From Physics to Biology

Chapter 8 From the Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean

Kelly Gomez

January 13, 2016


Chapter 8 "From Physics to Biology":

Kean begins the chapter by introducing two famous scientist. These two scientist consist of: Emilio Segre and Linus Pauling. Kean goes into talking about their success and fame, but also including that their mistakes as scientist. After this, the author starts talking about element 43, the most "discovered" element on the table. There were many scientist claiming that element 43 (a.k.a The Loch Ness Monster of the Elemental World) was "their" discovery, dating back all the way to the 1800's, but it was not actually confirmed until 1937, when Segre and his colleagues in Italy isolated the element.The mistake that Serge committed was that he and his department were in the lab of Enrico Fermi. By accident, they had cleared Fermi's proposed and tested fission idea, which was later discovered by Germans in 1939. Serge was also known for his “cockiness”, this led to more mistakes. such as when he came up with the theory that elements past uranium had to be rare earths, but his colleague, Edwin McMillan, proved that they were actually separate of the periodic table.

The chapter then goes into talking about Pauling. The scientist who discovered how quantum mechanics determined the nature of bonds and elements, and he also made other minor discoveries, such as why snowflakes are six-sided. After this, Pauling went into experimenting with DNA. The three elements that were described in this chapter were Technetium (discovered by Emilio Serge), Neptunium (discovered by Edwin McMillan), and lastly, Phosphorus (discovered by Hennig Brand).

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  • Atomic Number: 43

  • Mass: 98

  • Period: 5

  • Group: 7

  • Electron Configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^5

  • Classification: Transitional Metal

  • Technetium was once very rare and expensive but is now obtained for science experiments. Although some stars show that they contain technetium, the naturally occurring element has not been found on earth.

  • Tc is crucial because scientist have to use it for science experiments, since it is artifically occurring, it’s easier to use in experiments, and its more manipulative. Usually this element is found in S-, M- and N-type stars.

  • Tc was discovered in 1937 by Emilio G. Segrè in a sample of molybdenum that was bombarded with deuterons in a cyclotron at the Univ. of California at Berkeley. It is named after the Greek technetos, artificial.


  • Technetium can also be used as a medical tracer and to calibrate particle detectors.

  • The first artificially created element (2012)


  • Atomic Number: 93

  • Atomic Mass: 237

  • Period: 7

  • Group: N/A

  • Group Name: Actinide

  • Electron Configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4s^2 3d^10 4p^6 5s^2 4d^10 5p^6 4f^14 5d^10 6s^2 6p^6 5f^4 6d^1 7s^2

  • Classification: Metal

  • Neptunium is used mainly for research purposes.

  • When bombarded with neutrons neptunium is used to produce plutonium which is used for spacecraft generators and terrestrial navigation beacons.

  • Neptunium was found by Edwin McMillan in 1940 at Berkeley Radiation Laboratory of the University of California. It was named after the planet: Neptune.


  • Neptunium is harmful due to its radioactivity

  • Neptunium is a silvery radioactive synthetic metal

  • Neptunium’s physical state is a solid.

Jan Straka (1998)


  • Atomic Number: 15

  • Atomic Mass: 31

  • Period: 3

  • Group: 15

  • Electron Configuration: 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^3

  • Classification: Non Metal

  • Found most often in phosphate rock.

  • Primary mining areas are Russia, USA, Morocco, Tunisia, Tongo and Nauru.

  • Phosphorus has many uses: fertilizers, fireworks, matches, pesticides, toothpaste and detergents.

  • Hennig Brand discovered the element at Hamburg, Germany, 1669.

  • It’s name comes from Greek. phôs (light) and phoros (bearer)


  • Soft white waxy solid, brownish-red powder or black solid.

  • White phosphorus is highly toxic. Skin contact can result in severe burns.

  • The natural color for phosphorus is pale yellow

  • The red part that lets a match catch on fire, when its struck, is phosphorus.

Kenneth Barbalace (1995)

Overall Summary

Today, technetium has very few, but very important, uses. One of these uses is to find out more about health issues and diseases, found in humans. It is also used to make steel stronger. Neptunium is fissionable. Therefore, it could be used as fuel in a fast neutron reactor or in a nuclear weapon. As we all know, America has gone to war many times using nuclear weapons and essentially helping keep the U.S. safe. Without Neptunium, this could not be possible. Phosphorus plays an important role in energy production as components of ATP, or adenosine triphosphate. ATP is used to fuel your body's many functions and is found in the human body’s organs and bones. Essentially, keeping us going and alive. The book went into more detail about the founders of the elements more than it did about the elements, themselves.

Resources Technetium." Chemicool Periodic Table. Retrieved from: <>

. (2012.) "Neptunium." Chemicool Periodic Table. Retrieved from:

Jan Straka(1998) Neptunium: Electron Configuration. Retrieved from:

Kean, Sam. (2011) 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 : Back Bay Books,

Kenneth Barbalace.(1995) Periodic Table of Elements - Phosphorus - P.

Kenneth Barbalace.(1995) Periodic Table of Elements - Technetium - Tc. Retrieved from:

Live Science Staff (2013) Facts About Neptunium. Retrieved from:

Purdue University (2016) The Element Neptunium. Retrieved from:

Purdue University (2016) The Element Technetium. Retrieved from:

Sue Roberts, M.P.H., R.D.(2013) What Is the Main Function of Phosphorus in the Body? Retrived from: