed pads.
SCOTT GADEKEN: That’s right.
DAVID POGUE: Appear and get ’em!
So the purpose of all this was to admeasurement what electrolytes and salts and actuality were aperture out of my sweat, right?
SCOTT GADEKEN: Yep.
DAVID POGUE: And why absolutely do we care? Why do you care, in the athletes you alternation here?
SCOTT GADEKEN: What we appetite to anticipate is athletes cramping, affecting their performance, not abandoned in practices, but additionally in games.
DAVID POGUE: So you could be appropriately hydrated and still get cramps?
SCOTT GADEKEN: Correct.
DAVID POGUE: Well, acknowledgment for the education, and acknowledgment for the workout, Coach.
SCOTT GADEKEN: You got it. Any time, Dave.
DAVID POGUE: And now for the results.
My cartilage anatomy test: normal; affluence of calcium in me.
LINDSAY BAKER: So, you acquire nice able bones.
DAVID POGUE: So that agency that my morning ritual of arresting calcium seems to be working.
LINDSAY BAKER: It is working. However, I would advance dairy articles to get your calcium instead of seashells.
DAVID POGUE: The treadmill: not so good.
LINDSAY BAKER: For your age and compared to added males, you’re in about the 30th percentile.
DAVID POGUE: That’s low.
LINDSAY BAKER: It’s low. It’s beneath average.
DAVID POGUE: This could beggarly one of two things: either I adeptness acquire an adamant deficiency, so my claret isn’t accustomed abounding oxygen, or I’m absolutely out of shape. And my claret assay showed I’m not adamant deficient, so…
Well, what about the added elements, what do they do?
LINDSAY BAKER: Zinc is important for action metaism.
DAVID POGUE: Potassium?
LINDSAY BAKER: Potassium is an important allotment of afraid arrangement function.
DAVID POGUE: Magnesium?
LINDSAY BAKER: Action metaism.
DAVID POGUE: Okay.
And finally, what about sodium?
LINDSAY BAKER: So, sodium is important for afraid arrangement function, that’s why we did that assay on you today.
DAVID POGUE: Luckily, my assay after-effects were normal. I may acquire been afraid a lot out on that field, but I diaphoresis like a champ.
In total, the beastly anatomy uses added than 25 elements in agency and quantities that are altered to us.
Not every active affair does it the aforementioned way. Booty oxygen: we adulation the stuff, can’t animate afterwards it, but it wasn’t consistently this way. Aback action began, altitude were absolute altered on Earth. To activate with, there was no oxygen in the air.
To apprentice what put the “o” in our at-mo-sphere, I’ve catholic to Yellowstone Civic Park.
David Ward has spent his able action belief the earth’s best age-old organisms.
So, Dave, you’re a bacillus expert, I hear.
DAVID WARD (Microbial Biologist):I am a microbial biologist. I abstraction microorganisms, and I’m decidedly captivated in how they evolved.
DAVID POGUE: Well, aback you say the age-old ones, how old are we talking about?
DAVID WARD: We’re talking three, four billion years ago.
DAVID POGUE: Yellowstone sits aloft the bigger agitable arrangement in North America. That abnormal cartography creates hot, poisonous pools that Ward sees as a window into the past.
You installed a hot tub here.
The esplanade permits Ward to aggregate samples from these adequate environments.
So this is you, this is your office, huh?
DAVID WARD: Yeah. Now, you are not absolutely accustomed to be axial the rocks there.
DAVID POGUE: D’oh!
DAVID WARD: You acquire to acquire special…a sampling permit. You breach here, and I’ll go on across.
DAVID POGUE: Let me apperceive if you allegation a canteen of baptize or something.
What is that accoutrement you acquire there?
DAVID WARD: This is a thermistor, takes temperature.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, we alarm that a “thermometer?”
DAVID WARD: You know, scientists acquire to acquire adorned words for things.
DAVID POGUE: Scientists anticipate that in adjustment to get the action they bald to live, some of the age-old forms of action appropriate acutely hot water, alloyed with elements like hydrogen, sulfur and iron. But, as the planet cooled, addition age-old bacillus acquired and afflicted everything.
They are alleged cyanobacteria, but we apperceive them as blue-green algae. They activate a way to get their action from ablaze and water, absolution oxygen as a byproduct, aloft like avant-garde plants do.
The change of cyanobacteria set the date for all the bulb and beastly action that followed.
DAVID WARD: And in fact, you can see that acutely here. You can see this orange to amber transition.
DAVID POGUE: Yeah.
DAVID WARD: And, you know, this is one set of species, and afresh there’s another, and then, finally, this third.
DAVID POGUE: Dave Ward offers to acquaint me to one of my oldest active relatives, with the advice of an accustomed bubbler straw.
DAVID WARD: And we’ll booty a sample here. This is the absolute high-tech part.
I use my high-tech soda straw. Aloft booty aim and advance the harbinger in, and aloft asperse it into the aqueous nitrogen.
DAVID POGUE: Wow, snap-frozen for freshness, huh?
DAVID WARD: Yep.
DAVID POGUE: The altered colors are absolutely altered breed of microorganism.
Back at his lab, Ward prepares the sample.
DAVID WARD: There we go.
DAVID POGUE: Here, in the layers, we can see altered breed active together, afar by hundreds of millions of years of evolution. The attenuate greenish band on the top is cyanobacteria, anchored at the best atom to acquisition light, baptize and carbon dioxide for growth.
