The Disappearing Spoon: Chapter 6

By: Merlyn Reyes

Chapter 6: Starting the Table off...With a Bang.

In chapter six of The Disappearing Spoon By Sam Kean, the elements Cobalt, Promethium, and Plutonium are discussed. All three elements that were discussed can be tied back to our everyday lives. Cobalt, Plutonium, and Promethium are all very crucial to the periodic table of elements.Chapter 6 is on the building of war weapons using the periodic table. Elements were put together to create bombs rather than using them for chemical warfare. Elements such as plutonium and uranium were used to create the atomic bomb. The atomic bomb was one of the greatest achievements due to its mass destruction. Further in the chapter, Scientists only really understood about protons and electrons. To understand how subatomic particles behave, scientists developed a whole new mathematical tool, quantum mechanics. It took years to figure out how to apply it to elements.

All About the Elements in Chapter Six


  • Cobalt was discovered by the Swedish Chemist, Georg Brandt, in 1739. Georg Brandt was trying to prove that certain minerals were blue because of bismuth, as commonly known at the time. The blue coloring came from the unknown mineral at the time which was cobalt (Jefferson, 2015).
  • Cobalt is typically recovered as a byproduct of mining nickel, silver, lead, copper and iron.
  • Cobalt uses include: Electroplating to give objects an attractive surface to resist oxidation, used to make powerful permanent magnets, high speed and high temperature cutting tools, and alloys for jet engines, gas turbines, magnetic steels, and some stainless steel.


  • The element plutonium is produced. The first time it was produced was by Glenn T. Seaborg, Joseph W. Kennedy, Edward M. McMillan and Arthur C. Wohl. This element is a solid at room temperature. All the work was conducted in 1941 at the University of California but the work was not revealed until 1946 because of wartime security concerns.
  • Plutonium is mainly used for thermoelectric generators to provide electricity for space probes.
  • Plutonium- 239 can undergo fission. If it is concentrated enough in one place it can be used for modern day nuclear weapons


  • In the year 1940, element 61 was still undiscovered. Not many people to look for in. By 1942, a team lead by an Italian physicist, Emilio Serge tried creating an artificial sample. Serge probably succeeded, but gave up after a few attempts. In 1949, three scientists from Oak Ridge National Laboratory in Tennessee rose at a meeting in Philadelphia stating that they had found element 61.
  • Today, Promethium is still recovered from the by products of Uranium fission. It can also be produced by bombarding neodymium with neutrons.
  • Element 61 is used to make nuclear powered batteries. This type of battery can provide power for five years.

Overall Summary

All the elements that were discussed in chapter six have all made a big impact on the periodic table of elements. By finding the elements, many things have been created by this. Many people were in shock when these elements were found because with a click of a button mass destruction can occur.


    • Kean, S. (2010). The disappearing spoon: And other true tales of madness, love, and the history of the world from the periodic table of the elements. New York: Little, Brown and.