Science

We bet you’ve never heard of these elements from the periodic table

The elements of the periodic table are all around us! They make up every single thing in existence without exception. Some of them are essential for life and widely known, like oxygen, and others are somewhat more useless and undistinguished, like protactinium. But how many of them do you know by name? You probably have never heard of these elements, yet they serve important roles in our daily lives.

Bismuth

Full drug cabinet containing bismuth-based medicine
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Bismuth is known for its colorful pinkish hue along with its odd rectangular crystals. Historically, it was often confused for lead because of its high density and low boiling point.

Alone, bismuth isn’t that useful. But when it’s mixed with other metals, it becomes extremely helpful. A mixture of bismuth and tin or cadmium is commonly used in fire detectors and electrical fuses. The most common place you have probably seen this element is in your medicine cabinet. Pepto-Bismol is named and colored in honor of its active ingredient: bismuth subsalicylate, which acts as an antacid.

Beryllium

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Beryllium is a strong, light metal with a very high melting point (2,349 degrees Fahrenheit). It’s more flexible than steel, non-magnetic, and resistant to rust. With all of that going for it, it’s no wonder that there are many important applications for such an element.

It was originally known as glucinium because of its sweet taste, but it didn’t take long before scientists discovered that it was highly toxic and should never be tasted. Even airborne particles are enough to cause major health problems. While it may never be a good addition to your sugar cookies, beryllium is used in mechanical applications that require lightweight strength and heat resistance, such as springs and brakes on cars, in space shuttles and satellites, and even nuclear reactors.

Osmium

Up close view of old-fashioned record player featuring osmium needle
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Osmium’s claim to fame is that it’s a shiny, silver metal that resists corrosion. It is one of the densest elements in the world and is a byproduct of nickel refining. While the metal itself is not toxic, when it oxidizes, it becomes osmium tetroxide, which is a highly toxic vapor with a strong odor.

Because it’s pretty and durable, Osmium is used in fancy fountain pen tips and record player needles. Since the demand for record players has plummeted in the past few decades, osmium isn’t highly sought after.

Gallium

Up close view of a pool of melting gallium on wooden table
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Gallium has the atomic number 31 and is one of the more interesting elements on the periodic table. It’s a solid at room temperature, but its melting point is only 86 degrees Fahrenheit. That means if you hold a block of gallium in your hand, it will melt into a pool of silver, metallic liquid. And unlike another metallic liquid everyone should stay away from — mercury — gallium is completely nontoxic. You don’t even need gloves to handle it!

Aside from being fun to play with (yes, it can even be bought on Amazon), gallium is used mostly in electronic applications such as microwave and infrared circuits. Gallium arsenide is a primary ingredient in solar panel production.

Tungsten

Man using stationary drill with tungsten carbide drill tip
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Tungsten is one of the toughest substances found in nature and has the highest melting point of any element at 6,177 degrees Fahrenheit. Pure tungsten, while super dense, is very soft and malleable. It gets its strength when made into compounds.

Tungsten carbide is a popular compound used to make heavy duty, nearly-indestructible tools. To cut tungsten carbide tools, you have to use the only thing harder: diamond. Naturally, tungsten carbide is a popular alternative to diamond in manufacturing because of its much lower cost and similar durability. In the past few years, there has been a wave of “scratch-proof” rings and wedding bands hitting the jewelry market. Want to take a guess what they’re made of?

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