November's Element of the Month:
Atomic Mass: 101.07 amu
Melting Point: 2250 °C
Boiling Point: 3900 °C
With an atomic number like 44, you might expect Ruthenium to be one of your average, run-of-the mill elements. But no, it's only the 74th most abundant element here on the crust of the earth. It comes in right behind #73 Gold, which for some reason gets a lot more press. Ruthenium is a silvery whiteish metal, kind of like platinum and often found in the same places that platinum is. It was isolated and named in 1844 by the Estonian-born "Russian scientist" Karl Klaus, a man who clearly overcame considerable ethnic confusion on his way to scientific immortality.
Industrially, Ruthenium is apparently kind of a poor man's Rhodium, if that means anything to you. It's used in alloys, to harden platinum and palladium in electronic parts, to make titanium more corrosion-resistant, and in nickel-based combos to make high-performance metals like jet engine blades. It's also used to make the tips of your fancier brands of ball-point pens. True story. Ruthenium is apparently an earnest young element with high ideals, for there are hopes that it may become useful in new methods of generating solar power, in cancer treatment, and in cleanup of hydrogen sulfide.
If you are want some Ruthenium of your own, here's some good news: you've already got some! It's in your hard drive! If you want more, you might have to do some shopping around, as the human community only mines about 12 metric tons of the stuff per year. More good news: after a big price spike in 2007, it's back down to around only 90 bucks per ounce.