Sunday, January 16, 2005

Element #1

So I thought of an idea for something to write about; at least for a little while. My adventures with the elements! Still needs a good slogan though; "Kyle's Elemental Adventures" isn't all that catchy. Anyways, without further ado, I present to you my tale of the first element:

Hydrogen.

As the lightest element; also the most common element in the universe; hydrogen deserves a special mention. It's in the same period as the alkali metals, but it is not a metal. However, solid hydrogen acts like metal, and is even magnetic. Hydrogen has two other isotopes: deuterium and tritium. Deuterium is the basis for heavy water, which is essential for nuclear power, and in the future it might be used a fuel in a fusion reactor. It has one neutron. Tritium is unstable and radioactive. If you've ever seen the movie "K-19", the blueish glow in the water around the reactor core is caused partially by tritium. Tritium has two neutrons.

Enough with the background, it's time to tell the story. In truth, there isn't really much to tell. Hydrogen is phenomenally easy to produce in the home with electrolysis, and I was doing this at a rather young age. There's nothing like putting a lighted match into that inverted test tube that looks empty and hearing that satisfying "POP!" as the hydrogen explosively combines with atmospheric oxygen to form water vapour. However, electrolysis is inefficient for producing higher volumes or pressures of hydrogen. Higher pressures might be needed, say, if you wanted to fill a balloon with hydrogen. This is most easily achieved by reacting some type of metal with some type of acid. I chose Aluminum foil and muriatic acid. In case you don't know, muriatic acid is the name under which hydrochloric acid is sold. It will burn you. If you breathe in the fumes, it will burn your lungs. As I found out on several seperate ocassions.

The interesting thing about having hydrogen in a balloon is that it will float; in fact it floats much better than a helium balloon. So if you let your hydrogen balloon go before the inevitable explosion (for why else would you want to fill a balloon with hydrogen?), it will float up to the ceiling. Depending on what the ceiling is made out of, the explosion can scorch it. Thankfully, the phrase "Oh, that was always there" works in a lot of situations.

Anyways, that's my story. Well, not really so much of a story. I'm going up by atomic number, and believe me, when we get into the halogens, I will have much more entertaining stories for you.

In conclusion, I would like to remind you that I am not liable for any injury or property damage sustained by repeating any experiments posted herein. Please follow every safety precaution, and more importantly, use common sense! I am very lucky that I haven't been killed or seriously hurt by any of my experiments so far, and I don't want anyone reading this to get hurt.

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