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Where do nature's building blocks, called the elements, come from? Her job is to figure out how much gold is in them there rocks. I don't see any more rocks in here, but the bad news is, I don't see any gold in here, either. Final steps: cool and clean the bars, stamp them with their unique serial numbers and their weights. The ancients first learned how to heat rocks to extract copper, at least 7,000 years ago. Traders in New York, London and Shanghai buy and sell more than 20 million tons a year. Copper has been prized for millennia for its unique properties: it conducts electricity better than any metal except silver; it's malleable and has a moderate melting temperature; it even scares away bacteria. Even with all the other modern materials available, they still choose bronze. Hasn't something better come along, after all these years? The quality of the sound depends on the atomic structure of the material.
They're the hidden ingredients of everything in our world, from the carbon in our bodies to the metals in our smartphones. The good news is that we haven't finished; there may be still gold hiding in the mix. And, today, it's one of the most widely bought and sold metals in the world. Copper is in wire, electronics and computer chips, plumbing and other building materials. These guys can trade their copper futures; I've got to unload my copper today. In pure metals, the atoms are arranged in orderly rows and columns.
Muller's lab has successfully captured many other images of atoms in gold and computer chips, oxygen, powerful magnets and even glass.
But, even so, they've barely scratched the surface, because they can discern only the outermost boundaries around atoms. If the outer boundary of a hydrogen atom, where the electron is found, were enlarged to be two miles wide, about the size of a city, the single proton in its nucleus would be the size of a golf ball.
Out of every hundred bells they pour, 20 or 30 will fail. Our bell resonates with a beautiful tone, and it takes many seconds for the note to die out, thanks to the interplay between copper and tin.
Theo makes the point by putting me in touch with the real deal. To make the entire table less abstract, he invites me to lay out the rest of his collection of pure elements. This is a visual representation of every single element that makes up this entire planet and everything on it. As we can clearly see, more than 70 percent of the elements on the table are metals, shiny, malleable materials that conduct electricity. Everything from here on over, including the bottom part, is all metals. And down the middle are these, kind of, halfway in between things, which include, for example, semiconductors, like silicon. The one I was looking at, in particular, was calcium. This is when Theo's collection starts to get really interesting, when he pairs the pure elements with their more familiar forms.He's offered to show me how the atoms in our bronze stack up, literally. David tells me that when we reach full magnification, we will have images of the actual atoms in the bronze, something few people have ever seen. Zooming in a hundred million times would allow me to pick out, not just a car, but a bug, crawling in the grass next to it. And the brighter colors are things that contain more tin, and the things with less tin are the things that are slightly darker. The microscopic structure of metals is not uniform. Boundaries between grains are actually defects in the orderly arrangement of the atoms. We only have to shake things by an atom for the image to vanish. The actual bronze chip itself is about a hundredth the thickness of a human hair.I brought you a couple of hunks of bronze, uh, one of which was knocked off of a bell when it was done and one of which is un-poured. I need an area about the size of a farm, and you've given me the whole of the United States. It's too small for us to see, so we have to mount it on a carrier grid, so we can handle it. Like, like, for one thing, I notice they're really, really grid-like.To unlock their secrets, David Pogue, technology columnist and lively host of NOVA's popular "Making Stuff" series, spins viewers through the world of weird, extreme chemistry: the strongest acids, the deadliest poisons, the universe's most abundant elements, and the rarest of the rare—substances cooked up in atom smashers that flicker into existence for only fractions of a second. Yet everything we know, the stars, the planets and life, itself, comes from about 90 basic building blocks,… …all right here, on this remarkable chart: the periodic table of the elements. And we're made, almost entirely, of just a handful of ingredients, including one that burns with secret fire inside us all. The sample, mixed with a lead oxide powder, goes into a furnace heated to 2,000 degrees. Using extreme heat, gold atoms are gradually coaxed away from the powdered rock. Turns out that an ounce per ton is pretty much optimal for the underground mine. The New York Mercantile Exchange is a vital hub in the global metals market, which is pretty good news for me. (Commodities Trader): Oh, this is an old, old business. It's so important that the rise and fall of copper prices provide a snapshot of the health of the entire world economy. Each atom gives up some of its electrons to create a kind of sea of these randomly moving charged particles.It's a story that begins with the Big Bang and eventually leads to us. Join me as I explore the basic building blocks of the universe… …to the least—manmade elements that last only fractions of a second; strange metals with repellant powers;… So, after all that pulverizing and crushing and weighing and firing, what we're left with is this? Eighteen hundred dollars times…720,000 bucks a truck! The surface mine produces less, about half an ounce per ton. This goes back to the 1800s, the late 1800s, where farmers were looking, actually, for money to plant their next year's crops. We use it for infrastructure; we use it for electronic goods. When times are bad, copper prices tumble, and when times are good, they soar. It's these free-flowing electrons that make metals conductive.