Manashi Chatterjee, a chemistry professor at Hunter College, explains how scientists and engineers use the periodic table to design new products. This chemistry story is produced by NBC Learn in partnership with Pearson.
Product Design and the Periodic Table
JULIANNE PEPITONE reporting:
What would engineers do without tools? They require all kinds...from land surveying equipment and measuring gauges to calculators and levelers. But did you know there is one tool that is common among all engineers, and is just as important as all the others in an engineer's tool belt? The periodic table of elements. The letters and numbers of the Periodic Table might seem, at first, like a secret code...and in fact...they are! A secret code that tells us tons of information about the elements in the world around us.
MANASHI CHATTERJEE (Hunter College): Everything around us is made up of some element that comes from the periodic table which also tells us how important chemistry is in our daily lives.
PEPITONE: As a chemistry professor at Hunter College, Manashi Chatterjesees the periodic table as a valuable resource, not only for her students working inside the classroom or in the lab, but also for professionals working in various industries, in particular, for engineers designing new products.
CHATTERJEE: When an engineer looks at the periodic table and he designs a material, the same knowledge can help him find the right elements based on what he wants to do because the periodic table has already classified them based on the properties and reactivity of these elements.
PEPITONE: The periodic table is arranged in a way that makes it easy to understand which elements are best suited for certain applications. For example, from left to right, the periodic table is organized in three major categories: metals, metalloids, and nonmetals. Additionally, the lighter elements, meaning they have less matter in their atoms, are toward the top of the table, such as gases like helium found in balloons. Heavier solid elements with more atomic mass, such as gold, are at the bottom. Take a look at this golf club. It's composed of an element called titanium - a transition metalthat is light weight, flexible, and shiny - ideal properties to make top-of-the-line golf clubs that golfers want to swing. Titanium is also ideal for medical use, such as artificial joints for things like hip and knee replacements. The reason is again because of its properties.
CHATTERJEE: It is compatible to biological solvents that you can put it inside your body and it won't react with water which is our biological solvent.
PEPITONE: Just like titanium, copper is also a transition metal. It has historically been a popular material for various designs, such as the Statue of Liberty. It also covers the outer layer of pennies and has been used in roofing and plumbing applications because it is very durable, sometimes lasting for centuries. To the right of the metals are metalloids. Silicon is an example of a metalloid, meaning that it has both properties of metals and nonmetals.
CHATTERJEE: That gives it very interesting properties because it can be used as semiconductors and very recently it is seen everywhere in your phones, computers. They have a lot of silicon in them.
PEPITONE: Think about the processor chips inside your phone. Without silicon, you could not surf the Internet or play a game on your smartphone. Semiconductors are a key part of electronics because they can conduct electricity under certain conditions and be nonconductive in others, an ideal property for engineers manufacturing everything from touch screen tablets to laptops. Just above silicon on the periodic table is an element called carbon. Carbon is an example of a nonmetal that can be found in many items from plastic bottles to pencils.
CHATTERJEE: This is how it looks. This is nothing but charcoal,.this is elemental form.
PEPITONE: In elemental form, carbon can be soft and dark in color, like graphite in a pencil, or rock hard and shiny like a diamond. So let's assume it's your job to design a new type of baseball bat. You want to use a material that's lightweight yet strong...something that won't break like wooden bats do. Consult the Periodic table and make a list of the elements you might consider using to construct such a bat.
Oh, hello, oganesson. The International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the century-old organization charged with maintaining the periodic table, finally announced it had approved the names of four new elements. These monikers, attached to new heavy elements, were the result of an almost year-long process.
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