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EducationCOLLECTING THE CHEMICAL ELEMENTS

8th Sep 2019 01:38 BSTGareth Evans

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I have always had a fascination with the chemical elements, and my interest in minerals grew from my fascination with the elements. Collecting representative examples of the naturally occurring chemical elements, all 92 of them, is just the beginning. I strive to find new ways to display them so they look visually appealing. I have attached a photo of one of my lanthanide metals – Europium, which is considered to be the most chemically reactive member of the group. At the moment it is contained in dry and degassed oil. I plan to recast my Europium so that a nice shiny ingot is available for display, under an Argon atmosphere, of course.It is well known that salts of Europium are used to protect the Euro from counterfeiting. I wonder if salts of Americium are used to protect the US dollar.

8th Sep 2019 18:39 BSTAdolf Cortel

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Hi Gareth,Your comment on the use of europium to difficult counterfeiting of euro notes has excited my curiosity and I have taken some spectra of the yellow stars in a 50 eur note, which display an intense red fluorescence. In fact the 50 eur notes have more fluorescent regions (a lot of red fluorescent stars and some yellow patches, besides the multicolored fibers) than the 20 eur notes (basically a dim red fluorescent strip).


8th Sep 2019 18:40 BSTAdolf Cortel

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The fluorescence spectra have been excited by a filtered UV LED (curiously, a violet laser of 405 nm do not induce fluorescence in the notes). The red fluorescence of the stars gives a relatively narrow band in the 610-620 nm region, which is characteristic of europium. The phosphor of an energy saving bulb which contains itrium oxide doped with europium to give the red component of the fluorescent light has narrower bands but the position is similar.

8th Sep 2019 22:36 BSTGareth Evans

Adolf:

Nice work. You beat me to it! I was planning to examine a Euro note too. I might include a Euro note with my sample of Europium when I have recast it. The Euro note might make a nice background in the display bottle of Europium.

Regards

Gareth

8th Sep 2019 18:41 BSTD Mike Reinke

Nice goal, Gareth. When I started out, I laid out the periodic table and set about getting a mineral for each element. Being low tech and low budget, I trimmed the table to exclude H and He, and the gasses. It fit the shelf better that way, too. It was very educational for me, especially realizing where the less visible elements hide out. How you manage Tc, let me know!.

8th Sep 2019 22:24 BSTGareth Evans

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It is very difficult to collect the radioactive elements in Australia. We do not mind exporting 1000’s of tons of refined Uranium ore, but the largest permissible quantity of depleted Uranium metal you can import is about 0.75 gram. The problem is one of unjustified fear and total ignorance of physics on the part of the voting populous. However the Adelaide Hills, the Mt Lofty Ranges and the Flinders Ranges host oodles of radioactive minerals, not in sufficient quantity to interest a mining company, but enough to keep collectors of Uranium minerals happy for decades. Regarding Technetium I just leave it out. For Uranium and Thorium I will probably display an appropriate mineral that contains the relevant element. I do have Americium-241 that I bought from the local hardware store in the form of a smoke detector.I have attached a photo of some of my very early creations. The blocks shown are 100 mm x 100 mm x 40 mm, and the elements were encapsulated on the kitchen table using a proprietary resin. The resin when it cures (48 hours) is UV-Hard (does not yellow), resistant to most organic solvents and can withstand compressional forces exceeding 6000PSI.

9th Sep 2019 04:51 BSTGareth Evans

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Given that it is the International year of the Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements, I thought a photo showing a few of the building blocks of the Universe would be interesting. The blocks are 100 mm x 40 mm x 25-35 mm in size.Most were cast in graphite crucibles. To cast Selenium I had to make a mould out of mild steel.Not shown are Gallium, Indium and Lead.

9th Sep 2019 05:00 BSTKevin Conroy Expert

Those ingots are awesome, but the Chinese say that it's the Year of the Pig.

9th Sep 2019 06:02 BSTGareth Evans

Still not a problem - I might cast an ingot of pig-iron to keep everyone happy!!

9th Sep 2019 18:47 BSTDonald B Peck Expert

Garth, I am impressed, to say the least!  I am a former chemistry teacher and the display quality and the extent of your collection is better than any I have seen.  Beautiful work!