And in the history of life, it’s the cyanobacteria and us that absolutely came out on top.
DAVID WARD: Booty a blink here, Dave.
DAVID POGUE: As they advance out of the agitable pools and colonized the planet, these tiny bacilli pumped out added and added oxygen.
For a few hundred actor years, oxygen artlessly reacted with the metals in the earth’s crust, and the planet boring rusted.
But eventually the oxygen began to anatomy up in the atmosphere. And those little bugs are still adamantine at assignment today.
DAVID WARD: These little critters that are authoritative bisected of the oxygen that all of the things acute oxygen breathe today.
So they’re still at assignment authoritative all of this oxygen.
DAVID POGUE: These bacilli afflicted the face of an absolute planet.
But breadth did the elements of action and all the added elements appear from in the aboriginal place?
Let’s alpha at the absolute beginning, with hydrogen: one proton and one electron. About 90 percent of all the atoms in the creation are hydrogen, and they were all fabricated by the Big Bang, added than 13 billion years ago.
But breadth did things go from there?
The acknowledgment is in the stars like our own sun, a barmy alembic of hot gas, consistently axis hydrogen atoms into aspect cardinal two: helium.
It’s a action alleged fusion.
And now, scientists at the Civic Ignition Ability in California are absolutely aggravating to charm that solar process, actuality on Earth.
If they can accomplish it practical, and that’s a big if, they could alleviate a new antecedent of limitless, apple-pie energy.
ED MOSES: So, the apple is action to be application added energy.
DAVID POGUE: Ed Moses is a physicist who’s arch the effort. And his raw absolute is hydrogen, the aboriginal and the oldest aspect in the universe.
ED MOSES: About 30 abnormal afterwards the Big Bang, all that hydrogen appeared.
DAVID POGUE: From the Big Bang?
ED MOSES: From the Big Bang. It array of has an absolute life. So we, aback we, you know, alcohol a canteen of water, are sampling the Big Bang.
DAVID POGUE: Admixture armament two hydrogen atoms to absorb into a distinct helium atom: batter for batter it’s the best active acknowledgment in the cosmos.
And that’s what his ability would like to reproduce.
ED MOSES: We blast them together. And what happens is we about-face accumulation into energy, aloft like Einstein told us.
DAVID POGUE: To do this, Ed’s aggregation focuses 192 of the world’s best able laser beams assimilate a BB-sized abridged absolute hydrogen atoms.
This fuses them into helium atoms and releases a 100-million-degree beating of energy. The ambition is to actualize a abiding admixture reaction, but appropriate now it lasts abandoned a billionth of a second.
Stars actualize helium throughout their continued lives, but in their old age they run low on hydrogen and activate to agglutinate helium, creating aloft and aloft elements.
ED MOSES: And you’ll alpha walking up the alternate table, authoritative added and added elements. Aboriginal you fabricated helium; afresh you’ll accomplish lithium and beryllium and boron.
And you can do this all the way up to iron.
DAVID POGUE: By the time it’s fusing iron, a brilliant is in its afterlife throes. It begins to collapse, and if it’s massive enough, that collapse leads to a able access alleged a supernova.
In that acute flash, the supernova creates elements added than iron, ablution them all into the cosmos, creating the raw abstracts of planets and of life.
And now we’re application those raw abstracts to appearance our civilization, with elements like silicon—14 protons, 14 electrons—the additional best abounding aspect in the earth’s bouldered crust; a affiliate of the one of the aboriginal neighborhoods on the table: the semiconductors. Aback best bodies anticipate of silicon, they anticipate of computer chips and the advice age, but its best accustomed anatomy is absolutely in this.
For added than 5,000 years, silicon canteen has brought ablaze and adorableness to our lives.
Today, scientists are re-engineering this age-old material, atom by atom, here, at Corning, in upstate New York.
PETER BOCKO (Chief Technology Officer, Corning, Incorporated): You know, David, this abode looks and sounds like a blacksmith shop, but, actually, it’s a accurate laboratory.
DAVID POGUE: They’re bribery about with assorted combinations of elements…
PETER BOCKO: That’s right. Yeah.
DAVID POGUE: …seeing what affectionate of canteen comes out.
They acquaint me it all starts with accustomed sand, which is fabricated of a aggregate of silicon and oxygen.
But beach is opaque, isn’t it?
It turns out, it’s abounding added glass-like than I thought.
PETER BOCKO: Beneath magnification, beach looks like little tiny canteen jewels that are about transparent.
DAVID POGUE: So the light’s advancing from beneath these grains of beach and animated appropriate through them?
PETER BOCKO: That’s right, yep. And you know, it shows that it’s transparent.
DAVID POGUE: That is so weird.
Melting beach and afresh acceptance it to air-conditioned begins to about-face it into glass.
Feels like thick, abounding vinyl.
Glass is decidedly strong. It can bear a lot of crushing force, but it’s additionally absolute brittle.
Is there any way to get about that weakness?
PETER BOCKO: What the scientists do is they can clothier the glass, by abacus added things added than the sand, to architect the backdrop they appetite to into, into the glass.
DAVID POGUE: Should I anguish that my gloves are on fire?
Changing the five-thousand-year-old admixture for canteen has led to a new anatomy they alarm Apache Glass, and you can apparently assumption why they alleged it that.
PETER BOCKO: Article that we alarm a bead test. With the glass…is in a frame, like we acquire a allotment of Apache Canteen in this.
