Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Element of the Month: Thallium!

Febuary's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 204.3833 amu
Melting Point: 579 °C
Boiling Point: 1473 °C

There's no nice way of saying it: Thallium is not one of your glamorous elements. It is plain to the point of homeliness, a grey metal with a low melting temperature, a low boiling point, and a tendancy to decay quickly when exposed to such corrosive forces as air or water. Neither common enough to be important nor rare enough to be valuable, it has so little strength and hardness that you can literally cut it with a knife -- knives generally being fashioned from the kinds of robust, shape-retaining metals that do much better than Thallium in P.E. class.

Historically, the main use of Thallium was as rat poison. These days, it has a few specialized uses in optics, electronics, and nuclear medicine. None of these are worth opening a mine over, though; when humans want some thallium, they can just scrape it out of the waste products generated from the mining and refining of copper, lead, and zinc. You know. Real metals.

The Centerfold!

Want some Thallium of your own to have and to hold? No you don't, not really. See, the reason it was used for rat poison back in the day is that it is just so darn lethal, and when you could buy it on the cheap at the hardware store it was a frequent cause of accidents and, it is believed, "accidents." So, say what you like about Richard Nixon, he probably saved a lot of lives by signing Executive Order 11643, which essentially banned over-the-counter Thallium sales. Other countries have since followed suit, a public shunning which is, sadly, about the most noteworthy thing in the human history of unloved, unlovable Element 81.

Thallium was more or less simultaneously isolated in 1862 by William Crookes, who later went on to become a well-known crank in the Spiritualist movement, and Claude-Auguste Lamy, who is remembered today as one of the co-discoverers of Thallium.


Dr. Kenneth Noisewater said...

Good to know. If I order a dish at a restaurant, and I see that word, it will be a "hold the Thalium" for me.

Michael5000 said...

If I save just one life with this post, all the work I put into it will have been worthwhile.

LegalMist said...

Ya' know, if my science teachers had taken the time to make the periodic table half as fascinating as you make it, I might have done better than correctly filling in half the elements on the Sporcle.com periodic table quiz...

Aviatrix said...

Is there anything that begins with "thal" that's okay to eat?

Michael5000 said...

LegalMist: In your teachers' defense, they were working before my research had even begun.

Also, nice quiz find! The Sporcle Element Quiz. I got 49 out of 118. 61st percentile, yo!

Aviatrix: It is OK to eat at a thalweg, provided you have a boat.