Chemically Speaking...the elements!

Okay, it’s cheesy, I know, but it’s true! I was recently on an outreach and while talking to middle schooler’s, I realized that, while they knew the chemical names to some of the elements, they were a little more baffled at the table as a whole. So, I figured if middle schoolers had that problem, then maybe other students (child and adult) may have the same issue. Therefore, I have decided that I am going to do a series of posts on the Elements and will do my best to walk ya’ll through it. Now, I know you might be saying to yourself, “people told me algebra was important and I don’t use that, why should I care about a table of letters and numbers?”

Well, you actually do use algebra on a daily basis, but that is beside the point! The elements are important to know about because they make up our world! For example, there is a shortage of Helium! How will we blow up balloons? Anyways, here we go!

 

First, I would like to introduce you to Carbon. I know this for two reasons. I know the symbol for Carbon is “C” and the element block was kind enough to tell me its name, too! Now, we have to tackle those icky numbers.

Actually, I know this is Carbon for a third reason also. It has the atomic number of 6. That 6 represents the number of protons that one atom of the element has. Hmmm…let’s look at that more closely. An atom has protons and neutrons in its center (nucleus). Oh, wait, Helium doesn’t. It just had to be different! Anyway…flying around that nucleus are electrons. Protons have a positive charge and neutrons are neutral. Get it, neutrons are neutral…okay, dorky, but catchy nonetheless. Anyway, electrons are negative.

 So, with this in mind, what is atomic weight? Well, it is more aptly     named relative atomic mass because it is the roughly equal to the     average number of protons and neutrons within the element.     Okay, so what does that mean? Remember, everything has mass, so those little protons and neutrons have mass. Yes, the electrons add a little, but not enough to talk about. The protons and neutrons, however, add weight. It is important to know what the weight is of an one atom of an element to understand the mass of the total element.

 

Oh, as a side note, an Italian scientist is responsible for coming up with a way to weigh atoms. His name was Aadeo Avogadro. Great trivia question, by the way.

Okay, now that we know what that little box means, in the future we will cover the way the table works together…in the meantime, let’s talk about carbon!

So, carbon is the 6th most abundant element on Earth. (There is that 6 again!) It is found everywhere, even in us, but can mostly be found in three distinct forms, or allotropes, on Earth. (There is one more, but it is so rarely found, it's really not worth discussing here.) They are amorphous, graphite and diamond.

Oh, before I go any further, I just have to throw this out here. The Carbon Cycle.

 

Amorphous means the carbon (in this case, Coal) is heated without burning out completely. The byproduct of this process can be used in ink or rubber (tires anyone???).        

http://what-when-how.com/earth-science/the-carbon-cycle/ (Coal)

                            

I think we all know what graphite is, right? Well, think pencil lead, which is usually not lead (another element we will cover later) but graphite!!! Graphite can also be used as a dry lubricant. I have used graphite to “grease” the spinning paddles of a plastic anemometer.

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Closeup_of_pencil_graphite.JPG (Pencil)

Finally, there is the diamond. Known as the hardest substance on earth, a girl’s best friend and the purveyor of fortune and fame, it is also used as tools and can be fabricated from graphite!

http://www.foxfinejewelry.com/antwerp-diamonds/ (Diamond pic)

Heck, a whole branch of Chemistry came from Carbon…Organic Chemistry. There are millions of carbon compounds out there that are crucial to our lives on Earth. Just to name one—oil. Came from dinosaurs, runs our cars. Yep, necessary, I think!!! 

Anyway, if you want to read more about carbon, follow this link. I really like the way it is explained on this site! http://education.jlab.org/itselemental/ele006.html.

The info is a little wordy but I found confirmed all of my facts on the site and found my information to be still factual! I guess I did pay attention in Chemistry!!!

Anyway, until next time, yours in Chemistry, Jacki!

 

By the way, the links I got the pictures from follow. Thanks to those sites--great examples!!!

http://www.foxfinejewelry.com/antwerp-diamonds/

http://what-when-how.com/earth-science/the-carbon-cycle/

http://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File:Closeup_of_pencil_graphite.JPG

http://seabutterflies.weebly.com/glossary-and-references.html (Carbon Cycle)

 

 
 

 

Educational Blogger

About the Educational Blogger

Emma Merlo studied theater and music at Austin College for four years, and toured nationally with the Missoula Children’s Theater for two years.  She has taught kids all over the US from age 2 to age 18. She loves science education and especially space!