What do you think of when I say the word chemistry to you? Atoms and molecules? Experiments? Explosions?
Chemistry is the scientific study of matter (anything that takes up space and has mass), its properties and interactions with other matter and with energy. Chemistry is awesome! Granted I may be a little bit biased.
Russian chemist, Dmitri Mendeleev is credited with the creation of the periodic table. The table displays the building blocks for all matter—the elements. To date, there are 118 elements that have been discovered or created.
So, what is your favourite element?
My favourite element is….. *drumroll*
As abundant in the earth’s crust as silver, mercury is a metal and one of the few elements that is liquid at room temperature. I remember seeing it for the first time many years ago in a chemistry laboratory and being mesmerized by its beauty. Mercury is also known as quicksilver and is obtained from a red coloured mineral known as cinnabar.
The ancients believed that mercury was the core metal from which all other metals were formed. Mercury was known to the ancient Chinese and Hindus and has been found in 3500 year old Egyptian tombs.
Most adults have used mercury thermometers and many of us still have mercury amalgam fillings in our teeth. Mercury can also be used in barometers and other scientific instruments. Mercury conducts electricity and is used in many kinds of electrical equipment. Mercury vapor is used in streetlights, fluorescent lamps and advertising signs. It can also be used to extract gold from ore.
But mercury also has a dark side! It is poisonous and can enter the body through the respiratory tract, the digestive tract (through contaminated foods) or directly through the skin. It accumulates in the body, eventually causing severe illness or death. We cannot create or destroy mercury.
Legend has it that the Mad Hatter character in Alice in Wonderland was based on the symptoms of someone suffering from mercury poisoning, which was also referred to as Mad Hatter’s disease. Environmental protection agencies want the public be educated on how we use and dispose of this liquid beauty, so that we can protect ourselves and the environment.