Put a ring on it…..and it better be Platinum!

Electron shell 078 platinum

Image via Wikipedia


Time for some more fun with the periodic table of elements!  I was thinking, every good nerd should have a favorite transition metal.  Today, I’ve decided to write on my personal favorite transition metal; its one many ladies, recording artists and kings have adored as well….Platinum.      

Atomic Symbol: Pt     

Atomic Number:  78     

Atomic Mass:  195.078     

Sure it has a flashy pop culture reputation.  If you’re a rock star, you want your record to go platinum.  Then if your record goes platinum, you’ll defiantly be carrying around a platinum credit card to buy all of your groupies nice things.  And maybe one day you’ll find a super hot model to marry and you’ll give her a fancy platinum ring with a big old diamond.  That’s all fine and dandy but platinum has plenty of other less glamorous uses as well:     

  • Platinum spark plugs
  • catalytic converters (I guess that’s why people steal them?)
  • electrodes
  • ungodly expensive replacement parts for various laboratory instruments and supplies
  • serves as a catalyst in reactions that are needed in oil refining (probably has something to do with why it’s in such high demand….)

The main plus of platinum is its resistance to corrosion.  It frankly doesn’t give a darn about nasty acids or super high temperatures so it’s use in the laboratory, on cars or wherever corrosion is a problem makes sense.  Why is it so expensive?  Well, it’s simply in high demand which means one day King Louis XVI of France declared it the only metal fit for kings.  His subjects didn’t really like him so he didn’t last long as king but the stigma he attached to platinum has definitely stuck around.     

Heck I’ve fallen for the hype myself and now wear a platinum engagement and wedding ring.  My personal reason for the choice was not due my diva qualities.  My nerdy side won out.  I knew it was the strongest metal used in jewelry (I think this has something to do with its placement on the periodic table)  and if this metal was so coveted for its strength and durability, it seems a fitting candidate for a wedding ring.  I’m not into diamonds (I mean, their just old carbon after all!) so I was willing to forego a bunch  of rocks for the more flashy metal.      

So is platinum really all that great?  On the outside, it doesn’t look much different than many other metals that cost much less.  Is it platinum’s chemical and physical characteristics that make it so coveted or is it just because “we” say it’s “cooler” than other metals?  I would say it’s probably a little of both.    

So does anyone else have a favorite transition metal or am I the only one who would even think about that? 🙂 


Science Fair Savvy: World Water Monitoring Day is Sept. 18, 2010!

Got water?

If you are looking for a good science fair project idea or perhaps an idea to do with your Girl Scout or Boy Scout troop, check out World Water Monitoring Day!


“Green” projects are all the rage these days at science fairs.  Monitoring the water quality of a local stream or pond near you is a great way to jump into the world of environmental science.  This website collects data from students all over the world who are collecting data in their area.  So your data becomes part of an actual international project!  They have kits you can order, instructions, background info….basically everything you could need to get started.  (Note to Parental Units: this means less science fair stress!) It’s a great source of inspiration for science fair project ideas as well.  This gets kids experience with field work as well as lab work so it’s a great opportunity for kids who want to a career in environmental science one day.

Enjoy and I hope you all are enjoying your last days of summer or having a successful start to the school year!

Wine, hot-tubs….is this a science blog or another Jersey Shore blog?!

So last week, we gave a shout out to Louis Pasteur for helping to save the wine industry (oh and all of that other stuff about vaccinations and safe milk….props for that as well, Louis!)  Now, we’ll make the likely transition from wine to hot tubs.  I’m only saying this because I am currently in a marketing course and I figure what better way to market my blog then mention things that gets people’s attention so they’ll read about science!  Now for the old bait and switch…. 

That lovely hot tub you see on pretty much every reality show featuring hot young folk wouldn’t be quite so lovely without….. 


Atomic Symbol:          Br (one of the abbreviations on the periodic table that actually makes sense in the English language!) 

Atomic Number:         35 

Atomic Mass:              79.904 

State at room temp:     liquid (but just barely, so it’s like water about to boil) 

Bromine gets a bad rap.  Ok yes, it’s a halogen which is the group of elements that make up the second from the right column on the periodic table and there’s a whole lot of nasty stuff in that group.  Fluorine, chlorine, bromine…you don’t want to run into these things in their pure form, people.  In fact, if a puddle of bromine just appeared on the floor, it would start to boil and immediately turn into a purple gas mist.  Ok so that sounds cool but you’ll probably need a hazmat suit to watch that.  Since Bromine and other halogens are so nasty, they choose to bond with metals to form ionic salts.  Halogens are like people, they just want to form a special bond with someone and go out and make a positive change in the world! 

