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.

Science Fair Savvy: It’s that time! :/

Okay, I know, school hasn’t started yet!!  But it will be here soon so time for some science fair tips!

First, I have a confession: When I was in 10th grade, I was put into an honors biology class and I choose to switch down to the regular “academic” biology class just to avoid doing a science fair project.  My one from the previous year didn’t go so well to say the least and I just didn’t want to mess with that.  Now here I am basically doing experiments every day at work so I guess I got over it and my love of the lab won out!  I am sure I am not the only one to feel the same way as i did back then.  These things can be tough on everyone, I hear the parental units come to fear this time as well.  I’m sure getting the kids to just do homework is one thing but facing a daunting months long process culminating in a big grade at the end, possible science fair spot, and throw in the whole “gotta get into college!” thing and it just seems that science fair = stress for everyone. 

I guess a lot has to do with the way that the whole thing starts off.  Usually, the big science fair is always for the same grade level so you know that if you hit 9th grade or whatever it is your school does, you know it’s a’coming.  So you get to school the first day and the teacher says pick a topic, here is a big packet of rules and have your topic picked and forms filled out by Friday.  In my opinion, picking the topic is the hardest part!!!  So thinking about it now in the last few weeks of summer is a good idea. 

Here are some ideas for getting started:

  • What do you like?  Once you pick something, google/wiki it to learn more and narrow down your topic.
  • Is this project idea feasible?  What does it require in terms of time, oversight, commitment, materials….most importantly BE REALISTIC!  If you know your not up for keeping plants alive for three months, that’s fine, just move on to another idea!
  • Are there any resources you reach out to for help?  These can be local colleges, nature centers, water utilities, health departments–look locally and you’ll probably find people who are willing to help!
  • Don’t be a hero!  (You can save that for college.)  You don’t need to have the most complicated experiment to succeed.  A project that is clearly defined and simple to understand will more impressive. 
  • The projects that don’t work out are the ones that don’t seem don’t interest you and don’t have focus.  If the project isn’t focused, you won’t be focused and you’ll be struggling to complete it.
  • Don’t worry about the project working perfectly.  Learning to follow the scientific method is the most important lesson of a science fair project.  (You can say this to your teacher, they’ll probably be impressed.)

So good luck with the topic search!  Next time on Science Fair Savvy:  The Joys of a Good Hypothesis.  Stay Tuned!

Coming up Friday-Louis Pasteur and the Scientific Advancements of 19th Century France!  I bet y’all can’t wait for that, huh?!