Friday, June 10, 2016

June's Element of the Month: Fluorine!

June's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 18.998403163 amu
Melting Point: −219.67 °C
Boiling Point: −188.11 °C

Whatever else you might say about Fluorine, it is most certainly not a noble gas.  It has one too few valence electrons for that.  Neon, Fluorine's neighbor on the periodic table, is the noble gas.  Fluorine is a halogen.  And it doesn't have any of the inert qualities that you would associate with the noble gasses, either.  Truth is, it reacts rather violently in its elemental form, especially with the alkali metals and hydrogen.  In fact, Fluorine is so rowdy that it can even form compounds with some of the noble gasses.  That's just how unlike a noble gas it is.

We read that Fluorine compounds were being used proto-industrially* in the 16th century, and that chemists were pretty sure it must exist as early as 1810, but that it wasn't isolated in its elemental form until 1886.  The problem, apparently, was that pure Fluorine is so darn reactive that " several early experimenters died or sustained injuries from their attempts."  That sounded sort of like Campus Legend to me, but when I scratched the surface I found out about the "Fluorine Martyrs."  We will pause to honor these secular saints of Chemistry:
  • Sir Humphrey Davy, Joseph Louis Gay-Lussac, and Louis Jacques Thénard: experienced severe pains from inhaling hydrogen fluoride gas. 
  • Thomas and George Knox: severely poisoned; they are often said to have "suffered horribly."
  • Paulin Louyet and Jerome Nickles: died from hydrogen fluoride poisoning
The first thing I usually associate with Fluorine is that it is one of the hardest Elements to spell.  That's Davy's fault, he picked the name.  It wasn't one of his best moments perhaps, but he certainly didn't deserve severe pains for it.

The Centerfold!

You might kind of expect Element #9 to be a major player among the atomic matter of the universe, but it's way down at 24th place among all of the elements in creation. This is because it doesn't play any part in stellar nucleosynthesis, the violent dance by which stars burn hydrogen into helium and then, in their late life, into (for example) carbon, then nitrogen, then oxygen. Fluorine is so not a part of that whole process, in fact, that there is a fairly exotic realm of theory that tries to explain not why there isn't more Fluorine around, but why there is any at all.

Since it is light and reactive, though, it's the kind of matter that tends to concentrate in the surface scum of your iron-nickel planets, and that is why it is the thirteenth most common Element here on the Earth's crust. Naturally it doesn't appear by itself -- remember how reactive it is -- but rather turns up in a zillion different compounds. Many of these compounds, either by themselves or in synthetic form, have been used for an infinity of commercial and industrial purposes by human beings. I would tell you all about it, except that I try to keep these little Elemental write-ups to four paragraphs.

* The Blogger spellchecker doesn't like "proto-industrially."  It suggests "pronto-industrially."

"fluorine: number 3," by trademarkrain, as offered for sale here.


mrs.5000 said...

You can remember how to spell fluorine by remembering that mislabeling fluorescent lights as "flour" is a common mistake in architectural drafting.

Michael5000 said...

Hi, Anonymous. I wish you hadn't brought that up, but as fluoride is a compound of Fluorine I guess it counts as a fair comment.

If by "forced fluoridation fanatic" you mean people like myself who feel that fluoridation of water is a sound public health measure, it's a little unfair to expect them to have an answer to such a very technical question. I, like most forced fluoridation fanatics, can only fall back on the unusually dense scientific literature that has, decade after decade, made it superabundantly clear that fluoridation is safe.

If that doesn't work for you, you can always move here to the City of Roses, where this blog originates. We don't have fluoridation, thanks in large part to the kind of scary pseudoscience your website promotes. I'm afraid this is something I'm pretty pissed off about.

Hope you enjoy the blog, though. Feel free to vote in the Tournament!