Chapter 5: Elements in Times of War
by David Moore
War can trace its roots back to prehistory, but chemical warfare can find its origin in ancient Greece. Failed attempts by the Spartans at chemical warfare inhibited its development until its importance was realized around World War I. A ban was placed on chemical weapons in 1899, but all countries that signed broke their promise (Ch 5, p 81). Early gas weapons were primarily bromine, which could easily incapacitate a grown man. The Germans took cue from the French and with help of evil genius Fritz Haber, developed chlorine based gas weapons over the next two wars, using osmium as a catalyst (Ch 5, p 83). He also manufactured the first-generation-killer, Zyklon A. Horror and tragedy surrounding Haber and his creation, but the damage was already done (Ch 5, p 85).
Gas weapons weren't the only way elements contributed to war. German weapons called Big Berthas could launch shells nine miles in a matter of seconds, but the firepower needed to launch the shells destroyed the guns after repeated launching. The metal molybdenum and tungsten were highly sought after because they strengthened the machines (Ch 5, p 88). Violence raged as supply for these metals grew, but yet again, it was too late to prevent the havoc the elements had wreaked (Ch 5, p 88). More recently, demand for metals tantalum and niobium (used in cell phones) and tin has caused violence and bloodshed in the Democratic Republic of Congo, owner of 60% of the world's supply of these metals. The bloodshed shows that the elements of the periodic table aren't always as awe-inspiring and lighthearted as one might think (Ch 5, p 97).
- Bromine is found in Period 4 and Group 17
- Its electron configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p5
- Bromine is a halogen gas, and can be found naturally in many places on Earth, but its richest deposits are in America, China, and Israel.
- Pure Bromine does not occur naturally, but commonly appears in the compound Br2, which is found in ocean brine (Gagnon, Bromine).
- Bromine is found in the crust of the Earth and in seawater, mostly in the salts in the ocean.
- Bromine is relied on as a dye, gasoline additive, fertilizer, insecticide, fire retardant, and water purifier.
- Chemist Antoine Jerome Balard discovered Bromine in France in 1826.
- Bromine was named from bromos, the Greek word for 'stench.'
- Interestingly, bromine is the only nonmetal element that is liquid at room temerature (Royal, Bromine).
- Osmium is found in Period 6 and Group 8
- Its electron configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d10 5p6 6s2 4f14 5d6 (Gagnon, Osmium)
- Osimium is a transition metal, and can be found in its richest deposits in South Africa, Russia, and Zimbabwe.
- Osmium can be found uncombined in nature and in the mineral osmiridium, mainly taken from nickel mining wastes.
- Osmium's few uses include alloys for the tips of fountain pens, pivots, needles, and electrical contacts, as well as a chemical catalyst.
- Smithson Tennant discovered Osmium in London, England in 1803.
- Osmium was named from the Greek osme meaning 'a smell.'
- Osmium is the densest of all the naturally occurring elements, but is toxic in its purest form. Osmium is also the rarest of all the stable elements (Royal, Osmium)
- Chlorine is found in Period 3 and Group 17.
- Its electron configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p5 (Gagnon, Chlorine)
- Chlorine is a halogen gas, and can be found most abundantly in China, India, and America.
- Chlorine does not appear uncombined in nature but can be easily found in the ionic compound of common salt (NaCl). Most Chlorine is taken from the salt in ocean brine.
- Chlorine can be used as a disinfectant, solvent, plastic producer, oxidizing agent, anesthetic, and even as a weapon in WWI.
- Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered Chlorine in Sweden in 1774.
- Chlorine was named for the Greek chloros, meaning 'greenish yellow.'
- Chlorine is the second most common halogen on Earth, and the second lightest halogen. Chlorine is capable of bonding with practically every element, and pure chlorine is yellow-green and highly toxic (Royal, Chlorine).
- Molybdenum is found in Period 5 and Group 6.
- Its electron configuration is 1s1 2s1 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s1 (Gagnon, Molybdenum)
- Molybdenum is a transition metal and will best be found in China, America, and Chile.
- Molybdenum isn't naturally found uncombined, and is usually taken from the mineral molybdenite (molybdenum dislufide).
- Molybdenum is used as an alloy to strengthen other metals like steel, due to its high melting point and resistance to corrosion. Molybdenum can also be used for petroleum catalysts, pigments, circuit board inks, and electrodes.
- Carl Wilhelm Scheele discovered molybdenum in Sweden in 1778.
- Molybdenum was named for the Greek molybdos, meaning 'lead.'
- Molybdenum has a very high melting point, making it very hard and difficult to change or destroy. It is also essential for nitrogen-fixing bacteria (Royal, Molybdenum).