Here are some uses for bromine: 

  • Disinfectant in hot tubs.  Bromine salts are more effective disinfectants at higher waters temperatures than chlorine salts so they are the choice for hot tub water.
  • Brominated vegetable oil is used in citrus flavored soft drinks.  The bromine is added to the oil because it makes the oil about as dense as water and this allows the oil to stay suspended in the drink.
  • In the form of tertrabromobisphenol A, it is used as a fire-retardant on clothing.  These days anything with the ending “-phenol” is pretty much looked at as a bad guy.  The safety of this chemical is in question-Should it really be put on kids clothes?  It’s one of those things you gotta think about, weigh out the pros and cons and make a decision for on your own.  

So long story short-if you like Mountain Dew and relaxing in a hot tub, you’re a fan of Bromine. 

A coffee table book every nerd should have.....Thanks mom!


Source:  The Elements, A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray, 2009, Black Dog & Leventhal Publishers.

The Discovery of the Neutrino

The answer to missing energy from radioactive decay and ninety percent of the universe’s mass may be found in a tiny particle called the neutrino.  The neutrino is a tiny, elementary particle.  It could explain the structure of the universe.  The following defines the neutrino and explains its discovery.

Neutrinos are reported to be very common.  They are believed to be produced during radioactive decay in the “Big Bang”.  There are three different types of neutrinos:  electron neutrinos, muon neutrinos and tau neutrinos.  There is also an antimatter form called antineutrinos. 

A neutrino is so small that it cannot be seen by almost all instruments.  One could go through the Earth as if it was no more than a cloud.  An estimated sixty million neutrinos pass through each square centimeter of the Earth’s surface.  There are approximately one billion neutrinos for every proton in space. 

The neutrino was first proposed in 1930 by Wolfgang Pauli.  He said that this new particle could explain an energy discrepancy in some experiments.  According to Pauli, every time nucleuses under goes beta decay, the neutrino is emitted.  It then leaves carrying off a piece of the energy. 

Pauli thought of his idea as a “desperate remedy.”  The charge-less neutron was discovered in 1932.  This encouraged Pauli to publish his idea.  A physicist named Enrico Fermi was the one to name it neutrino which is Italian for “little neutral one.”  Many physicists found the neutrino hard to believe.  It had almost no mass and no charge.  It was merely a speck of energy from a radioactive atom.  Proving Pauli’s idea would be very difficult. 

In 1956, Clyde Cowan and Fredrick Reines proved the existence of the neutrino.  They called their experiment Project Poltergeist.  They performed it at a South Carolina nuclear power plant.  They produced trillions of neutrinos in a reactor’s core.  The neutrinos they went through a ten ton detector.  The neutrinos were detected by the flecks of radiation left behind.  This entire process took more than three years but it still did not prove neutrinos had mass. 

Scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory believe they can show the neutrino has mass.  They believe that neutrinos change into other types of neutrinos while on rout from the sun to the Earth.  This process is called oscillation and for it to occur the particles must have mass. 

The scientists’ experiment which took place at Los Alamos took place in 1993, involved catching the neutrinos while oscillating.  The produced a beam of protons with a particle accelerator.  The beam produced all three types of neutrinos.  It was aimed at a container of water surrounded by a copper and steel shield.  A Liquid Scintillator Neutrino Detector (LSND) was set up thirty meters away.  The LSND is a tank filled with mineral oil and chemicals and lined with 1,220 phototubes.  This detected the produced signal when the neutrinos oscillated into antineutrinos. 

The experiment detected signals from eight antineutrinos.  This proves that the neutrinos did oscillate and thus did have mass.  The mass is estimated at 0.5 to 5 electron volts (eV).

There may be a substantial amount of neutrinos in the universe.  About ninety percent of the universes’ mass is immeasurable. Perhaps the findings of Pauli and the scientists at Los Alamos National Laboratory have found the particles that make up the missing mass. 


Bartrisiak, M.  Through a Universe Darkly.  New York:  Harper Collins Publishers, Inc., 1993.

Morris, R.  The edges of Science.  New York:  Prentice Hall Press, 1990.

 Weaver, J.  The World of Physics.  New York:  Simon and Schuster, 1987.  

Disclaimer:  This is a short paper that they young Susie Science wrote in 1996 therefore data in the proceeding text may not be entirely accurate.  I actually found a hand written copy of this in my basement.  This was written back in the dark ages when young scholars had the option of hand writing a paper or typing it on a computer because (gasp!) at one point not everyone had a computer!  Looking back now, I think my little paper was not too shabby.  🙂