The Disappearing Spoon - Chapter 10
Take Two Elements, Call Me in the Morning
By Deanna Kilby
Since ancient times, certain elements have been used for their strange medicinal properties. Ancient Roman officers utilized the health benefits of silver by eating off of silver platters, and pioneer men would place silver coins in milk jugs to prevent souring (chp 10, pg 167). In the late 1500’s, an astronomer replaced his lost nose with a silver prosthetic; however, when archaeologists found his body, his nose was made of copper. Either element was logical, they decided, due to their antibacterial properties. Today copper is used in buildings and air conditioning ducts to prevent bacteria from festering and spreading (chp 10, pg 168).
Other elements such as vanadium, gadolinium, sulfur, and rhodium have unusual uses as well. Vanadium was discovered to be a very effective spermicide; unlike most, vanadium does not dissolve sperm cell membranes, which can harm other cells and cause infection (chp 10, pg 169). Gadolinium can be used to locate and potentially destroy cancer cells faster than normal methods. A scientist named Gerhard Domagk discovered a medicine that utilizes the properties of sulfur to kill bacteria (chp 10, pg 176). Pasteur's discovery of handedness lead William Knowles to his invention of L-dopa, a medicine to help cure brain diseases. Knowles utilized the element rhodium to do so (chp 10, pg 183). This chapter of the book The Disappearing Spoon tells the tales of six elements and involves everything from strange blue skin to left-handed atoms.
Summary of the Elements
Emsley, J. (2011). Nature's Building Blocks, An A-Z Guide to the Elements, New Edition. Oxford University Press.
Gray, T. (2009). The Elements, A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe. NY: Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers, Inc.
Minerals Database. (n.d.). Minerals Education Coalition. Retrieved from https://www.mineralseducationcoalition.org/minerals
Stwertka, A. (2012). A Guide to the Elements, 3rd Edition. Oxford University Press.
The Periodic Table of Elements. (n.d.). It’s Elemental. Retrieved from http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/
World Sulphur Producing Countries. (2012, December 20). Maps of World. Retrieved from http://www.mapsofworld.com/minerals/world-sulphur-producers.html