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The Elements

Chapters 4 and 5 both really made me think a lot about chemistry and chemical elements. Chapter 4 sort of gives the big picture of how elements form and how hydrogen and helium (the smallest two) are the most abundant in the universe, but that trend doesn’t follow and how astrophysics/chemistry dictate the chemistry we have here on Earth. Then chapter 5 gets right down to how people and civilizations use chemistry to their advantage and how different elements rise and fall in importance depending on economic and political pressures. The stories about the Colorado molybdenum mines and were pretty humorous (maybe a Mel Brooks movie is in there) but show how one element temporarily skews what society thinks is important (read the end of that chapter on the niobium and tantalum). I’ve always found the Fritz Haber story interesting. I guess reading the Disappearing Spoon has really made me aware of how important chemicals/chemistry is to modern economics in terms of energy, health, defense and agriculture and how those all become topics for political and international discussion.

Category: The Disappearing Spoon

4 Responses to The Elements

  1. Molly says:

    Link to piece mentioned in comment below (didn’t come through the first time):

  2. Molly says:

    As I was driving home yesterday, I heard a on NPR’s All Things Considered about a company that aims to harvest elements, such as platinum, from asteroids. Having read The Disappearing Spoon, I had a much better understanding of the economic context that might drive the desire (and need?) for asteroid mining.

  3. Hu Womack says:

    Great post! The story of the Congo struck me as particularly tragic. Five million deaths since the mid 1990’s is a staggering figure. I realize my cheap cool electronic devices marginalize the people who manufacture them (i.e. Foxconn and Apple) but I had no idea the loss of life that occurred. I read today that it would cost $165 to assemble an iPhone in the United States compared to the $7.10 it currently costs in China.

  4. Sarah Jeong says:

    I agree that it has been enlightening to read about the chemical elements in a political and economic context. Thanks for sharing your perspective.

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