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chemistry geekiness and shower curtains

So Shelly bought a shower curtain with the Periodic Table of Elements on it, which is the second-coolest1 thing she's got in the last two months.

And I was looking at it the other day, while sitting on the pot meditation, and noticed something about it that kind of bugged me.

So i went online and looked at other periodic tables as well. They all have the same error, and it drives me crazy.

Folks, hydrogen is a metal!!!

Look where it is. Same column as lithium, sodium, potassium, and other reactive light metals. In fact, the only periodic table that gets it right is the one at the Los Alamos National Laboratories Web site.

Hydrogen is a metal. I think we get all confused about hydrogen because we are accustomed to thinking of metals in a certain way; metal is what your car is made out of, and what your canned food comes in, and hydrogen is normally a gas, so it's not a metal, right? (We don't seem to have this issue with mercury, a metal that's liquid at room temperature, but for some reason the idea of a metal that's a gas at room temperature seems to make us think, well, that's not a metal, it's a gas!)

In its solid form, hydrogen is a metal. The core of Jupiter is an enormous ball of metallic hydrogen.

Which means that hydrogen on Shelly's shower curtain should be teal, not red. Dammit.

Edit: Forgot the footnote!
1 The coolest thing? Shelly's mom sent her Christmas lights with a BDSM theme. Each light is a round white ball, and the balls all have collars or harnesses or straps around them. :)



( 22 comments — Leave a comment )
Dec. 30th, 2005 06:11 pm (UTC)
Hydrogen? A metal?
Dec. 30th, 2005 06:13 pm (UTC)
Indeed. Periodic Group I, alkali light metals. :)
Dec. 30th, 2005 06:48 pm (UTC)
you forgot your footnote. We all want to know what the coolest thing was :P
Dec. 30th, 2005 10:08 pm (UTC)
Oops, you're right! The post has been edited. :)
Dec. 31st, 2005 07:42 am (UTC)
Please, Master, may I have a very merry Xmas?
Dec. 30th, 2005 06:53 pm (UTC)
So, does that make water rust? It is an oxidized metal. . . .
Dec. 30th, 2005 10:09 pm (UTC)
Well, it makes water an oxidized metal, but not rust--rust is specifically iron oxide. But you knew that already. :P
Dec. 31st, 2005 07:43 am (UTC)
Calling it "verdigris" would have betrayed my ruse! ;-)>
Dec. 30th, 2005 07:11 pm (UTC)
Hydrogen is NOT a metal. Hydrogen is in group one, but it has properties taht are not metallic as well, and thus is not a metal. Some periodic tables show this by putting it ABOVE the group 1. Take it from me, your local Chemistry teacher :)
Dec. 30th, 2005 10:11 pm (UTC)
Hydrogen has properties that are not metallic at room temperature and ordinary pressures, sure. However, solid hydrogen is most definitely metallic, with all the properties of any other metal--it's ductile, it conducts electricity, its electrons are unbounded within the crystalline structure, and so on. I think that makes it a metal by any reasonable definition...
Dec. 31st, 2005 03:43 am (UTC)
The universe is under no obligation to conform to your arbitrary classification systems. You of all people should know this. ;-)
Dec. 31st, 2005 06:52 pm (UTC)
Ah, but see, this is the point where I say that the Periodic Table reflects the organization already inherent in nature, rather than imposing classification on nature, and that it's arranged the way it is because of the observable patterns and periodicity of elements as they exist...and that it's such a powerful reflection of the underlying order already found in nature that it has been used to predict the behavior and characteristics of elements before they were discovered.

Or not.
Dec. 31st, 2005 09:32 pm (UTC)
Correct, and the two-dimensional grid layout of the periodic table has misled you into thinking hydrogen should have only one location on the table. Hydrogen no more belongs above lithium than it does fluorine; the halogens also have one electron in their outer shell and also form diatomic gases. Hydrogen's melting point, boiling point, ionization energy, thermal conductivity, heat of vaporization, and first ionization potential much more reasonably place it in the halogens.
Dec. 30th, 2005 07:36 pm (UTC)
I can tell you're really banging your head over this metal thing.

***runs away***
Dec. 30th, 2005 10:14 pm (UTC)

Forty lashes for you, for the crime of committing a bad pun...
Dec. 31st, 2005 07:44 am (UTC)
That's right! Metal health will drive you mad. . . .
Dec. 30th, 2005 07:46 pm (UTC)
very cool store, I love http://www.uncommongoods.com/item/item.jsp?itemId=13857 the disappearing civil liberties coffee mug!
Dec. 30th, 2005 10:12 pm (UTC)
WOW. Now THAT rocks!
Dec. 30th, 2005 08:55 pm (UTC)
Sorry, have to disagree with you, and trot out two degrees in chemistry to back it up. The periodic table shows the elements, in their natural states, at standard temperature and pressure (that is, 1 atm, 0 degrees Celsius). At that temperature, hydrogen is a gas. Hydrogen behaves in metallic ways under extremely freaky conditions (that is, extremes of temperature and pressure), but under most circumstances, it is a gas. Diatomic hydrogen, which is the state in which it's typically found on earth, is a gas, and does not behave like a metal in any way shape or form. It is non-magnetic and does not conduct electricity. Monoatomic hydrogen, which is, if memory serves, the state in which it is found in space, is also gaseous. It would be paramagnetic, due to its unpaired electron, but the vast amounts of space between neighboring hydrogen atoms would prevent it from conducting electricity. The state in which hydrogen is found in the core of Jupiter is the exception, not the rule.

In all truth, the best periodic tables, in my opinion as a former chemist and chemistry teacher, are those which pair hydrogen and helium in a little area all by their lonesome, above the p-block. Truly, they are their own beasties; they behave like little else, and little else behaves like them, and between the two of them, they constitute something well over 90% of the matter in the universe.
Dec. 31st, 2005 06:50 pm (UTC)
Hmm. That kind of leads rise to another question, though:

If an element becomes a metal under the right pressure and temperature, is it not reasonable to say that element is a "metal" from the get-go? How many other nonmetals can become metals, after all?

One could, I think, argue that all metals have the properties we ascribe to "metals" only under the proper circumstances; after all, the ionized iron plasma in the core of an exploding star bears little resemblance to elemental iron in its solid state...
Jan. 1st, 2006 12:54 am (UTC)
Water ice has certain properties that differ from liquid water. What of it?

Standard temperature and pressure is indeed an arbitrary state, if you discount the localized experience of the species that came up with this organizational system in the first place. But the periodic table is clearly intended to represent the agreed-upon STP. The center of a nova is hardly a common frame of reference in this context.

You don't like it? Make your own.
Jan. 11th, 2006 10:40 am (UTC)
Again, it all derives from the notion of the reference state (standard temperature and pressure), which, you could say, is our particularly geocentric take on things.
( 22 comments — Leave a comment )