8 Lesser-Known, Useful Elements


There are 118 elements on the periodic table but sometimes it seems like just a handful get all the attention We’re always talking about carbon, oxygen, and hydrogen, and nitrogen maybe with a little iron and calcium thrown in there if we’re feeling extra generous and sure we’re all made mostly out of those elements and they’re some of the most common elements in the universe, so it makes some sense that they get top billing. But there’s a whole periodic table out there there and we humans are great at finding ways to use just about anything that sticks around for long enough so here are eight of the less famous elements that you might not hear about all the time but still play surprisingly important roles in the technology all around us most people probably haven’t even heard of praseodymium but it’s right there at atomic number 59 with the symbol Pr praseodymium is a lanthanide which means you’ll usually find it sitting in the first row below the rest of the periodic table this makes the table a little more compact but there’s also a good reason that chemists put the lanthanides in their own little section. They tend to share a bunch of common properties since the electrons around the lanthanides can act pretty similarly from one element to the next. Lanthanides generally aren’t great at conducting electricity and they typically make strong bonds with other elements which brings us back to praseodymium it makes strong heat-resistant bonds with other metals so it’s perfect for things like aircraft engines which have to withstand huge temperature swings without cracking or breaking those heat-resistant bonds are also one reason that glass made with praseodymium is used in a lot of welder’s and glassblower’s masks and goggles they need to be able to see through that glass without feeling the heat from what they’re working on. Lanthanides can also make strong magnets and praseodymium is no exception but if you’re looking for a powerful magnet you probably want to check out one of praseodymium’s neighbors. Neodymium sits just to the right of praseodymium. Its atomic number is 60 and like its neighbor neodymium is also used to make heat-resistant glass including the glass and tanning booth it lets ultraviolet light through so that you can get tanned but it blocks infrared light so you don’t feel too warm but neodymium’s main use is in powerful magnet strong magnet needs two things first it needs atoms with lots of unpaired electrons which make each atom into a tiny individual magnet and second it needs all of those atoms to line up with each other to make one big magnet neodymium isn’t the lanthanide with the most unpaired electrons but its atoms are among the best and all staying alive when neodymium is mixed with elements like iron it can make some of the strongest magnets on earth they’re pretty much everywhere from inside spinning hard drives where the magnets are used to read your data two MRIs where they can scan your body. The connection between electricity and magnetism allows us to move a coil of wire within a magnetic field to create electricity that’s why you’ll find neodymium magnets and microphones the sound waves from your voice moving coil of wire next to a magnet which produces an electric current. It’s also how most power plants turn something like moving water into electricity for home so really if there’s electricity running through something neodymium is probably involved somehow light bulbs usually shine in a whole range of colors but lasers are different lasers use crystals whose atoms and electrons are arranged so that if you give them a bunch of energy they shine and amplify light only a very specific color and if you’re looking for a laser crystal you can’t do much better than YAGs: yttrium aluminum garnet. Yttrium is one of four elements named after the small village of Ytterby, Sweden where seven elements have all been discovered on their own yags are pretty strong and heat-resistant but they don’t really give off any light but if you replace about 1% of the yttrium with another similar elements like erbium or neodymium that’s when things changed dramatically “doped” YAGs as they’re known are some of the best laser crystals out there and they can be just about any color depending on the element that replaced yttrium YAG lasers are the ones doctors used for laser eye surgeries and they were also probably used to cut the components on your computer’s hard drive. So even if you’ve never heard of them until just now YAG lasers are the reason you can watch this video in the first place so far we’ve just talked about elements that exist naturally on earth but americium is different no matter how hard you try you won’t find natural americium anywhere on the planet but there’s probably some americium in your house right now like all the elements larger than uranium americium is radioactive. It decays into other elements over time by shooting out different kinds of particles every second for about 30 years a millionth of a gram of americium-241 sends out about a hundred thousand alpha particles which are made up of two protons and two neutrons so if you put a detector nearby you’d be able to catch a lot of those particles as they flew out of the Americium atoms unless something else got in the way which is how the most common type of smoke detector knows when to go