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The number of protons is called the atomic number and it's the fundamental organizing principle of every table of the elements, including this one. They're filled with stats and figures that don't make any sense to the ordinary person. What matters about elements is that they are real physical substances with properties and things you can do with them. I have to say many of these elements look the way you would think—gold looks like gold, silver looks like silver—but not all of them.

Theo makes the point by putting me in touch with the real deal. To make the entire table less abstract, he invites me to lay out the rest of his collection of pure elements. This is a visual representation of every single element that makes up this entire planet and everything on it. As we can clearly see, more than 70 percent of the elements on the table are metals, shiny, malleable materials that conduct electricity. Everything from here on over, including the bottom part, is all metals. And down the middle are these, kind of, halfway in between things, which include, for example, semiconductors, like silicon. The one I was looking at, in particular, was calcium. This is when Theo's collection starts to get really interesting, when he pairs the pure elements with their more familiar forms.

To unlock their secrets, David Pogue, technology columnist and lively host of NOVA's popular "Making Stuff" series, spins viewers through the world of weird, extreme chemistry: the strongest acids, the deadliest poisons, the universe's most abundant elements, and the rarest of the rare—substances cooked up in atom smashers that flicker into existence for only fractions of a second. Yet everything we know, the stars, the planets and life, itself, comes from about 90 basic building blocks,… …all right here, on this remarkable chart: the periodic table of the elements. And we're made, almost entirely, of just a handful of ingredients, including one that burns with secret fire inside us all. The sample, mixed with a lead oxide powder, goes into a furnace heated to 2,000 degrees. Using extreme heat, gold atoms are gradually coaxed away from the powdered rock. Turns out that an ounce per ton is pretty much optimal for the underground mine. The New York Mercantile Exchange is a vital hub in the global metals market, which is pretty good news for me. (Commodities Trader): Oh, this is an old, old business. It's so important that the rise and fall of copper prices provide a snapshot of the health of the entire world economy. Each atom gives up some of its electrons to create a kind of sea of these randomly moving charged particles.

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Out of every hundred bells they pour, 20 or 30 will fail. Our bell resonates with a beautiful tone, and it takes many seconds for the note to die out, thanks to the interplay between copper and tin.

Even the best bell makers can't know whether their bronze will be too stiff or too soft, until they pour a bell and strike it.

Can we crack the code to build the world of the future? By digging, these guys are hoping to strike it rich. I'm on a quest to understand the basic building blocks of everyday matter. These symbols represent the atoms that make up every single thing in our universe: 118 unique substances arranged on an amazing chart that reveals their hidden secrets to anyone who knows how to read it.

It turns out that nature has concealed thousands of pounds of the stuff under billions of cubic feet of earth.

About three quarters of the elements are metals, and gold is one of the most standoffish. In copper, they can slide past each other easily, which makes it relatively soft and easy to dent, not right for a bell. Ralph places the form into a circular steel sleeve, then fills the space around it with a mixture of sand and epoxy, to withstand the searing heat of the hot metal. Adding tin to copper during melting changes the properties of the metal.

Last modified 26-Jul-2017 08:09