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Inspirational Reads

Totally Sciencing Shit Up Tuesdays: Melts in Your Mouth AND in Your Hand

February 5, 2013

If I say I did a lot of reading during the time when I wasn't posting much, can we call it a sabbatical?  No?  Fine.

Anyway, while I was out and about, gadding about town in my labcoat and safety glasses, I read a book called "The Disappearing Spoon" by Sam Kean.  A quick summary would go something like "Kean investigates the history and position of all the elements on the periodic table."  It wasn't exactly what I was expecting, but for someone with a chemistry degree and a mild interest in the science, I found it to be an enjoyable read.  The science got a little more intense toward the end of the book, but it's still worth a look if you enjoy reading about some of the strange histories that went on behind the elements on the periodic table.

Quick tidbit I picked up:  Did you know that Marie Curie had a bit of a reputation for being a cockmonster?  She was accused, multiple times, of putting the moves on various other scientists by luring them into closets to show how her radium samples glowed in the dark.  And, when in Rome.  Er, Paris...

Speaking of Paris, did you know France has a shitload of elements named for it on the periodic table?  The easiest one to identify is Francium, element 87.  As the segue leading into this paragraph referenced Paris, it, too, is recognized as Lutetium, element 71, which derives its name from Lutetia, the Latin word for the city that we now call Paris (which is named for a warrior from the Iliad...)  The other Franklandia-inspired element is Gallium, number 31.

Gallium is linked to France based on the old Celtic kingdom of Gaul, which Julius Caesar brought under Roman rule in a rather impressive fashion.  There is a second, somewhat contentious origin for gallium's name, but it's also French AND Roman.  The man who discovered gallium, Paul Emile LeCoq, allegedly named gallium for the Latin word gallus, which means rooster, which is what LeCoq means in French.  This has since been shown to be apocryphal, and the etymology is typically associated with Gaul.

In one of those cosmic sort of coincidences, any Latin student worth his or her snuff knows that "All Gaul is divided into three parts"...and gallium is found in the third column of the periodic table because it has three valence electrons.  There has to be a conspiracy theory in there somewhere.

Gallium is an interesting element in that it is a metal--it's shiny lustrous, can be drawn into a wire or molded into a sheet, conducts heat and electricity--and in the morning of a lovely spring day, it is a solid.  By the afternoon, it's a liquid.  In fact, if you hold it in the palm of your hand, it melts!  The melting point of gallium is somewhere around 86F (30C).

Well, this certainly screams for a demonstration, doesn't it?  Absolutely!  Enjoy!


Gallium can possibly be toxic, so don't try this trick at home, or, if you do, don't blame me when the cops show up asking questions.  I'll blame it on Sam Kean, anyway.

Gallium itself isn't used much, but gallium is such a whore for other metals that it alloys readily.  I've never seen this, but apparently gallium and sodium spontaneously mix together to form a T1000-esque puddle of liquid metal which is almost as lethal...just in a really prolonged exposure sort of way.  However, gallium salts make some damned fine blue LEDs, and gallium is responsible for the blue light of your Blue-Ray player (eh? eh?).  A gallium alloy is probably the shit in your thermometers, since mercury be all toxic and such.

Did I say spontaneously alloy?  I DID say spontaneously alloys!



Sure, that was a mild "explosion", but it burst nonetheless.  It did fit the proper definition of a gas (carbon dioxide) expanding within a container (the can) faster than the structural integrity of the container could withstand.  So, hooray Tuesdays!

Gallium also can make some high-quality mirrors, since it is shiny (as well as lustrous) and the surface is highly reflective.  You just need to make an alloy of it with another metal in order to avoid having your mirror get all melty when you're drying your hair.  Curiously, it "wets" whatever it is touching, so if you play with it too much you'll go blind you could end up with a fine, gray sheen on your hands.  Handle at your own risk, Solomon Grundy.

Gallium's size actually allows it to diffuse into the spaces between metal atoms in metallic lattice structures.  You can actually see this happening in the time-lapse video above (the second video); it's the disruption of the metal interactions that make the alloys brittle and/or liquid (depending on how much gallium is present).  For some strange miracle of nature, gallium just loves to get in there and intimately mingle with these other metals.

When it comes to alloys, this element certainly is that kind of gallium.  And we love it!

4 comments:

Hart Johnson said...

Totally would have thought you were making this up, but I've heard of Gall... it is what the Romans called France... and it seems to act French, which seems just a little ironic... or fitting. Which is the opposite of ironic, but whatever.

MJenks said...

Derp. I can't believe I left off WHY Gallium is named for France. I think I'll go fix that.

And, yes. It does act French, with its allure and its slipping around all over the place. You're spot on!

Scope said...

Man I really hate it when some dude sprays gallium all over by jet airplane.

Mo-Fo's.

SkylersDad said...

Did they really need the warning to not drink from the can?

Really?