The Disappearing Spoon: Chapter 16

Chemistry way, way below zero by Sam Kean -Bailey Mclean

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Elements of the periodic table have often appeared in history and influence it greatly. In chapter 16: Chemistry way, way below zero in The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean we learn more about the elements Tin, Argon, Neodymium, and Rubidium. All of the experiments that take place in this chapter with these elements were done in the 20th century. When messing with elements, you never know what to your going to discover. Since by the 20th century most of the "easy" experiments had been done , scientists had to resort to extreme measures to get new results.

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Wikipedia, (2015), The Disappearing Spoon, Retrieved from


Atomic Symbol: Sn

Atomic Number: 50

Group: 14 ( other metal)

Period: 5

Electron Configuration: 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d10 5p2

Atomic Mass: 118.711

Archeologists say that tin has been used for at least 5500 years. Tin comes from the Anglo- Saxon word tin and its atomic symbol comes from the Latin word stannum. Tin is mostly mined in Malaysia and found in the mineral cassiterite ( SnO2), (Gagnon, 2016) . This element is used as a protective coating, it can make alloys like bronze and pewter and it can be sprayed as salt onto glass to make superconductive wire (Gagnon, 2016) . A unique characteristic of tin is that when tin is put under extreme conditions like extremely cold or extremely warm the tin atoms will rearrange themselves and shift into a different form (Chapter 16, 145) . This Alpha/ Beta shift is called tin leprosy. In 1911 Robert Scott in his race to the South pole used tin and was rewarded with no edible food, water, or even just kerosene (Chapter 16, page 144). Scientists believe because of the extreme cold the tin got tin leprosy and all the food supplies went bad.

Gagnon, S. , (2016), It's Elemental , Retrieved from


Atomic Symbol: Nd

Atomic Number: 60

Group: 19 (Lanthanide)

Period: 6

Electron Configuration: 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d10 5p6 6s2 5f4

Atomic Mass: 144.242

Neodymium was discovered by German chemist, Carl F. Auer von Welsbach in Vienna in 1855. Neodymium was named from the Greek words neo and didymos , when you put them together they mean " new twin" ( Gagnon, (2016). Lanthanides are mainly found in the minerals monazite and bastnaesite and to extract them you can either use ion exchange or solvent extraction (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016). Neodymium can be used as an alloy with boron and iron to make very strong permanent magnets which made it possible to miniaturize technology like phones ( Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016). It can also be used to make lasers and when added to glass it can remove certain colors or create them ( Gagnon, 2016). The most powerful lasers today use crystals of yttirium spiked with neodymium ( Chapter 16, pg 148). A characteristic is that Neodymium is somewhat reactive, so scientists to protect from tarnishing wrap it in plastic and store it in mineral oil (Advameg Inc, 2016).

Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Periodic Table, Retrieved from

Gagnon, S,(2016), It's Elemental, Retrieved from

Advameg Inc. , (2016), Neodymium, Retrieved from


Atomic Symbol: Ar

Atomic Number: 18

Group:18 (Noble gases)

Period: 3

Electron Configuration: 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6

Atomic Mass: 39.948

Argon was discovered in 1894 by Lord Rayleigh and Sir William Ramsay. Argon comes from the Greek word argos meaning idle or lazy ( Gagnon, 2016) . Argon is a naturally occurring element found in the earths atmosphere and was discovered by its unique characteristic. Group 12, the noble gases all share the characteristic that they don't react easily and don't combine easy unless under extreme conditions. Argon can be used for welding, lighting or even used to store historical documents or artifacts (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016). Scientists realizing argons reluctance to combine and make a compound decided to use extreme measures. It took 37 long years after xenon and krypton's solids in 1962 and 1963 before Finnish scientists were able to come up with the formula to make a argon compound ( Chapter 16, pg 146). Out of all the noble gases that have been forced to become a compound, argon is by far the hardest element that scientists have forced into a compound ( Chapter 16, pg147 ).

Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Argon , Retrieved from

Gagnon, S, (2016), It's Elemental, Retrieved from


Atomic Symbol: Rb

Atomic Number: 37

Group: 1 (Alkaline Metals)

Period: 5

Electron Configuration: 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s1

Atomic Mass: 85.468

Rubidium was discovered in 1861 by Gustav Kirchhoff and Robert Bunsen. It got its name from the Latin word rubidius meaning deepest red (Royal Society of Chemistry, 2016). It was discoved while they were analyzing a mineral called lepidolite with a spectroscope. Today, Rubidium is obtained as a byproduct when refining lithium ( Gagnon, 2016). In nature it can be found in the minerals pollucite, leucite and lepidolite. Rubidium is rarely used outside lab work but sometimes it can be used in fireworks to make the color purple (Gagnon, 2016). Rubidium is one of the most active chemical elements and because of this when exposed to oxygen in the air it catches fire, so scientists must store it completely in kerosene ( Advameg Inc. , 2016). In 1995, Scientists Eric Cornell and Carl Wieman used rubidium to prove the Bose- Einstein condensate (chapter 16, pg 151).

Royal Society of Chemistry, (2016), Rubidium, Retrieved from

Gagnon, S, (2016), It's Elemental, Retrieved from

Advameg Inc., (2016), Rubidium, Retrived from


Tin, Argon, Neodymium, and Rubidium are all important because they all contribute something. These elements are in The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean, in chapter 16 because by some way or another they were invaluable in helping discover or prove ideas/ theories under extreme cold conditions. Scientists have won Nobel Prizes because of the work they have done using these elements. All of these elements are useful in todays society, we use Tin as a protective coating like tin cans. While we use Argon in our florescent lights and Neodymium mixed with iron and boron making a strong magnet in our phones and tablets. Rubidium is used in our fireworks to make the color purple. All of the elements in the periodic table are important and without them we wouldn't be where we are today with science.