off these smoke detectors have about a microgram of americium near detector and as long as nothing in between them the detector keeps on sensing particles coming out of the americium, but once there’s too much smoke in the air or anything else really it blocks those particles from getting to the detector which sets off an alarm some radioactivity can be dangerous but the kind of smoke detector can also save your life Californinum is another radioactive element that you won’t find naturally anywhere on earth. It decays by sending out lots of neutrons which can kick-start a chain of reactions used in nuclear power plants that’s not the only place you’ll find people using californium it’s also used before companies extract oil. Before oil companies drills somewhere they need to know how much water there is in the rocks and in the oil more water in the oil the harder it is to get each barrel of just the oil out of the ground so the company’s engineers use nuclear moisture gauges which measure the water in the rocks based on the way the water reflects neutrons there’s a small sample of Californium in the gauge that sends neutrons into the surrounding rocks the gauge analyzes what gets bounced back and uses that information to calculate how much water is in the rock.By making similar measurements engineers can also test how dense the rocks are, giving them an idea of how hard it will be to get to the area on the first place and they could do all of this with an element no human has ever seen before nineteen fifties speaking of dense rocks let’s talk about the densest element on the entire periodic table: osmium osmium’s electrons all orbit especially close to its nucleus so it’s atoms compact closer together than those of any other heavy element it’s so dense that engineers actually don’t really use it to build very much it’s just too heavy to be worth it especially when other metals are both stronger and lighter but one place osmium used to be very common was a record player needle. Needles with osmium didn’t wear down from dragging along records nearly as quickly as other needles did. The strong close bonds that osmium makes with other metals just don’t bend and break under that sort of rubbing stress for the same reason you’ll probably find osmium in the tip of a good fountain pen, just like record player needles, fountain pens need to be able to rub against different surfaces for hundreds of hours without wearing out or changing shape and super dense super-hard osmium is perfect for that job so if you’re playing vinyl records or using a fancy pen there’s probably some osmium involved People have used antimony for thousands of years all the way back to ancient Egypt and Rome where they put it in cosmetic products that’s actually where the strange-looking Sb comes from its symbol on the periodic table the Latin word that the Romans used for antimony was “stibium,” but today we mostly use antimony for making flame-retardant plastics. Fire is mostly a lot of carbon atoms bonding with oxygen in the air and producing heat so a good flame retardant stops those bonds from happening, and that’s exactly why antimony trioxide and antimony atom bonded to three oxygens is added to a lot of plastics. When it’s combined with other compounds that contain elements like bromine or chlorine it’ll bond with oxygen in a way that produces less heat stopping the fire so antimony trioxide does its job and stops fires but there is one big drawback to using it on plastic. The hot plastic tends to release a lot of smoke that might be worse for you than the burning plastic itself would have been let’s finish off with another element from Ytterby: gadolinium. It’s just four elements over from our old friend neodymium and it can make even stronger magnets than neodymium does because gadolinium has more of those unpaired electron but its atoms get too disorganized and stop pointing in the same direction above about room temperature above room temperature gadolinium atoms just align with any magnetic field they happen to be in that makes them pretty useless for things like fridge magnets and microphones but they’re great for MRI MRIs map out what’s going on in your body by measuring how different regions respond to the magnetic field generated by a big moving magnet and no matter how much you might feel like you’re pulled toward the frigid night your body just isn’t all that magnetic so a lot of MRI patients are given a small injection of a solution containing gadolinium as the big magnet passes over the gadolinium moves a lot in response to the magnet which makes a much bigger signal for the MRI to measure which leads to much better map of whatever is going on in there. So even the more unusual elements in the periodic table have their place in the technology around us whether they’re keeping airplanes working detecting smoke or being used in medical scans these less popular elements help power the world thanks for watching this episode of SciShow brought to you by our patrons on patreon if you want help support the show just go to patreon.com/scishow and don’t forget to go to youtube.com/ scishow and subscribe skinny jeans can get a little uncomfortable yes and maybe have a friend who spends more time waxing his moustache and trimming his beard than he actually does bathing himself but your fashion choices probably won’t kill burn or poision

