Tuesday, November 30, 2010

Element soup

It wasn't something I had thought of before, and now that I've read it, I can't get it out of my mind. What would happen if you could simultaneously collide every element of the periodic table?

The smart folks seem in agreement - an explosion of some kind and leftover scrap molecules. I say there is only one way to be truly certain.
The other approach, as explained by John Stanton, the director of the Institute for Theoretical Chemistry at the University of Texas, would be to toss a pulverized chunk of each element or a puff of each gas into a sealed container and see what happens. No one has ever tried this experiment either, but here’s how Stanton thinks things would play out: “The oxygen gas would react with lithium or sodium and ignite, raising the temperature in the container to the point that all hell would break loose. Powdered graphite carbon would ignite, too. There are roughly 25 radioactive elements, and they would make your flaming stew a little dangerous. Flaming plutonium is a very bad thing. Inhaling airborne radioactive material can cause rapid death.”

Once things calmed down, Stanton says, the result would be as boring as the atoms-only scenario. Carbon and oxygen would yield carbon monoxide and carbon dioxide. Nitrogen gas is very stable, and would remain as is. The noble gases wouldn’t react, nor would a few of the metals, like gold and platinum, which are mostly found in their pure forms. The things that do react will form rust and salts. “Thermodynamics wins again,” he says. “Things will always achieve equilibrium, and in this case that’s a mix of common, stable compounds.”

(photo source)


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