Science fiction author Robert Silverberg fuels the fire of consumption paranoia by warning that at current rates of production, the world will soon deplete its supply of a handful of periodic elements. Within a few years, we can expect to run out of gallium, within a decade indium and hafnium, within 20 years zinc, and within the present century copper.
Valleywag says, “It’s one thing to use up the world’s supply of a complex substance like oil. It’s another to extract and deplete Earth’s entire stock of a chemical element.”
The latter sounds way more dooming. If oil wells dry up, we got alternative energy. If we run out of a chemical element – by definition “one of those bodies into which other bodies can be decomposed and which itself is not capable of being divided into other” – it seems there would be few, if any alternatives.
At least I think so. I’m no chemist. I don’t know the difference between wondeflonium and indium. That’s why Martyn Poliakoff, with a haircut that’s fulfilling so many genius stereotypes and a team of chemists at the University of Nottingham created the Periodic Table of Videos – to help people like me know wtf they’re talking about when discussing science.
The site is less than a month old, but there are already 118 fantastically informative installments featuring Poliakoff and company experimenting with and explaining the properties and history of each element in the periodic table,
My fave so far is mercury. Did you know it makes you crazy, and that English hatmakers used to put it in their hats, and that they used to go insane, and that’s why we have the phrase “mad hatter”? Fascinating.
A little dense and without the ADD-philic editing of The Monitor, or the bite size installments of Krampf’s Experiment of the Week, but I like the added historical info and think the site’s interface is nifty.
And though they’ve covered every element on the table, Pliakoff says his team is not finished yet. Check back soon for updates with “new stories, better samples, and bigger experiments.”