DAVID POGUE: Okay.
PETER BOCKO: And the brawl is alone from a acme of one meter.
DAVID POGUE: How blubbery is this allotment of glass?
PETER BOCKO: This is 0.7 millimeters.
DAVID POGUE: Not akin a millimeter?
PETER BOCKO: Not akin a millimeter thick.
DAVID POGUE: We’re action to bead four pounds on that?
PETER BOCKO: That’s right.
David, this is our barrage gun. It shoots a brawl of ice at 60 to 70 afar an hour.
DAVID POGUE: Ready, aim, hail!
PETER BOCKO: So this is a sample of our appropriate glass.
DAVID POGUE: This is plastic, dude. I can accomplish a cardboard aeroplane out of this.
PETER BOCKO: Yeah, yeah.
DAVID POGUE: It didn’t break.
Oh, my gosh! It’s action to angle it in half. There’s a lot of angle to it.
Ready, aim, fire!
The abstruse abaft these weirdly abiding forms of canteen is engineering on the diminutive scale.
Clearly it worked. The 70-mile-an-hour golf-ball sized barrage did absolutely annihilation to it.
The glassmakers acquire abstruse how to absolutely abode minute amounts of metal atoms like sodium, potassium and aluminum amid the silicon atoms. The aftereffect is hard, yet adjustable and scratch-resistant.
No, ho, ho…
But is it absolutely glass?
You advance that this is not, in fact, plastic…
PETER BOCKO: Mmm-hmm. Yep. Yep.
DAVID POGUE: …that this is absolutely glass?
PETER BOCKO: But yet, absolute strong, aural reason. There is no such affair as an adamantine glass.
It is a glass.
DAVID POGUE: Ooh!
PETER BOCKO: It is a glass.
DAVID POGUE: Ooh!
PETER BOCKO: So there are limits.
DAVID POGUE: These days, we allegation able canteen for lenses, cilia eyes and screens of all sizes.
Hey, I’m on TV!
But silicon’s assignment is not yet done, because beneath the glass, there’s a lot added silicon in the audacity of all those electronics.
Silicon is the accepted agent of the semiconductors, abstracts that change from free-flowing conductors to non-flowing insulators aback we artlessly zap them with an electric current.
Switches fabricated out of semiconductors fabricated computers possible, but afresh aback it comes to aerial tech, there’s a new ancestors on the block: the attenuate earths—fifteen elements amid a the basal of the table.
And in my job as a technology writer, there’s one attenuate apple that interests me added than any other, neodymium.
It’s the key additive in the world’s arch magnets. They’re ytical to computers, corpuscle phones, amalgam cars, wind turbines, akin tiny ear buds. Afterwards neodymium, we’d be sunk!
So that raises a question: if they’re in everything, how appear they’re alleged “rare” earths?
The best abode to acquisition out is at the source. John Burba is the arch technology administrator at Molycorp. He’s administering a billion-dollar operation to accompany this 50-year-old abundance into the 21st century.
So how abounding attenuate apple mines like this are there in the United States?
JOHN BURBA (Chief Technology Officer, Molycorp, Inc.): One.
DAVID POGUE: This is it?
JOHN BURBA: This is it.
DAVID POGUE: One abundance in the United States, and John tells me it’s not akin absolutely operational yet.
So, breadth do attenuate apple minerals appear from in the world?
JOHN BURBA: The majority of it comes from China.
DAVID POGUE: What affectionate of majority?
JOHN BURBA: Like, 98 percent.
DAVID POGUE: Ninety-eight percent of these minerals appear from China?
JOHN BURBA: Yes.
DAVID POGUE: Afresh he breach the account that the Chinese government has been attached the consign of these strategically important elements.
Seems like the fate of the chargeless apple could be benumbed on these rocks. I’d bigger get some of my own while the accepting is good.
JOHN BURBA: But attending for actuality like this; we’ll acquisition out how acceptable a geologist you are.
DAVID POGUE: This brownish stuff?
JOHN BURBA: Yeah.
DAVID POGUE: This is a hunk of, of what?
JOHN BURBA: Barite, barium sulfate…it’s got some monazite in it. They are artlessly occurring crystals that accommodate the elements.
DAVID POGUE: So, can I get a few added of these?
JOHN BURBA: Yeah, aloft attending for actuality that, that’s similar.
DAVID POGUE: You apperceive what, John? I like these two a lot. I can’t decide. It’s an either “ore” situation.
So how can I acquisition out which elements are in this hunk?
Molycorp’s ability is still beneath construction, so, to acquisition out what’s in my rocks, he suggests I booty them to the world’s arch attenuate apple assay lab, in Ames, Iowa. We’ll be there soon.
I’m dying to apperceive what I’ve got my calmly on: a compression of praseodymium, perhaps? A able batter of holmium? A thimbleful of thulium? Or cartel I hope, magnet-making neodymium?
If anyone can abstruse all the adored neodymium from my rocks, it’s these guys.
LARRY JONES: David, I’ve been assured you. Acceptable to see you.
DAVID POGUE: David Pogue. How are you?
LARRY JONES: Yes, sir. Yes, sir. I see you brought the ore with you.
DAVID POGUE: I brought this all the way from California.
LARRY JONES: All the way? All right!
DAVID POGUE: I agitated it by hand.
LARRY JONES: Uh-huh.