9th Sep 2019 22:02 BSTGareth Evans

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Dear DonMany thanks for your kind and inspiring words – and I sincerely mean it.I started this work almost ten years ago – and it has evolved into a ‘mini’ Manhattan Project. I have had to learn and develop new skills, and refresh old ones. As a mineral collector I am very lucky – nature has done all the hard work for me, but as an element collector I am not so lucky. To make things that display well you must do the creative work. In the case of the bullion bars shown above I had to first melt the raw materials in an electric furnace, and then cast then in a suitable mold. After the metal had cooled I had to clean it, and then machine the surface on my vertical milling machine. I still have other things to do with these bars before I am satisfied with the display.At the moment I am focusing on the lanthanide metals; Gd, Tb, Dy, Ho, Er, Tm and Yb. I have uploaded a picture of the completed ‘antique’ bottles containing Thulium and Ytterbium. I am working on bottles for Gadolinium, Dysprosium and Erbium, and I hope to have then completed by the end of the week. The labels are only temporary as I will make some antique style ones, when all the bottles are complete.Gareth

10th Sep 2019 02:02 BSTKevin Conroy Expert

I can't decide which I like better, the bullion or the bottles.   Both are REALLY fantastic!

10th Sep 2019 04:28 BSTGareth Evans

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Displaying the gases was a bit tricky at first. With the exception of Fluorine and Chlorine all the gases are invisible so there is little difference between a tube full of gas and no gas at all. I made an electronic circuit so I could energize the gases. Shown below are my first experiments with plasma. I am energizing the tubes with my HV AC (24kHz) circuit and on the right is oxygen. The excitation voltage was supplied to a graphite electrode as seen on the bottom of the photo, and external to the tube. The actual colour of the energized gas depends on energizing voltage, AC frequency, pressure and probably a few other things too. The tubes shown were filled with argon and oxygen at 40 Torr.The tubes were made from two 70 mm long test tubes connected by a 110 mm long glass tube – simple glass blowing techniques required to make these tubes. The glass used was borosilicate.I will be making similar tubes for Hydrogen, Nitrogen, Helium, Neon, Krypton and Xenon. I have tried Xenon using one of those cheap Xenon flasher bulbs – nice blue colour.

10th Sep 2019 04:34 BSTGareth Evans

The attached photo shows the driver circuit exciting a plasma tube, a fluorescent light and a Xenon flasher bulb. It is noteworthy that only the plasma tube (Neon plus other gases) is physically connected to the driver unit. The other bulbs are excited by just being near the driver.

10th Sep 2019 04:36 BSTGareth Evans

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Attached photo

12th Sep 2019 00:58 BSTcascaillou

wonderful displays, and displaying invisible gases as plasma is very clever.
Next step: crystals being more interesting than ingots/chunks, why not grow each solid element as crystals (crucible growth, electrochemical growth, autoclave growth, etc.)

12th Sep 2019 03:32 BSTGareth Evans

Dear Casacillou:

Already on the to do list. About three years ago  I made a vacuum line and purchased a couple of roughing pumps, along with a turbomolecular pump.  Now that I have machine tools (lathe/milling machine/metrology equipment) I will be able to make the equipment needed to grow crystals. But please understand that at my age I work at two speeds - slow and stop. I have many retirement projects - too many according to my children.

Kind Regards 

Gareth

12th Sep 2019 04:37 BSTGareth Evans

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Shown in the photograph is all that remains of the 1000 grams of Vanadium I acquired about 5 years ago. I kept about 150 grams and used the remainder to acquire other elements by swapping with other element collectors around the globe. The crystals look like little Christmas trees, and those in the front of the bottle are about 20 mm x 10 mm.After about 6 months the vanadium turned black. The original luster was restore by washing the crystals in dilute nitric acid, followed by dilute hydrochloric acid and then distilled water. The crystals were then dried with an electric hair dryer.I now keep the vanadium under dry and degassed mineral oil. I will be taking some photos of the crystals using my microscope and editing them with my new photo stacking program.

12th Sep 2019 09:27 BSTRalph Bottrill Manager

This is all quite marvellous Gareth, I should stop reading this thread before I become an element collector also!

