16 - Chemistry Way Way Below Zero

By Dixie Laws

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Chapter Synopsis

Chapter 16 of The Disappearing Spoon discusses several different elements from the periodic table. It begins by discussing a common metal Tin (Sn), and how the corroding of Tin killed explorers in the early 1900's (pg. 144). He also discusses Argon (Ar) and how difficult it is to force Argon into a compound (pg. 146) He then discusses Neodymium (Nd) and how this element is commonly used in lasers (pg. 148) He ends this chapter by discussing the element Rubidium (Rb) and how some scientists made BEC real using the element and some lasers (pg. 151). Those scientists got Rubidium very cold and formed it into a new state of matter (BEC).

In Chapter 16, Sam Kean makes the elements he discusses more than just letters and numbers on the Periodic Table. He really gives them a new life by telling how they have played key roles in people's everyday life. He also tells how they play a role in the way they have been known to act by scientists. These elements are shown in a new way that most people can relate to and understand.

Tin (Sn)

Atomic Number: 50

Atomic Mass: 118.71 amu
Period: 5

Group: 14

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

Classification: Other metals

Found: Tin is mainly found in the ore cassiterite which is found mainly in Malaysia, Thailand, Indonesia, Bolivia, Republic of Congo, Nigeria, and China. There is not much found naturally in the United States.

Importance: Tin is used for many different things. Electro-plating is used a lot. This is where a thin coat of tin is placed around another metal such as copper, steel, etc. These tin pieces are used for kitchen utensils, electronic components, clips, pins, and as containers for things such as kerosene or fuel.

Discovered: It is not known who discovered the element Tin as it has been around since ancient times.

Unique Characteristics: As talked about in the book, when Tin atoms get cold they change from their stronger "beta" form into their crumbly, powdery, less strong "alpha" form. This then causes the Tin to corrode and disintegrate (pg. 144).

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Argon (Ar)

Atomic Number: 18

Atomic Mass: 39.95 amu

Period: 3

Group: 18

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

Classification: Noble Gases

Found: Argon is most commonly found in Earth's atmosphere. It is a repercussion of the production of Nitrogen and Oxygen.

Importance: Argon is commonly used to fill incandescent and fluorescent light bulbs to prevent oxygen from corroding the hot outside of the light bulb.

Discovered: Argon was discovered by Sir William Ramsay, an English scientist and chemist, in 1894. The name Argon comes from the Greek word Argos meaning lazy.

Unique Characteristics: It is extremely difficult to try and force Argon into a compound. There is only one known compound Argon is known to form, argon fluorohydride.

(pg. 146-147)

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Neodymium (Nd)

Atomic Number: 60

Atomic Mass: 144.24 amu

Period/Group: Part of the Lanthanide Series

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

Classification: Transition Metals

Found: Neodymium is never found in nature as a free element. It is found in minerals that include all lanthanide minerals. The main areas this is found is Brazil, China, U.S., India, Sri Lanka, and Australia.

Importance: Neodymium makes up a great percentage of a certain kind of metal, Misch metal, that is used to make flints for lighters. Also Neodymium is a component in didymium glass which is used to make welder and glass blower goggles.

Discovered: It was first discovered in 1885 by an Austrian scientist, Carl Auer von Welsbach. Neodymium is named for the Greek word, "neos didymos", meaning "new twin".

Unique Characteristics: Neodymium is considered to be moderately toxic. Also when it gets in contact with air, it forms a flaky, oxide coating.

(pg. 148-150)

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Rubidium (Rb)

Atomic Number: 37

Atomic Mass: 85.5 amu

Period: 5

Group: 1

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

Classification: Alkali Metal

Found: Rubidium is too reactive to be found as a free metal in nature. It is fairly rare. It is present in some minerals that are found in North America, South Africa, Russia, and Canada.

Importance: Rubidium is used to make atomic clocks. A more radioactive isotope of Rubidium is used to measure the age of old things. However, overall Rubidium has only a few practical uses.

Discovered: This element is one out of four elements that was discovered by spectroscopy. Bunsen and Kirchhoff used spectroscopy and found Rubidium in a mineral called lepidolite. The new lines they saw were a deep red color so they named the new element after the ancient word rubidus which was a word that designated the "deepest red".

Unique Characteristics: Rubidium is a very active element. It catches on fire when exposed to oxygen. For this reason, it has to be stored completely submerged under kerosene to avoid contact with the oxygen in the air. It also violently reacts with water. With water it makes hydrogen gas which catches on fire. Rubidium also combines harshly with halogens.

(pg. 151)

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Overall Summary

All of the elements on the periodic table are an essential part of everyday life whether we realize it or not. All of the elements discussed in my chapter I didn't realize, but I come into contact with at least one of them everyday. For example there is probably a coating of Tin on most of my kitchen utensils. Whether anyone realizes it or not, the elements on the periodic table affect their lives every day. Without Tin our kitchen utensils, containers, clips, pins, etc. may not be as affective. Without Argon, oxygen would corrode our light bulbs. Without Neodymium people would not be able to use their lighters. Without Rubidium atomic clocks would not exist. Without these elements, people would not be able to enjoy the comforts of their lifestyle. Whether people realize it or not, all of the elements on the Periodic Table play a significant role in their everyday lives.
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