DAVID POGUE: Because you apperceive it’s attenuate earth…
LARRY JONES: It’s attenuate earth.
DAVID POGUE: …ore, and I didn’t appetite annihilation to happen. I didn’t assay it. I didn’t put it in the overhead.
LARRY JONES: Yeah, okay.
DAVID POGUE: I anticipate I got some admirable samples.
LARRY JONES: Oh, yeah?
DAVID POGUE: There’s this abundance in California, the bigger one in the United States.
LARRY JONES: Right.
DAVID POGUE: Attending at the admeasurement of this one.
LARRY JONES: Oh, yeah.
DAVID POGUE: I anticipate this one’s my favorite.
LARRY JONES: Oh, yeah.
DAVID POGUE: I anticipation if we brought it actuality to Ames Lab, I anticipation you could do a little actinic assay on it and acquaint me.
LARRY JONES: We absolutely can.
Well, let’s see.
DAVID POGUE: Yeah, watch out with that…
LARRY JONES: We’ll booty your admired one and…
DAVID POGUE: Watch out with the hammer. What are you…?
LARRY JONES: See? Oh, yeah, there we go. That’s a acceptable allotment appropriate there. That’s all we’re action to allegation for the actinic ysis, so the draft of this we’ll just…
DAVID POGUE: Yeah, but…
LARRY JONES: …throw it appropriate here, in the trash.
DAVID POGUE: But, but that’s, that’s attenuate ear-, ah! California!
The accuracy is attenuate earths are not rare. They’re aloft awfully adamantine to separate. The botheration is at an diminutive level, the attenuate apple elements all attending weirdly alike.
Moving from aspect to element, forth a row of the alternate table, adds a proton to the base and an electron to the conflicting shell, but in the attenuate earths, the new electron disappears into an bald aing shell. The result? Fifteen atoms that all acquire identical conflicting electron shells, authoritative them about duplicate chemically.
But what about my rocks?
LARRY JONES: Okay, David, the ore that you brought us, the rocks that attending like this, we yzed those, and this is what we found: we activate aloft apparatus of cerium, lanthanum and praseodymium, but no neodymium.
DAVID POGUE: Apparently, my rocks are neo free.
But there was some acceptable news. The ore I brought in independent a whopping 20 percent attenuate apple oxide.
Molycorp may anon be able to booty a big chaw out of China’s near-monopoly.
Before I arch out though, there’s one added lab I’m bent to visit.
PAUL CANFIELD (Physicist, The Ames Laboratory): So, David, would you be captivated in seeing a attenuate apple magnet?
DAVID POGUE: Paul is one of the lab’s top allurement guys.
PAUL CANFIELD: This is a attenuate apple magnet. This is absolutely neodymium, adamant and boron. This is about 150 grams of the world’s accomplished abstention neodymium.
DAVID POGUE: Neodymium magnets are a bit of a misnomer. They’re absolutely adamant magnets, with a compression of neodymium added like a able aroma to accomplish them stronger, additional a few boron atoms to advice authority aggregate in place.
You abound these? You don’t dig these out of the ore, somehow?
PAUL CANFIELD: No, no, no. These don’t abide in nature. These are things that we acquire to amalgamate and cook, in the aforementioned way that huevos rancheros doesn’t abide in nature; it has to be put together.
DAVID POGUE: Paul’s lab is like a dieter’s kitchen, acceptable a ache for able alluring crystals, while abbreviation the bulk of neodymium bald in the recipe.
And he’s aloft about to whip up a alpha batch.
The capital additive is accustomed iron. Adamant makes magnets.
PAUL CANFIELD: There you go!
DAVID POGUE: But abacus neodymium makes magnets on steroids.
Here’s how you accomplish a magnet: first, all the solid capacity are bankrupt into a quartz tube, to be broiled together.
After some time in the furnace, tiny alluring crystals acquire formed in the broiled iron.
Two thousand degree…oh, my gosh! It’s like threading a needle!
The aing footfall is to abstracted the bits from the liquid. One, two, three, dump it in, bang the lid.
They put the centrifuge on the attic for safety, in case annihilation goes amiss in the super-hot vial.
PAUL CANFIELD: We about-face it off. That lets you accessible it up. And we can booty it out.
We acquire distinct crystals of the neodymium adamant boron, afar from the added liquid, which the centrifuge afar with the ten to a hundred Gs.
DAVID POGUE: The aftereffect of all this affable and spinning?
A able allurement that uses beneath neodymium, we hope.
It sounds like you’re adage you’re aggravating to use as little of the attenuate apple as possible.
PAUL CANFIELD: Absolutely.
DAVID POGUE: Why? ‘Cause I anticipation that attenuate earths absolutely aren’t that rare.
PAUL CANFIELD: The attenuate earths are not rare, but they’re adamantine to separate. And that’s allotment of the expense.
DAVID POGUE: Akin with Paul’s help, it looks like attenuate earths are action to abide in abbreviate supply, at diminutive for now.
Partly because scientists abide to acquisition hasty new agency to use these aberrant metals.
Like abyssal biologist and conservationist Patrick Rice. If he has annihilation to say about it, attenuate earths may be advancing anon to a angle angle a you.
Ah, is this your little adolescent basin breadth you accompany the accouchement to swim?
PATRICK RICE (Marine Biologist): This is our little catchbasin here, breadth we acquire a brace little beanie arch sharks and a little assistant shark, in here.
DAVID POGUE: Rice was ytic for the aing abundant bluff repellent, aback he fabricated an adventitious assay that looks like it’ll be acceptable account for both man and fish.
PATRICK RICE: We had sharks in a catchbasin like this, and a pump bankrupt on one of our tanks, and so, we were arena with these magnets, and we put the magnets bottomward by the catchbasin to go fix the pump, and aback we put the allurement by the tank, the sharks took off.
DAVID POGUE: Somehow, the sharks axial the catchbasin sensed the attendance of magnets alfresco the tank, and aback they did, they voted with their fins.
Patrick offers to authenticate the awe-inspiring abhorrent effect. He calmly me a case of super-strong magnets.
So this is, this is abounding of absolute regular, old refrigerator…oh yeah, added than, added than refrigerator magnets.
PATRICK RICE: That’s right, that’s right.
DAVID POGUE: And you’re adage that this will somehow repel the sharks?
Okay, actuality comes a little guy.
PATRICK RICE: That’s a little assistant shark. It adeptness assignment for him. Acquaint me aback he gets over here.
DAVID POGUE: All right. Three, two, one.
Oh, my gosh. It’s like you alone that affair on his head.
PATRICK RICE: Yeah, you saw it, huh?
DAVID POGUE: Yeah, he’s like, dun dun dun, wow! He, like, aerated out of there.
PATRICK RICE: Right. Right, right, exactly.
DAVID POGUE: The bluff can’t see the magnet, but it acutely feels the effect.
And it’s not happy.
PATRICK RICE: One, two, three, now. Boom! You got him.
DAVID POGUE: Really?
PATRICK RICE: Yeah, you got him.
DAVID POGUE: That’s crazy.
PATRICK RICE: Isn’t it amazing?
DAVID POGUE: Patrick anticipation he could somehow use this aftereffect to save sharks from actuality aback bent by bartering fishermen, but there was, so to speak, a catch.
PATRICK RICE: We put the allurement appropriate aloft the hook, on the line.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, okay.
PATRICK RICE: And what was accident was the hooks were accepted about and accepting bent on the magnets.
DAVID POGUE: That would happen.
PATRICK RICE: So, it wasn’t communicable any sharks, but it wasn’t communicable annihilation abroad either.
DAVID POGUE: But he wasn’t accommodating to accord up. He absitively he bald to acquisition the weakest accessible allurement that would still aftereffect sharks.
The aboriginal footfall was to actualize a baseline for comparison, by advertisement sharks to non-magnetic materials.
He offers to charm his experiment.
You know, I don’t acquire allowance for this.
PATRICK RICE: Be careful. It adeptness be slippery.
DAVID POGUE: You’re admonishing me about the slipperiness? Dude, there’s three sharks in here!
PATRICK RICE: No, but they’re nice.
DAVID POGUE: Okay, I aloft appetite to say, for the record, that I’m continuing in a catchbasin abounding of sharks.
PATRICK RICE: That’s correct.
DAVID POGUE: This is like Jaws 7: The Adolescent Pool.
Step one: abduction a shark.
Dude, you aloft bent a bluff with your bald hands!
Then, cast the bluff upside down, which induces a abstraction accompaniment alleged “tonic immobility.” Already the bluff is calm, we assay its acknowledgment to a allotment of ordinary, non-magnetic lead.
Would you like me to aloft breach her on the arch with this?
PATRICK RICE: Awning up her eyes.
DAVID POGUE: So it’s not a beheld thing.
Using a shield, to accomplish abiding that the bluff can’t see the metal, I accompany it close.
PATRICK RICE: No reaction.
DAVID POGUE: None at all, as expected.
Next: a non-magnetic allotment of samarium, a attenuate apple element. The apprehension was that, because it’s non-magnetic, there would be no reaction.
PATRICK RICE: She didn’t like that at all.
DAVID POGUE: This is like kryptonite for sharks.
PATRICK RICE: Yes, it is.
DAVID POGUE: Wow, that’s amazing. It aloft woke her up and accumulating her crazy.
PATRICK RICE: Yep.
DAVID POGUE: So the abstraction is you could accomplish what out of this stuff?
PATRICK RICE: Well, the abstraction is that it’s not magnetic, so we could potentially absorb it into a fishing hook. And afresh you got article that repels sharks but doesn’t acquire the alluring properties, so it won’t coil the accessory and actuality like that.
DAVID POGUE: The assay that non-magnetic attenuate earths acquire a abhorrent aftereffect on sharks was a complete fluke.
And it works with added attenuate apple metals as well. But why? What do sharks acquire adjoin these accurate elements?
PATRICK RICE: We accept it’s creating a little electric shock.
DAVID POGUE: A little electric shock?
PATRICK RICE: Yeah, yeah.
DAVID POGUE: A bluff shock?
PATRICK RICE: A bluff shocker.
DAVID POGUE: Patrick demonstrates, application a alembic of seawater, a allotment of samarium, a voltmeter and an absolute bluff fin.
(Singing) Bum bum, bum bum, bum bum, bum bum…
When he submerges the samarium and the bluff fin in the seawater, an electric accepted flows.
Whoa! Oh, my god.
PATRICK RICE: That’s about a D-size battery.
DAVID POGUE: You’re kid-…did we aloft make, in effect, a battery?
PATRICK RICE: Correct.
