Chapter 3

Collecting Chemical Elements

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My friend Theodore Gray introduced me to the hobby of element collecting.

Some people are almost fanatical about it, spending lots of money on many large samples of pure elements from all over the periodic table. But I have found it quite fun to collect samples that are available cheaply from local sources, and it may even be more educational to have samples of the elements in the form that they are most likely to be encountered than in their pure form.

Part of the fun is in filling in the blanks on a fresh empty chart of the periodic table of the elements. Here's how I started out.

First, I made an empty chart with space for little sample bottles.

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I filled in each square with the atomic number, the symbol, and the name of the element. I also added two small dots in the center of each square. These are there to make it easy to mount the sample bottles. After the chart is printed out on 36 inch by 24 inch paper and mounted on a foam core board, you poke two holes in the board with a push pin, so that you can make a loop of wire to hold the bottle.

If you click on the image above, you will get a huge file that you can save onto a thumb drive and take to your local printer. I took mine to Kinko's, and they printed it out on a huge piece of paper, and mounted that onto the foam core board for me. You can save money by doing that last part yourself.

I hang my sample vials on the board using green enamel coated magnet wire (because I happen to have a lot of that). You can use any convenient wire you have lying around.

The back of the board shows that the wires are simply twisted to hold the bottles firmly on the board. The wires tighten around the necks of the bottles, and become nearly invisible, while tightly holding onto the bottles so they don't fall off during transport and handling. The wire mounting allows the bottles to be turned, so that either the labels on the bottles face out, or the clear glass faces out, leaving the sample more visible.

I made gummed labels for the bottles, with the atomic number, symbol, and name, so that if the bottles are removed from the board, they can easily be put back in the right spot. To make it easier for our readers, I have added both the sample bottles and the lables to our catalog. If you need the green enamel coated copper wire, you can get it there as well.

Obtaining Americium and Neptunium

Inside inexpensive smoke alarms is a tiny amount of the radioactive element Americium. The isotope used, americium 241, has a half life of 452 years. Since americium 241 decays into the much more stable isotope neptunium 237 (half-life 2.1 million years), the sample in the smoke detector will have a few trillion new neptunium atoms in it every year.

To get to the sample, we disassemble the smoke detector.

The chamber that contains the americium sample is usually easy to find and open.

americium chamber open

Removing the plastic parts gets us closer to the sample.

The sample itself, in this smoke detector, is plated onto a small button of metal. Other detectors I have disassembled have the americium plated onto a small disc.

If you have a geiger counter or a scintillation detector, you can use it to confirm that the sample is radioactive. Since americium 241 emits only alpha particles (and a very small amount of low energy gamma), it is safe if kept in the glass bottle, since alpha particles don't penetrate glass.

Elements from a hardware store

Hardware stores carry many items that have either pure elements, or compounds of otherwise hard to find elements. Lighter flints contain cerium oxide, battery charging posts contain lead, and halogen bulbs contain nice thick tungsten filaments (as well as bromine or iodine, although they are seldom labelled in such a way that you can tell which is used).

Making a game out of it

If you're at all like me, your collection will first be about filling in the blanks any way you can. The vial containing the sample for Sodium in my collection has salt in it. Salt is sodium chloride, and that is one of the main forms people find sodium in as they go about their daily lives. Likewise, the vials for Nitrogen and Oxygen are just full of air.

Over time, you may come across samples of the elements in their pure forms. My sample of Silver is just some pieces of lead-free solder from a hardware store, which contains 3% silver. It will not be difficult to replace that with pure silver wire from a jewelry supply store.

Since some forms of the elements are easier to find than others, my friends and I have found it useful to make a list of the elements with points assigned to them based on the degree of difficulty in obtaining the sample. Salt, and Air, and Aluminum foil are arbitrarily assigned one point. Silver bearing solder is worth five points, while pure silver is worth twenty five points. The whole list of where to find elements and how many points each sample is worth is shown at the end of this page.

