Monday, November 21, 2016

Minerals, Rocks, and the Periodic Table

Minerals make up rocks. Rocks are composed of minerals. Minerals are made from the bonding of elements. Elements consist of atoms all of the same type.

These statement tend to confuse the average beginning geology student. That's the consequence of not having enough science in public schools, which directly correlates to the amount of testing done in public schools. I might write about testing in schools at some other time, but for now, let's science. :)

The periodic table always fascinated me when I was younger (I started college as a physics major). There's so much information available in such a small graphic. For those that don't know too much about it, the periodic table is a tabular arrangement of elements, ordered by their atomic number (number of protons), electron configurations, and recurring chemical properties. This ordering shows trends of the different elements, such as elements with similar behavior, in the same column. It also shows four rectangular blocks (colored) with some approximately similar chemical properties. In general, within one row (period) the elements are metals on the left, and non-metals on the right.

 The first 94 elements exist naturally, with Hydrogen through Iron being made in the fusion of a star's reaction while it is alive, and Cobalt through Plutonium being made during the process of a Supernova. Elements with atomic numbers from 95 to 118 have only been synthesized in laboratories or nuclear reactors.

 Under an international naming convention, the groups are numbered numerically from 1 to 18 from the leftmost column (the alkali metals) to the rightmost column (the noble gases). Previously, they were known by roman numerals. In the U.S., the roman numerals were followed by either an "A" if the group was in the s- or p-block, or a "B" if the group was in the d-block. The roman numerals used correspond to the last digit of today's naming convention.

 The table relates all sorts of other characteristics, including crystal structure, melting temperature, and how likely the element is to be found bonded with other elements. This helps scientists understand how matter relates to each other, and the nature of chemical bonding. Chemists and astrophysicists essentially have the same question: WHY do certain elements like to bond with each other over other elements?

But that's a question for a different post. Or another degree. :)

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