DAVID POGUE: As a group, the attenuate earths accord up their conflicting electrons absolute easily. In the alkali water, samarium atoms breach chargeless of the metal deejay and accord up one or added of their conflicting electrons. The atoms become absolutely answerable and are admiring to the bluff fin, which, like abounding biological materials, has a slight abrogating charge. The movement of the answerable atoms creates an electric current.
Wow, that’s some absolute abstract abounding in there, aloft like in a battery.
It is like a battery, isn’t it? It’s a complete bankrupt circuit, and the voltmeter’s barometer that. That’s appealing amazing.
PATRICK RICE: Yeah.
DAVID POGUE: But is the aftereffect absolutely able abounding to put a bluff off its meal?
PATRICK RICE: So we’ve aloft done our little test.
DAVID POGUE: There’s one final agreement we can run to acquisition out.
PATRICK RICE: What we’re action to do now…
DAVID POGUE: Acknowledge you.
PATRICK RICE: You’re welcome.
DAVID POGUE: That was aloft for the reel. We like to get some material…
As I was saying, there’s one final agreement we can run to acquisition out.
PATRICK RICE: What we’re action to do actuality is a little agreement we’ve never done before.
DAVID POGUE: You haven’t done this before?
PATRICK RICE: We haven’t done this before.
DAVID POGUE: You waited until there was a civic TV camera rolling?
There’s a nine-foot auto bluff in this lagoon, and it’s lunchtime.
Now for the test: we’re action to append two identical pieces of tuna. One will adhere beneath a allotment of lead,—that’s our control—the added beneath a allotment of samarium.
PATRICK RICE: You go advanced and put it out there.
DAVID POGUE: Really?
PATRICK RICE: Yep.
DAVID POGUE: Lower her down.
If the assay is successful, the bluff should abstain the samarium-tainted meal, but not the aliment a the lead.
PATRICK RICE: Actuality she comes.
DAVID POGUE: Oh, she didn’t like it at all. She was aiming appropriate at it and she was like, “Uhhhh!”
PATRICK RICE: That was an accomplished response. Apprehension the added fish; it doesn’t acquire any aftereffect on them.
DAVID POGUE: Okay, delay a minute. Now she’s action for the lead.
PATRICK RICE: So there’s the control.
DAVID POGUE: And she loves the advance one!
PATRICK RICE: No botheration on the control, so, that’s awesome.
DAVID POGUE: Aback authoritative this arresting discovery, Patrick has experimented with designs for shark-repelling fishing hooks, and he’s apparent some able results.
PATRICK RICE: The aftermost agreement we did, we put out 46,000 hooks, and we bargain bluff by-catch by 27 percent.
DAVID POGUE: Get your alpha chum, here!
Shark zapping is aloft the latest access in the growing account of ytical attenuate apple abilities.
But conceivably the absolute shocker is that these 15 elements were so continued misunderstood, their identities masked by their identical conflicting electron shells.
But those aren’t the abandoned atoms ambuscade from view. Scientists now apperceive that best elements appear in added than one version. The altered versions are alleged isotopes.
Consider carbon, the courage of life. It has three accustomed isotopes, or versions. Anniversary has six protons and six electrons. That’s what makes them all carbon. The aberration amid them is the cardinal of neutrons in the nucleus.
Neutrons are electrically aloof particles that act as cement to authority atoms together. What we anticipate of as accustomed carbon is alleged carbon-12: six protons additional six neutrons. But about one percent of carbon atoms acquire an added neutron, giving them seven. They’re alleged carbon-13.
And about one in a actor acquire eight neutrons. That’s carbon-14.
And that attenuate adaptation of carbon has accurate to be a acute apparatus for unlocking the past.
Several times a year, scientist Scott Stine campaign to the shores of Mono Lake, a Yosemite Civic Park.
So this, then, is Mono Lake.
SCOTT STINE (Paleoclimatologist): Mono Lake, yeah. Appropriate here, at the basal of the Sierra Nevada.
DAVID POGUE: He’s belief the continued history of droughts in California, aggravating to actuate how frequently they action and how continued they last.
Over the millennia, the baptize akin has risen and fallen, as the breadth has cycled amid wet periods and dry times.
So that albino breadth should be the level?
SCOTT STINE: During times aback the altitude was dry, Mono Lake alone down, apparent the bank lands, and accustomed copse and shrubs to grow. Aback the dry periods concluded and the baptize akin rose, the copse drowned, appearance the end of the droughts.
Since then, the charcoal of those copse acquire been able-bodied preserved by the barren climate.
These droughts were continued and persistent.
DAVID POGUE: To actuate how continued ago these droughts occurred, Scott is application carbon-14 to date the trees.
Unlike the added accustomed isotopes of carbon, carbon-14 is unstable. Over time, its atoms activate to deteriorate. One of its neutrons turns into a proton and spits out an electron. Now, with seven protons instead of six, it’s angry into nitrogen.
That action is alleged radioactive decay. And scientists apperceive absolutely how continued it will booty for bisected of any bulk of carbon-14 to adulteration away. Scientists alarm that time its “half-life.”
Living things consistently furnish the carbon in their bodies, animals from food, plants from the atmosphere, but afterwards death, that action stops.
The bulk of carbon-12 stays the same, but the carbon-14 decays away, at a connected rate, authoritative carbon-14 a active diminutive clock.
To apperceive how continued ago this age-old timberline died, we aloft allegation to calculation the carbon atoms in a babyish sample—piece of cake, if you’re this guy.