Scoring points

In the table below, mark which samples you have collected by clicking in the check box beside the description. The total number of points will be calculated for you.

Hydrogen:
1 point -- Water
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Helium:
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Lithium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
20,000 points -- Pure lithium metal

Beryllium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
20,000 points -- Pure beryllium metal

Boron:
100 points -- Boric acid powder
100 points -- Borax powder
10,000 points -- Boron powder

Carbon:
1 point -- Charcoal
1 point -- Pencil lead
300 points -- Pyrolytic graphite
10,000 points -- Diamond powder, grit, or sandpaper
20,000 points -- Buckminsterfullerene
20,000 points -- Carbon nanotube powder

Nitrogen:
1 point -- Air
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Oxygen:
1 point -- Air
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Fluorine:
3 points -- Toothpaste with sodium fluoride
300 points -- Calcium fluoride

Neon:
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube (neon light bulb)

Sodium:
1 point -- Salt
20,000 points -- Pure sodium metal

Magnesium:
5 points -- Epsom salts (magnesium sulfate)
5,000 points -- Magnesium chips, flakes, wire, ribbon, or foil

Aluminium:
1 point -- Aluminum foil

Silicon:
5 points -- Silicon diode transistor, or chip
10,000 points -- Pure silicon

Phosphorus:
1 point -- Match striker plate from matchbook
20,000 points -- Pure phosphorus

Sulfur:
1 point -- Match
2,000 points -- Pure sulfur

Chlorine:
1 point -- Salt
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Argon:
500 points -- Argon filled flashlight bulb
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Potassium:
10 points -- Salt substitute (potassium chloride)
20,000 points -- Pure potassium metal

Calcium:
1 point -- Chalk (calcium carbonate)
20,000 points -- Pure calcium metal

Scandium:
30,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
50,000 points -- Pure scandium metal

Titanium:
10,000 points -- Titanium drill bit
10,000 points -- Titanium eyeglass frame wire
30,000 points -- Pure titanium metal

Vanadium:
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure vanadium metal

Chromium:
1,000 points -- Chromium plated screws
30,000 points -- Pure chromium metal

Manganese:
300 points -- Manganese dioxide from carbon-zinc battery
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure manganese metal

Iron:
1 point -- Rusty nail
2 points -- Shiny nail

Cobalt:
10,000 points -- Cobalt drill bit
15,000 points -- Samarium Cobalt magnet

Nickel:
1,000 points -- Nickel plated screws
30,000 points -- Pure nickel metal

Copper:
100 points -- Copper wire
1,000 points -- Native copper (rock shop)

Zinc:
500 points -- Zinc plated wire screws, or nails
1,000 points -- Pure zinc metal (plumbing fixtures, marine hardware)

Gallium:
500 points -- Gallium arsenide light emitting diode
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
50,000 points -- Pure gallium metal

Germanium:
500 points -- Germanium diode
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure germanium metal

Arsenic:
500 points -- Gallium arsenide light emitting diode
10,000 points -- Alloy or compound containing arsenic
30,000 points -- Pure arsenic

Selenium:
5 points -- Selenium containing mineral supplement
500 points -- Selenium diode
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure selenium metal

Bromine:
500 points -- Sodium bromide (hot tub salts)
30,000 points -- Pure bromine liquid

Krypton:
500 points -- Krypton filled flashlight bulb
1,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Rubidium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure rubidium metal

Strontium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure strontium metal

Yttrium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure yttrium metal

Zirconium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure zirconium metal

Niobium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
20,000 points -- Niobium metal jewelry
30,000 points -- Pure niobium metal

Molybdenum:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure molybdenum metal

Technetium:
100,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Ruthenium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure ruthenium metal

Rhodium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure rhodium metal

Palladium:
3,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
10,000 points -- Alloy or plated item
30,000 points -- Pure rhodium metal

Silver:
5 points -- Lead free solder (3% silver)
200 points -- Pure silver wire or sheet

