The Disappearing Spoon: Chapter 17

Smore created by Kayla Shook

Spheres of Splendor: The Science of Bubbles

The science of bubbles has effected everything from a glass of beer, to the porous bones that are located in our bodies. Sam Kean goes into elaboration on how the science of bubbles is connected to six different elements in this chapter. For example, the element of Hydrogen is related to the science of bubbles due to the scientist, Donald Glaser and his decision to put Hydrogen through a cloud chamber to discover more about the impurities of the element. While studying the results, Glaser learned many new facts about Hydrogens sub-atomic particles which landed him among the top fifteen, "Men of the Year" in 1960 (17,297-299). To read about how the other elements are connected to the science of bubbles, scroll down to the conclusion located near the bottom of this Smore. In this chapter, Spheres of Splendor: The Science of Bubbles, the elements of Hydrogen, Zirconium, Xenon, Rutherfordium, Calcium, and Radon are connected to the science of bubbles.

Elements and General Facts


Atomic Number- 1
Mass- 1.00784

Period- 1

Group- 1

Electron configuration- 1s^1

Classification- Non-Metal

Hydrogen was discovered by Henry Cavendish while working in a lab in 1766. Hydro meaning "water" and Genes meaning "forming" composes this elements name due to water being formed when Hydrogen is burned (Hart, 2011).


Atomic Number- 40

Mass- 91.224

Period- 5

Group- 4

Electron configuration- 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 3d^10 4ss^2 4p^6 4d^2 5s^2

Classification- Transition Metal

Zirconium was first discovered by a Swedish chemist named Jöns Jacob Berzelius in 1824 while he was continuing the work of Martin Heinrich Klaproth. Klaproth was studying the mineral of zircon and believed there was another element that made up this mineral besides silica and oxygen and Berzelius was the chemist that proved this theory. However, it wasn't until 1914 that the element of Zirconium was produced.

The name Zirconium comes from the mineral zircon that this element was found in (Institute, 2011).


Atomic Number- 54

Mass- 131.293

Period- 5

Group- 18

Electron configuration- 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 3d^10 4s^2 4p^6 4d^10 5s^2 5p^6

Classification- Noble Gas

Xenon was discovered by Sir William Ramsay, a Scottish chemist, and Morris M. Travers, an English chemist in 1898, through the study of liquefied air. Xenon received its name from the Greek word, 'Xenon', meaning stranger. This name was chosen due to Xenon only making up 1 part per 11.5 million in Earths atmosphere (Institute, 2012).


Atomic Number- 104

Mass- 263

Period- 7

Group- 4

Electron configuration- 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 3d^10 4s^2 4p^6 4d^10 4f^14 5s^2 5p^6 5d^10 5f^14 6s^2 6p^6 6d^2 7s^2

Classification- Transition Metal

Rutherfordium was first reported in 1964 by a group of scientists working at the Joint Institute for Nuclear Research in Dubna, Russia while working with the atoms of Plutonium -242 and Neon-22. However, in 1969 a group of scientists working at the Lawrence Radiation Laboratory in Berkeley, California tried using different elements with different isotopes to create Rutherfordium and successfully created this element, just with different isotopes. The ultimate founder for this element is still debated to this day.

Rutherfordium is named after the scientist Ernest Rutherford (Lenntech, 2014).


Atomic Number- 20

Mass- 40.078

Period- 4

Group- 2

Electron configuration- 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 4^s2

Classification- Alkaline Earth Metal

In 1808, Calcium was discovered by Sir Humphrey Davy while using the process of electrolysis to isolate this element from the compound of lime. The meaning of this name comes from the latin word 'calx', meaning lime (Hogan, 2013).


Atomic Number- 86

Mass- 222

Period- 6

Group- 18

Electron configuration- 1s^2 2s^2 2p^6 3s^2 3p^6 3d^10 4s^2 4p^6 4d^10 4f^14 5s^2 5p^6 5d^10 6s^2 6p^6

Classification- Noble Gas

The element, Radon, was discovered in 1900 by the German chemist, Friedrich Ernst Dorn. Dorn was studying the decay chain of Radium when he discovered this element. The name, Radon, came from the fact that Radon is obtained through the process of Radium's decay. (Hogan, 2011)

Significance of Element


On Earth, Hydrogen is commonly found as the compound H2O. Since the Earth is composed 71 percent of water, Hydrogen is one the most abundant elements on this planet. Hydrogen is a very significant element due to its many purposes, some of these include,
  1. The compound of H2O, water.
  2. Alternative fuel.
  3. H2O2: an efficient cleaner known as Hydrogen Peroxide.
  4. Can be used as a welding and a cooling substance.

One unique characteristic of Hydrogen is that it has a boiling point at −435°F and Hydrogen makes up exactly one part per million of our atmosphere on Earth (Hart, 2011).