Now, these are bits of the timberline stumps at Mono Lake, and I acquire that you are the adept of carbon-dating.
Physicist Tom Amber works in the carbon-dating affairs at Lawrence Livermore Civic Laboratory. In fact, if I’m not mistaken, carbon dating absolutely preexisted afore Internet dating.
TOM BROWN (Research Physicist, Lawrence Livermore Civic Laboratory): Absolute much.
DAVID POGUE: Carbon-14 can be acclimated to date samples up to 40,000 years old. It’s been acclimated to acquisition the ages of abounding Egyptian mummies and added age-old artifacts.
So how does copse book with carbon-dating?
TOM BROWN: Intact copse is absolute acceptable absolute to date. It retains the carbon from aback that absolute died, and we’re able to abstruse and absolve it and get a absolutely acceptable absolute for dating.
DAVID POGUE: Tom needs abandoned a babyish bulk of wood, akin this tiny sample is overkill.
A lab artisan cleans it and reduces it to a accomplished powder.
Oh, man, this huge thing, this is your Carbon-Dater-Matic 3,000?
The absolute counting of the atoms takes abode here, in the carbon-dating accelerator.
I see you bought the camping version.
TOM BROWN: So we acquire our one milligram of carbon from the copse dent sample, basically, in that hole.
DAVID POGUE: In that tiny little hole?
TOM BROWN: That’s breadth the one milligram of carbon is, from that sample.
DAVID POGUE: Not a lot of copse chips.
TOM BROWN: We put about 64 of these holders in one of these wheels.
DAVID POGUE: The accelerator applies a able electric allegation to the atoms—basically lightning—giving them the acceleration and action they allegation to hit a detector with abounding force to be counted.
TOM BROWN: The arrangement of the carbon-14 ions to the bulk of carbon-12 in the sample tells us how old the sample is.
DAVID POGUE: The beneath the carbon-14s, the earlier it is?
TOM BROWN: Yes.
DAVID POGUE: With his accelerator, Tom calculates that our timberline died about 150 years ago. That allegation acquire been aback California’s aftermost aridity ended, a key allotment of advice for compassionate the region’s altitude cycles.
Carbon-14 has helped accessible up abysmal insights into the past, but it’s aloft one of hundreds of radioactive isotopes, that is, elements that decay.
In fact, at the basal of the alternate table, alpha with cardinal 84, polonium, all of the elements and their isotopes are radioactive, including the aspect that stands for both the affiance and the peril of radioactivity: uranium: 92 protons, 92 electrons and 146 neutrons.
Before the nuclear age, uranium was anticipation to be the end of the alternate table, but in the aftermost 70 years, scientists acquire larboard attributes abaft and created 26 new elements.
The age of manmade atoms began in the aboriginal bisected of the 20th century, aback advisers began bombarding elements with neutrons. Sometimes the neutron is artlessly absorbed, creating a new isotope, but sometimes the base can’t booty the punishment. It becomes ambiguous and splits into two abate atoms, in a able reaction, alleged fission, that releases ample amounts of energy.
To apprentice more, I’ve appear to the Nuclear Museum, in Albuquerque, New Mexico,…
MATTHEW DENNIS (Nuclear Engineer, American Nuclear Society, Trinity Section): Yeah, this is a mad science project.
DAVID POGUE: …where diminutive scientist Matt Dennis has offered to authenticate how a nuclear reactor works.
D’oh! You guys accomplish a lot of jokes about “Gone fission?”
MATT DENNIS: I absolutely acquire an diminutive shirt that says article to that effect, so, yes, yes.
DAVID POGUE: I knew that! I knew that!
Okay, now, to the naked eye, this looks absolutely like a nuclear reactor.
MATT DENNIS: The similarities are the mousetraps are uranium atoms and the white ping pong assurance are neutrons, which…you use one to alpha a alternation reaction.
DAVID POGUE: In a reactor, one neutron splits a uranium atom, which releases action and two or three added neutrons, which, in turn, breach added atoms, absolution added neutrons and so on, causing a alternation reaction.
MATT DENNIS: So you get added and added neutrons, and thus, the alternation acknowledgment keeps going.
DAVID POGUE: All right, ladies and clabber spoons, actuality goes the orange ping pong ball. This evening’s role, you’ll be assuming the neutron. All right, I aloft bead it in here? Any old place?
MATT DENNIS: Aloft bead it in appropriate there. We’ll alpha the alternation reaction.
DAVID POGUE: Incoming neutron!
I’m sorry, Matt. The camera wasn’t rolling. Can you set that up again?
From a distinct neutron, an ascent response. Our allure reactor doesn’t acquire abounding atoms, so the acknowledgment dies quickly, but backpack abounding fissionable uranium atoms carefully abounding calm and the able affair can get out of duke appealing fast.
And sometimes, that’s the point.
This building has the world’s bigger accessible accumulating of artifacts that account the aphotic ancillary of nuclear energy.
JAMES WALTHER (Director, Civic Building of Nuclear Science & History): And so, that’s a Trident Z-3, up there.
DAVID POGUE: That’s huge. You guys are aloft amidst by bombs. I feel like a kid in a afterlife store.
In 1945, the U.S. developed two diminutive weapons. Both were acclimated adjoin Japan.
The aboriginal was fueled by an isotope alleged uranium-235. That bomb was alleged Little Boy.
JAMES WALTHER: This is the Little Boy bomb. This is the…
DAVID POGUE: This is it? I assumption I shouldn’t bang it then, huh?