100 thoughts on “8 Lesser-Known, Useful Elements”

  1. Omg that totally explains the slag term heard often at graduate school parties “this party is such a doped yag”

    No, I made that up. That doesn’t happen.

  2. Lol californium was the first one on the list that was mentioned that i don't have a relatively pure sample of.

    Correction, it's the ONLY one on the list I don't have a reasonably pure sample of haha

  3. that boyscout in the 90s who was making a homemade nuclear reactor, was caught vandalizing peoples smoke detectors to collect the americium inside

  4. 2:39 ah so that’s how samsung made that charger that charged your phone when ‘singing’, I always wondered how they turned sound into (by phone usable) energy

  5. I'm surprised The Red Hot Chili Peppers haven't made a song using the word "Californium"
    Let alone write a whole song about it

  6. What about Vanadium? It's used in catalysts to produce sulfuric acid, which is the basis of chemical industry anywhere.

  7. Another fancy use of Americium: The radiation is used for calculating density of soils in earthwork QA/QC inspection applications.

  8. Osmium is mostly used as an hardening agent in several alloys. As little as 0.1 to 1% may make a metal to brittle for normal use. The tips of armour piercing ammo can be made of tungsten-osmium steels.

  9. me, in front of the fridge at night how dare Michael say our bodies aren't magnetically drawn to the fridge. It's called survival instincts. Different wording, same meaning.

  10. Osmium would be fun to play with. I can imagine 3D printer filament with some osmium in it. Can create some HEAVY prints with just a little bit of material.

  11. 3:50
    First of all, elements larger than Lead are radioactive (yes bismuth technically has no stable isotopes although its most stable isotope has a half life of 19 quintillion years)
    It was believed that elements larger than Uranium didn’t occur naturally but we have detected traces of neptunium and plutonium in uranium ores, albeit in microscopic amounts and with the right conditions, all elements up to fermium can occur naturally as it was the case in the oklo natural fission reactor in Gabon.
    Also, americium 241 will keep sending alpha particles for atleast a thousand years as its half life is 432 years. Additionally, it decays into another alpha emmiter which is Neptunium-237 which has a half life of 2.14 million years and it decays into uranium-233 with a half life of 159200 years and U233 decays into Thorium-229 with a half life of 7304 years

  12. Osmium hadn't been used in fountain pen for probably a hundred years. It's far too toxic. Historically the tipping on the nib was an impure mix of osmium & iridium, but since maybe 1930 or 1940 it's been an alloy of iridium and platinum.

    The other reason osmium isn't used much is that it's extremely expensive, on a par with platinum.

    Osmium tetroxide (danger, Will Robinson!) does get used in certain microscopy stains, but it's one of the nastiest chemicals around. It might also get used in organic synthesis, but again, very nasty stuff.

  13. A really cool and informative segment I would love to see would be going through every element on the periodic table explaining its uses and its toxicity if any to humans. Also how abundant the elements are on earth as well as in the universe.

  14. Few MRI machines use permanent magnets, but certainly not the one shown, which undoubtedly uses a superconducting electromagnet. Power plant generators are certainly not excited with permanent magnets! They are separately excited, ie like an electromagnet.

  15. Actually…Smoke dectectors require it to be smoke. The smoke is what slows and interupts the signals making the smoke detector go off. In fact Smoke or clouds of Steam are the only things that make REAL smoke detectors go off. He really made this overly complicated….the americium emits an electric current that the detector detects, smoke slows that current down which is how the detector knows to go off, outside these things nothing will set off your smoke detector…hes really being to broad with how these things work which isn't accurate. The detector cant tell the difference between heavy moisture and light smoke particle. But it can "tell" the difference between smoke and CO2….
     CO2 detectors(carbon dioxide) are not the same thing as Smoke detectors and act differently based on what its made to detect.

    His broad statement is similiar to saying Co2 alarms detect propane or other natural gases….it in fact does not, so a smoke detector is for smoke and a co2 detector is for co2, they can make 2 in 1 but thats not very normal in the USA. In fact places like Apartments tend to be ran by slum lords who cant even follow local laws…like 1 smoke detector per room and 1 CO2 per house hold, yet these scum lords cant even put 1 detector per room. So it is very uncommon here.

  16. Californium has been known to the state of California to cause cancer. This video has been known to the state of California to cause cancer. Your mother has been known to the state of California to cause cancer. Can we enrich Americium to nuke California–the true cancer–already? 🙂

  17. Did you know inosium? The densest element, i wish you to make biological vids, and they have carbons

  18. Gadolinium is soo cool.
    Its like a naive magnet. It just goes with whatever field is around it.

  19. Could you not have all the words on the sides be different sizes please. Reading that is uncomfortable.

  20. 🤯 This was remarkably well done from the speaking, to the animation, composure, topic, detail… I really enjoyed this. Subbing for sure.

  21. Regarding the statement made at #2:39 : Large municipal AC electrical power generators do not use permanent magnets, so neodymium isn’t important in electrical power generation. Even your car’s alternator doesn’t use a permanent magnet.

  22. Wow, I know about Neodymium and have Nd magnets but I had no idea it was an element. I guess I thought it was a compound or alloy or whatever. Mind sort of blown. A good place to get basically free Neodymium magnets – take old hard drives apart. Those suckers are so strong, they can almost smash your fingers if they get between two of them.

  23. I’m a bit sad Palladium wasn’t even mentioned! There’s some groundbreaking research going on where Palladium and gold have been used in lasers to eradicate cancer cells. (That, and it’s one of the first Hardmode ores in Terraria.)

  24. Am-241 in smoke detectors is measured by the amount of radioactivity given off per second, usually known as the "curie", a microcurie or less is used in smoke detectors today, which given the 3.4 Ci/g ratio for Am-241, is about a THIRD of a microgram or less, basically hundreds of NANOGRAMS.

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