Cadmium:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
100 points -- Cadmium yellow pigment or paint
1,000 points -- Pure cadmium metal

Indium:
500 points -- Gallium indium arsenide light emitting diode
500 points -- Indium Tin Oxide transparent coating on electronic display
20,000 points -- Liquid metal alloy containing indium
30,000 points -- Pure indium metal

Tin:
10 points -- Tin coating on metal can
10 points -- Alloy (solder) or plated item
1,000 points -- Pure tin metal

Antimony:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
5,000 points -- Pure antimony metal

Tellurium:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure tellurium metal

Iodine:
2 points -- Iodized table salt
500 points -- Tincture of iodine
5,000 points -- Pure iodine crystals

Xenon:
500 points -- Xenon filled flashlight bulb
500 points -- Xenon filled camera flash bulb

Caesium:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
20,000 points -- Pure cesium metal

Barium:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
20,000 points -- Pure barium metal

Lanthanum:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure lanthanum metal

Cerium:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
200 points -- Cerium oxide lighter flints
30,000 points -- Pure cerium metal

Praseodymium:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
1,000 points -- Blue glass colored with praseodymium
30,000 points -- Pure cerium metal

Neodymium:
20 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
1,000 points -- Neodymium-Iron-Boron magnet
30,000 points -- Pure neodymium metal

Promethium:
20,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element

Samarium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
15,000 points -- Samarium Cobalt magnet
30,000 points -- Pure samarium metal

Europium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
1,000 points -- Kryptonite glow in the dark mineral
30,000 points -- Pure europium metal

Gadolinium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure gadolinium metal

Terbium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure terbium metal

Dysprosium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
1,000 points -- Kryptonite glow in the dark mineral
30,000 points -- Pure dysprosium metal

Holmium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure holmium metal

Erbium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure erbium metal

Thulium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure thulium metal

Ytterbium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure ytterbium metal

Lutetium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure lutetium metal

Hafnium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
30,000 points -- Pure hafnium metal

Tantalum:
3,000 points -- Tantalum capacitor
30,000 points -- Pure tantalum metal

Tungsten:
1,000 points -- Tungsten light bulb filament
3,000 points -- Tungsten welding rod

Rhenium:
30,000 points -- Pure rhenium metal or plated item

Osmium:
30,000 points -- Pure osmium metal or plated item

Iridium:
30,000 points -- Pure iridium metal or plated item

Platinum:
30,000 points -- Pure platinum metal or plated item

Gold:
30,000 points -- Pure gold metal or plated item

Mercury:
10,000 points -- Mercury tilt switch (mercury sealed in glass)

Thallium:
30,000 points -- Pure thallium metal or plated item

Lead:
3,000 points -- Lead fishing weights

Bismuth:
3,000 points -- Bismuth shot
10,000 points -- Bismuth crystals

Polonium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
5,000 points -- Polonium anti-static brush

Astatine:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element

Radon:
100,000 points -- Pure gas sealed in glass tube

Francium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element

Radium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
5,000 points -- Glow in the dark clock or watch dial or hands

Actinium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element

Thorium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
5,000 points -- Thorium lantern mantle
6,000 points -- Thoriated tungsten welding rod

Protactinium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Uranium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
5,000 points -- Yellow glass containing uranium salts
60,000 points -- Depleted uranium metal

Neptunium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element
6,000 points -- Sample from a smoke detector

Plutonium:
500 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (e.g. uranium ore)

Americium:
6,000 points -- Sample from a smoke detector

Curium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Berkelium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Californium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Einsteinium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Fermium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Mendelevium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Nobelium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Lawrencium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Rutherfordium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Dubnium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Seaborgium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Bohrium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Hassium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Meitnerium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Darmstadtium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)

Roentgenium:
50,000 points -- Any salt or compound containing the element (good luck)


After a few weeks, my collection looked a little more filled-in:

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