JAMES WALTHER: Well, it’s a current—concurrent copy.
This is aloft like it. Axial this big case was a gun base and aerial explosives on the ends, to advance the two pieces of accomplished uranium calm at supersonic speed.
DAVID POGUE: The aggressive fabricated abandoned one uranium bomb, because amid attenuate U-235 from the added accepted U-238, which doesn’t assignment in fission reactions, is a absolute difficult process.
So for the additional bomb, alleged Fat Man, they acclimated an absolutely altered element, plutonium: 94 protons, 94 electrons and 150 neutrons.
Plutonium was the aboriginal manmade element. It was aboriginal created as an adventitious byproduct in the aboriginal nuclear reactors.
But no one knew it, until plutonium was identified, in 1940, by chemist Glenn Seaborg, aback he bombarded uranium atoms with protons and neutrons, until some of them stuck.
Over his continued career, Seaborg went on to abstract or actualize nine added manmade elements, including Americium, which is, in minute quantities, in the smoke alarms in our homes.
He pushed the end of the alternate table all the way to aspect 106, which is alleged Seaborgium, in his honor.
KEN MOODY (Chemist, Lawrence Livermore Civic Laboratory): I started out actuality at the laboratory, application these counters absolutely frequently.
DAVID POGUE: Ken Moody is a chemist at Lawrence Livermore Lab.
But he developed a adulation of big fat dank atoms, as a alum student, in Seaborg’s lab, in the 1970s.
Afterwards, his aboriginal job was allegory radioactive bits produced by underground nuclear weapon tests.
KEN MOODY: And it was our job to go aces samples and acquaint the physicists how able-bodied this accessory had worked.
DAVID POGUE: I anticipate I’m acute abounding to apperceive that those bits would apparently be radioactive.
KEN MOODY: Yes.
DAVID POGUE: Would they not be dangerous?
KEN MOODY: Well, we didn’t backpack them about in our pockets.
DAVID POGUE: Aback the end of the Cold War, Ken’s ambition has been to aggrandize the alternate table.
He’s teamed up with a Russian lab, and, together, they’ve succeeded in creating six new elements in this cyclotron. But there’s a hitch. They’ve abandoned fabricated a few atoms of each, and they’re all so unstable, they adulteration abroad about as anon as they appear into existence.
With all due respect, none of the six elements that you’ve apparent are absolutely in the apple appropriate now.
KEN MOODY: That’s correct.
DAVID POGUE: So, do they count?
KEN MOODY: Doesn’t complete like much, but for a chemist, a ten-second action absolutely allows you to do article with it, but it isn’t abounding that you can put it in a canteen and put it on the mantelpiece and adore it the aing day.
DAVID POGUE: Still, Ken has aerial hopes for the future.
He believes that about aloft today’s bigger manmade elements, scientists will acquisition an island of adherence on the alternate table, breadth some super-large atoms will be both abiding and useful, conceivably acceptable the needs of our approaching civilization.
It’s amazing to anticipate that article as circuitous as the concrete creation can be put on a distinct chart, and from about 90 basal elements, man and attributes acquire teamed up to actualize the absurd adjustment of actuality in our lives.
And the adventure is far from over. As scientists abide to coursing the secrets of the elements, what new compassionate and technologies will chase can abandoned be imagined.
HUNTING THE ELEMENTS
PBS Airdate: 4/4/2012
HOST David Pogue WRITTEN, PRODUCED AND DIRECTED BY Chris Schmidt PRODUCED BY Dan McCabe EXECUTIVE PRODUCERSFOR POWDERHOUSE PRODUCTIONS Joel OlickerTug Yourgrau CO-EXECUTIVE PRODUCER Chris Schmidt ASSOCIATE PRODUCER Cara Feinberg PRODUCTION ASSOCIATE PRODUCER An-Dinh Nguyen EDITED BY Steve AudetteDan McCabe ADDITIONAL EDITING Rick ManoogianJustin Vaida DIRECTORS OF PHOTOGRAPHY Gary HenochJason Longo ADDITIONAL PHOTOGRAPHY Garry HentrupMax Miller UNDERWATER PHOTOGRAPHY Louis Wray SOUND RECORDISTS Bryan ApolinarTim DuttonJosh HarrisGregg HinnenLarry KaltenbachStephen LynchDave ManahanRobb MooreEric MoormanPhil PerkinsJuan RodriguezDavid WilliamsSam Wilson GRIP AND GAFFER Cory Popp ORIGINAL MUSIC BY Sheldon Mirowitz & Andreas Bjørck ADDITIONAL MUSIC Lunch Appropriate MusicOBT Music ANIMATION Edgeworx Studios ADDITIONAL ANIMATION Handcranked Productions, LLCNASA Jet Propulsion Class PRODUCTION MANAGER Diane Knox POST PRODUCTION SUPERVISOR Carlin Corrigan POST PRODUCTION COORDINATOR Stephen Barker ASSISTANT EDITOR Scott Stolzar
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Produced by Powderhouse Productions
A NOVA Production by Powderhouse Productions for WGBH
© 2012 WGBH Educational FoundationAll rights reserved
The angle of the bodies interviewed in HUNTING FOR THE ELEMENTS are their own and are not those of the Chicago Mercantile Barter or its affiliates, or the trading attic association as a whole.
IMAGE: (David Pogue, alternate table) ©WGBH Educational Foundation
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