Sunday, May 08, 2011

The Elements: A Visual Exploration of Every Known Atom in the Universe by Theodore Gray

In Chemistry, most students will notice a big wall hanger containing the periodic table of the Elements hanging on the walls. Everybody knows that the first two, Hydrogen and Helium, make up most of the known portions of the universe. Even our Sun is busily converting Hydrogen to Helium in the largest nuclear fusion reactor in our Solar System. But how much do you know about the rest of the elements on that table, and would you be able to recognize them if you saw them?

This book introduces readers to all the (at the time of publication) known 118 Elements, from Hydrogen to the still unnamed Ununoctium (unnamed because its current name is merely the number 118 as written in Latin). The last six or so are still awaiting official naming- 118 also has to wait to be synthesized and/or discovered- it's been postulated to exist, but so far no scientists have found it. And 118 will not be the last, either, as it is theorized that the elements might get more stable around 120 or 122 *Unbinilum" and "Unbibiium", but no one has even formulated what to look for in either, so neither have appeared in the Periodic table yet, nor is there a reason to start a new row on the table.

Each element is shown, wither as a metal (in the case of metals) or in its common forms (including diamonds and coal for carbon). Gasses are shown in containers, and occasionally in incandescent tubes for gasses such as Xenon, Argon and Neon. It may interest you to know that not all of those lights are "Neon" lights. Neon only applies to red lights, while Blue ones are Argon and Purple ones are Xenon. Sodium is a kind of orange, and Hydrogen is a sort of creamy color. In some cases, rocks and minerals in which the element may be found are included, and the many and varied forms of each element are shown. Along the side of the page, atomic weight, density, crystal structure, Electron filling order, atomic emission spectrum and state at various temperatures (solid, liquid and gas) are tracked. Each element is given a single=page writeup, and from two to four pages of pictures of various elemental forms and other information are given, each in full color.

This book is wonderful, a coffee-table book of the elements with plenty of pictures and information to see and marvel at, including how and why the element was named (Indium was *not* named for India or Indiana, but for the strong blue color of its emission spectrum). Mostly left unexplained is why some elemental names do not correspond to the letter used to represent them on the Periodic table. But I already know that Gold is Au for its latin name, Aurium, and Silver is Ag for Argentum, while Copper is Cu for Cuprium, Tin is Sn for Stannum and Lead is Pb for Plumbum, and Antimony is Sb for Stilb

Nevertheless, the book is a real wonder, and some of the labels on the pictures make you think and laugh. One of the pictures in the entry for Gold shows a one-inch gold nugget found in Alaska by a man named Hormidas O. Marion who went there to sell shoes to the Eskimos. Other interesting pictures include freeform Chrome nuggets left behind on uninsulated cracks in electroplating arrays, and a fish carved from frozen mercury and only kept in that form by keeping it frozen. This book is such a feast for the eyes and the mind that you will keep coming back to it long after you have finished it to marvel again and again.

Some of the graphs are a little unclear, and don't convey information in a precise enough way. I would have like to have seen the state change information given as actual numbers, as sometimes that graph can be very hard to be precise on. Tunsten, for instance, has the highest melting point of any metallic element, at over 6000 degrees Farenheit. But unless you look it up elsewhere, you won't know that the actual melting point is 6192 degrees. Aside from that, this book is all good and very fascinating.

This is a book that you might not think of going out to look for on your own, but once you see it, you won't be able to resist cracking the covers and doing a little exploration of your own. Theo Gray is the same guy who gave us the excellent "Mad Science Experiments You Can Do At Home (But Probably Shouldn't), and he also extolls the joy of collecting the elements at the end of the book, with a picture of his own collection. Buying this book will probably make you want to take up that hobby yourself, and I highly recommend this book to read and enjoy.

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