- Tungsten is found in Period 6 and Group 6.
- Its electron configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d10 5p6 6s2 4f14 5d4 (Gagnon, Tungsten).
- Tungsten is a transition metal and can best be found in China, Russia, and Bolivia.
- Tungsten is not naturally found uncombined, but can be found in the minerals scheelite (CaWO₄) and wolframite ( (Fe,Mn)WO4 ).
- Tungsten's high melting point allows it to be used as alloys for many metals, making it useful as a heating element in high heat furnace and other high temperature environments. Tungsten carbide is very hard and makes wonderful cutting and drilling tools.
- Juan and Fausto Elihuyar discovered tungsten in Vergara, Spain in 1783.
- Tungsten was originally called wolfram, but was named tungsten for the Swedish word tung sten, meaning 'heavy metal.'
- Tungsten is the heaviest of all elements that play a biological role. Tungsten present in Wolframite is known to disrupt the smelting process of tin.
- Of all pure metals, tungsten has the highest melting point (Royal, Tungsten).
- Scandium is foundi n Period 4 and Group 3.
- Its electron configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d1 (Gagnon, Scandium)
- Scandium is a transition metal and can best be obtained in China, Russia, and Malaysia.
- Scandium is not naturally found uncombined, but can be found in small amounts over 800 different mineral types. Concentrated amounts can be found in thortveitite and gadolinite, which are rare. It is usually taken as a waste product of uranium refining.
- Scandium has been used as a substitute and alloy in aluminum because their densities are very similar, yet scandium has a higher melting point. Scandium-aluminum alloys have been used in baseball bats and Russian fighter planes and helicopters.
- Scandium-46 is a radioactive isotope and can be used to detect leaks in pipes.
- Lars Fredrick Nilson discovered Scandium in 1879 in Sweden.
- Scandium is named for the Latin Scandia, meaning 'Scandanavia.'
- Scandium only appears naturally in the form of isotope Scandium-45. Only three mines actually extract scandium from ore.
- Scandium tarnishes to yellow or pink in color when exposed to air (Royal, Scandium).
Technology advances, demand increases, blood is spilled.
Tantalum and tin are both critical in modern technology and fairly easy to mine, and the Democratic Republic of Congo holds 60% of the world's supply of these two elements. In a country without government, the ability for anyone to get paid good money for these elements has caused many colficts and over "five million deaths since the mid 1990's" (Ch 5, p 97).
- Tantalum is found in Period 6 and Group 5.
- Its electron configuration is 1s2 2s2 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d10 5p6 6s2 4f14 5d3 (Gagnon, Tantalum).
- Tantalum is a rare transition metal and will most likely be best obtained in Brazil, Rwanda, and China.
- Tantalum is very rarely found uncombined in nature. It can be found commonly in the mineral columbite-tantalite, which also contains metals like niobium. Most tantalum is obtained as a waste product of tin mining.
- Tantalum can be used as an insulating layer for electrical components and helps increase conductivity in a small volume, making it perfect for portable devices like cell phones.
- Tantalum is also used in electrodes, prosthetic impants, turbine blades, and rocket nozzles due to its high resistance to corrosion and strong alloy.
- Anders Gustav Ekeberg discovered Tantalum in 1802 in Sweden.
- Tantalum was named after the Greek mythological figure Tantalus.
- As niobium and tantalum are similar and usually occur in the same minerals, they were often thought to be the same element. Its biocompatibility makes it perfect for medical implants. It has the fourth highest melting point of any metal element (Royal, Tantalum).
Technology advances, demand increases, blood is spilled.
- Niobium is found in Period 5 and Group 5.
- Its electron configuration is 1s1 2s1 2p6 3s2 3p6 4s2 3d10 4p6 5s2 4d4 (Gagnon, Niobium).
- Niobium is a transition metal that can best be found in Brazil and Canada.
- Niobium is not found uncombined in nature, but mainly found in the mineral columbite, and, like tantalum, can be gained as a waste product of tin mining.
- Niobium is used as an alloy for metals and particularly low temperatures, and is a superconuctor, even in the superconducting magnets in particle accelerators and MRI scanners.
- Charles Hatchett discovered niobium in 1801 in England.
- Niobium was named for the Greek mythological character Niobe.
- Niobium used to be called columbium, because it was found in the mineral columbite.
- Niobium-93 is the only known stable isotope of the element.
- Its special properties in alloys have been used to create gas pipelines.
- Niobium has the largest magnetic penetration depth of any of the known elements (Royal, Niobium).
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