Monday, May 27, 2019

Element of the Month: Manganese!

May's Element of the Month:


Atomic Mass: 54.938 amu
Melting Point: 1246 °C
Boiling Point: 2061 °C

Let's get this out of the way right up front: Everybody dislikes Manganese a little bit in their heart of hearts. Why? Because it has almost the exact same name as Magnesium, and nobody's sure what which one is which or really even, for that matter, what either one of them are, and that makes us feel stupid, and we resent that. It's not Manganese's fault, it's kind of a shame, but it's an Element that just kind of pisses us off a little tiny bit, just because we've been reminded that it exists. Am I right?

So, having said that, Manganese is really just like a lot of other elements: a silvery metal that oxidizes easily and is therefore not naturally found in its pure state. It's relatively low down (or rather "high up," I suppose) on the periodic table -- it is a lightish Element with a low atomic number, in other words -- and since it gets generated in stellar collapse and supernovae along with its more popular buddy Iron, it is one of the more common not-Hydrogen-or-Helium Elements in the universe. It makes up a tenth of a percent of the Earth's crust, which is enough to make it the 12th most abundant Element in town. Arguably we should try to get to know it a little better.

People more practical-minded than you and I, it must be said, have known what Manganese is for a long time. Manganese compounds were used from antiquity up to modern times both as a pigment in glassmaking and, somehow, to remove color from glass. That made it a substance in fairly common artisanal use, so alchemists would occasionally borrow some from the local glassmakers and tinker with it in their various experiments.

When alchemy grew up into Chemistry, it was one of those brainy Swedes, Johan Gottlieb Gahn, who figured out how to isolate the Elemental form in 1774. A practical-minded man to the core, Gahn threw his life away on things like building some of the early proto-industrial factories that would lay the foundation for Sweden's modern industrialized, prosperous society, and improving methods of smelting high-quality copper -- stuff like that -- and could not even be bothered to publish about the whole Manganese-discovery thing. Instead, he just told his pals Torbern Bergman and Carl Wilhelm Scheele what he'd done, so they could write it up, get mad tenure, and become (Scheele, anyway) well-known figures in the history of science. Whereas, who's ever heard of Johan Gottlieb Gahn?

I imagine he cried all the way to the bank.

Final Score:

Carl Wilhelm Scheele - 26.8K Wiki Article
Torbern Bergman - 7.3K Wiki Article
Johan Gottlieb Gahn - 3.4K Wiki Article

The Centerfold!

Humans use a lot of Manganese in alloys. It makes steel harder, and it makes Aluminum more resistant to corrosion. Your basic beverage can is around one percent Manganese. Your basic hunk of industrial steel could be anywhere from zero to fifteen percent Manganese. It's also ubiquitous in old-style pre-NiCd batteries, and then has supporting roles in a zillion more esoteric industrial processes as well.

You yourself -- yes, you -- rely on Manganese for the proper function of your proteins and enzymes. You don't need much, and indeed you should only have the equivalent of about 1/40th the mass of a small paperclip (that is, 1/120th the mass of the larger and, in my opinion, much more satisfying "jumbo" paperclip) in you at any given moment. Take it away, and frankly you'd be toast. Too much Manganese, on the other hand, is bad for the brain, and chronic overexposure can lead to Parkinson's-like disorders in adults or developmental problems in children. Like so much else in the material world, it's all a matter of getting your ratios right.

Tournament artist Patrick Heron, Manganese in Deep Violet: January 1967.  (1967)   Mr. Heron dropped
eleven spots to 485th in Week #12 of the Ladder of Art.

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