What’s Fun About…?: Radium through Sulfur

Radium (Ra)

  • Though radioactive, it has quite a stable isotope. Radium-226 has a half-life of 1600 years.
  • It was thought to have healing properties and used to be used in toothpaste, jewelry, and many other everyday items.
  • It reacts with the nitrogen in the air to form a black coating.
  • It is the heaviest alkaline earth metal.

Radon (Rn)

  • Radon gas is the second leading cause of lung cancer in North America.
  • It is the heaviest gas known.
  • This gas glows in the dark due to its radioactivity.

Rhenium (Rh)

  • It has the third highest melting point of all the elements (below carbon and tungsten).
  • It is highly corrosion resistant.
  • Mirrors use it as a coating and are seen in searchlights for this reason.
  • Catalytic converters contain rhenium.
  • Besides silver, it is the best reflector.
  • It is the fourth most dense element (below iridium, osmium, and platinum).
  • With platinum, it is used in producing unleaded gasoline.
  • Due to its high heat and corrosion resistance, it is used in jet engines.

Roentgenium (Rg)

  • It is formed by bombarding nickel-64 with bismuth-209.
  • It is highly radioactive.

Rubidium (Rb)

  • It’s used to remove trace gases in vacuum tube production.
  • Atomic clocks will use it as a cheaper alternative to cesium.
  • It explodes in water and spontaneously ignites in air (pyrophoric).
  • Fireworks use it to produce purple colors.
  • The first Bose-Einstein condensate, the fifth state of matter, was formed using rubidium.

Ruthenium (Ru)

  • It is highly effective in hardening platinum and palladium.
  • Ruthenium alloys with platinum and palladium to form corrosion-resistant conductors.
  • Concentrated acids do not affect it.

Rutherfordium (Rf)

  • It is predicted to behave like hafnium.
  • It is used for research.

Samarium (Sm)

  • Samarium cobalt forms a magnet with the highest resistance to demagnetization of any known material.
  • Samarium cobalt magnets are used in guitar pickups and headphones.
  • It is a dopant in crystals used for lasers.
  • Samarium chloride, if given the correct dose, will bind with alcohol and prevent someone from getting intoxicated.

Scandium (Sc)

  • It makes some of the strongest aluminum alloys known.
  • Scandium oxide is used for stadium and film lighting.
  • The aerospace industry uses it for its light weight and high melting point.
  • It tarnishes in air to a light yellow or pink color.

Seaborgium (Sg)

  • It is used for research.
  • It was produced by bombarding californium-249 with oxygen ions.

Selenium (Se)

  • The photophone, a device which transmitted speech patterns on a beam of light, was produced using selenium.
  • Selenium salts help control dandruff.
  • Humans need it to produce enzymes.
  • It colors glass red, but it can also decolorize it.
  • Liquid selenium has very high surface tension.
  • Since it is responsive to light, it is used in laser printers and photocopiers.
  • It’s most stable isotope has a half-life of one quintillion years (i.e, 1,000,000,000,000,000,000 years).
  • It aids in protection against mercury poisoning.

Silicon (Si)

  • Sand is the most common source of silicon on Earth in the form of silica, or silicon dioxide.
  • Silicon is not silicone. Silicone is a mix of silicon, carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen.
  • Pure silicon has the same crystal structure as diamond.
  • It is the most significant and commonly used semiconductor in the world.
  • Ultra pure silicon is used for electronics. It must be at least 99.9999999% pure silicon.
  • Silicon is the backbone to the solar panel industry.
  • Opal’s iridescence is caused by silicon.
  • Since it is highly resistant to heat, it is used in ceramics.
  • Its liquid is denser than its solid.

Silver (Ag)

  • It is the best reflector of all elements. Nearly all light is reflected by silver.
  • Its high reflectivity makes it useful in telescopes, microscopes, and solar cells.
  • It is the best electrical conductor. Copper is most often used because it is much cheaper.
  • Long-lasting batteries are made with it.
  • It used to be used in dental fillings.
  • Silver iodide is used to cause clouds to produce rain, i.e., cloud seeding.
  • Sterling silver is 92.5% silver by weight.
  • Gold is the only metal that is more ductile than silver.
  • It kills bacteria by breaking down cell membranes.

Sodium (Na)

  • Of all the alkali metals, sodium is the most reactive.
  • It gives off a yellowish-orange tint when a current passes through it.
  • Since it’s the most efficient light source, it is used in road lighting.
  • If all of the sodium chloride in the oceans were extracted, it would cover all the land of the Earth with a depth of about 500 feet (150 meters).
  • It is so soft, it can be cut with a butter knife.
  • It’s the sixth most abundant element on Earth.
  • Sodium ions are vital for nerve function.
  • If it didn’t explode on contact with water, it would float on it.
  • It helps maintain fluid balance in the cells of living organisms.
  • Fireworks use it to produce a yellow color.

Strontium (Sr)

  • The bright red color in fireworks comes from strontium.
  • Its flame is bright red.
  • Some ceramic magnets include strontium.
  • An isotope of strontium is used for cardiac imaging.

Sulfur (S)

  • Hydrogen sulfide is the chemical that gives eggs their iconic smell.
  • It is bright yellow.
  • Another name for sulfur is “brimstone.”
  • It can both oxidize and reduce.
  • Wine contains some sulfur as a preservative.
  • Sulfur is used for building amino acids to form proteins and enzymes.
  • Sulfuric acid is used in batteries, oil refineries, and fertilizers.
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