-The elment, Zirconium, is found in two minerals, Zircon (ZrSiO4) and Baddeleyite (ZrO2). Zircon is found as grains located in sand deposits in the southeastern United States, and in Australia and Brazil. Baddeleyite is commonly found in Russia and Brazil in large deposits.
  1. Zirconium does not absorb neutrons making it a very effective fuel while working with nuclear reactors.
  2. When Zirconium is mixed with the element, Niobium, it results in a product with a high superconductivity (the ability to conduct electricity without much energy loss).
  3. Zirconium is found in everyday products such as deodorant, lamp filaments, and the artificial gem-stone know as Cubic Zirconia.
Zirconium is a very unique element due to its physical and chemical properties. It is very resistant to heat and corrosion, while at the same time being lighter than steel and having a hardness similar to copper (Institute, 2011).


The element Xenon is a rare element that is scarcely found in Earths atmosphere and sometimes reproduced in labs across the world.
  1. Used in photographic flash lamps
  2. General Anesthetic
  3. Xenon can be used to image the heart, brain, and lungs.
Although Xenon has a few important roles in the medical field, large amounts of exposure to this element can result in death! Xenon is an element that can be a liquid, solid, and a gas (Institute, 2012).


Rutherfordium is an element that is artificially produced, meaning that it is not found in nature.
Rutherfordium has no uses besides those of scientific study due to its most stable isotope, rutherfordium-267, having a half-life of only an hour and twenty minutes.
Studies have been conducted with this element, however, there has not been a lot of definite information on the element. Scientists have predicted that this element has basic properties similar to those of other group 4 elements, titanium, zirconium, and hafnium (Lenntech, 2014).


Calcium is the fifth most abundant element that is found in the Earth's crust. Due to this element reacting with oxygen and water to form compounds at such a rapid rate, Calcium is rarely found in its singular form. The compound that Calcium is most often found as is CaCO3, this compound composes chalk, limestone, and marble.


  1. Sanitary purposes, one example is toothpaste.
  2. Fertilizer
  3. Construction

Calcium is a very unique metal due its difference from the other alkaline metals. Calcium differs from these metals because it is less chemically reactive and does not cause skin burns! When Calcium and water mix, small amounts of carbon dioxide is released (17,299) (Hogan, 2013).


Radon is typically found in igneous rock and soil, and in some cases, can be found in well water and in homes across the world. Areas across the world with high Radon concentrations include Carlsbad Caverns, New Mexico; Ramsar, Iran; and Yangjiang, China. Radon's most stable isotope is Radon-222 and has a half-life of 8.3 days.
  1. Small amounts of Radon are used as cancer treatment.
Radon is a highly dangerous element and has been linked to many deaths. Studies have shown that a person who has came in contact with Radon is much more likely to contract lung cancer at some point in their future than someone who hasn't been in contact with Radon. Due to the dangers of this element, Radon does not have many uses.
Radon is a unique element due to it being completely nonreactive and being the most dense gas recorded (Hogan, 2011).


The Connection

By now, you all should have a good understanding of these six elements, Hydrogen, Zirconium, Xenon, Rutherfordium, Calcium, and Radon. But, how are these element all connected? The answer to this is the science of bubble! (Yes, this is a real method of science.) At the beginning of this Smore, you read about how Hydrogen is connected to the science of bubbles and now it is time to connect the five other elements to the science.

Calcium- A state where overlap and lose their spherical shape is known as Calcium and the best known example of this in the human body is out bones (17,298). The bones in our body have a very porous texture in the center that resembles a foam and foam is just a repetition of overlapping bubbles.

Radon- Radon was found by Earnest Rutherford through using a technique of bubble science. Rutherford did this by taking an active sample of decay that was in a closed container. Rutherford then drew bubbles off the gas into the inverted flask. These bubbles gave Rutherford all of the information that he needed to prove the existence of this new element (17,302).

Xenon- When Xenon is under high pressure, this element has no other way to get rid of its stored energy. This results in the element putting all extra energy into bubbles and releasing the excess energy this way.

Rutherfordium- Earnest Rutherford with the help of Kelvin discovered this element trapped inside of primordial uranium rock in pockets shaped as bubbles. Rutherford waited until the death of his partner to come forward about this discovery, which led to a new prediction on the Earths actual age (17,306).

Zirconium- Zirconium is found inside of the element, Zircon. Zircon, unlike other soft limestone, has survived since the beginning days of Earth, due to its hard, poppy-seed shape. The unique structure of Zircon sucked up Uranium and Zirconium particles that resemble bubbles in this substance (17, 307).


Hart, D., & , S. (2011). Hydrogen. Retrieved from

Institute, M. (2011). Zirconium. Retrieved from

Institute, M. (2012). Xenon. Retrieved from

Hogan, C. (2011). Radon. Retrieved from 896bb431f69a143

Hogan, C. (2013). Calcium. Retrieved from

Lenntech. (2014). Rutherfordium. Retrieved from