12th Sep 2019 22:39 BSTGareth Evans

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Hello Ralph:I think all mineral collectors should also collect the chemical elements. It seems one is the natural extension of the other. There is of course one big difference - with minerals nature has done all the hard-work for you. The chemical elements require some artistic flair to make them pleasing to the eye. I know I am making things that cannot be bought or if they could, the cost would be beyond my budget. The first example of element collecting I could find was published in Popular Science Magazine, June 1963, pp 83-84. The article discusses the work of a Mr. Hammond and his passion for the chemical elements. I have included the first page of the article above.I am more than happy to help genuine enthusiasts build an element collection. I have even offered my help, free of charge, to a few Public Museums, but as of yet no takers!Gareth

12th Sep 2019 22:54 BSTGareth Evans

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Shown above are the latest additions to my Lanthanide element collection; the Dysprosium, Holmium and Gadolinium containment bottles. The height of each bottle is about 160 mm. They contain an inner bottle of ‘scratch’ resistant polycarbonate with an OD of 50 mm, and a height of 125 mm. The outer bottle is a borosilicate glass tube 150 mm high with an OD of 85 mm. I have attempted to give each bottle an ‘antique’ look, and I am very happy with how the staining (Walnut) and varnishing progressed. Holmium and Terbium will be completed next week.

12th Sep 2019 23:59 BSTKeith A. Peregrine

Love those wood stands!

13th Sep 2019 01:04 BSTGareth Evans

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Dear Keith:I too am happy with the stands. They turned out a lot better than I thought. They started out as square sections of Tasmanian Oak about 130 mm x 130 mm x 19 mm. I cut off the corners by hand to make an octagon, and then recessed a circular slot on my lathe. I then milled the sides of the octagon such that the distance between the outer perimeter of the slot and the respective side of the octagon was equal for all eight sides. I then turned it again on my lathe using a ‘button’ tool to create the decorative edge. I applied three coats of Walnut stain and varnish, followed by two coats of Marine grade clear varnish and left the octagons to cure for about two weeks. To keep the ‘antique’ look I did all the staining and varnishing by hand using a good quality art brush. I will be making some mineral stands using the same technique but recessing a square section so I can put in a glass or polycarbonate sheet or even a metal one. Gareth

14th Sep 2019 00:28 BSTGareth Evans

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Shown above is a photo of my first five Lanthanide bottles, containing generous amounts (<500 gram) of each of the following Lanthanide metals; Ytterbium, Thulium, Erbium, Dysprosium and Gadolinium. I will be preparing bottles for the remaining two lanthanide metals – Terbium and Holmium next week.

14th Sep 2019 00:42 BSTGareth Evans

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For the Lanthanide metals; Lanthanum, Cerium, Praseodymium, Neodymium, Samarium and Europium I will be using a different style of bottle. The only member of the group that needs special attention is Europium. It is the most reactive element of the group, but no more reactive than Lithium. I plan to display these Lanthanide metals under argon so they retain a nice metallic luster. The style of the bottle I will use is shown above. I will need to make a special stopper for each so there is no chance of air entering the bottle, and spoiling the metal. The stoppers will be made out of Delrin or Teflon, and both materials machine well on the metal turning lathe.To display the individual bottles I will also make some dedicated stands. I am still musing about the design, but they will be of ‘antique’ in appearance with walnut staining.

14th Sep 2019 04:13 BSTGareth Evans

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Shown above are some of my p-block chemical elements. The blocks are 100 mm x 100 mm x 40 mm, and were cast at home and on the kitchen table using a proprietary technique. Each block will be given its own picture frame as was the case for the Halogens (Chlorine, Bromine and Iodine). I am planning to extend and magnify this display next year – bigger and more creative display examples. I would also like to start collecting some of the allotropes too, such as red selenium and black phosphorus.

14th Sep 2019 09:12 BSTKeith Compton Manager

Gareth
A really interesting and educative discussion and presentation.

Perhaps you could create a periodic table article with the format of:
Table
Then an individual photo of each element as finally displayed.
Then a brief discussion for each element as to how you created the display of that particular element (including making each ingot, case etc). Safety precautions in making it etc.
Simply continue to add to the article as you complete each element.

If you complete or even get close to completing your collection of elements, it really should end up in a museum.
Just a thought.

I really like your aim in this, so good luck.

14th Sep 2019 22:02 BSTGareth Evans

Dear Keith:One really never finishes art. I think Da Vinci hit the nail on the proverbial head when he said, “Art is never finished, only abandoned” so I still have many new and exciting ideas for displaying the chemical elements. There is a possible sub-collection of the allotropes, and perhaps making other display formats. I am interested in doing some work with Gallium so that the metal behaves like Mercury in a glass tube. Gallium has a tendency to wet the glass but there are several techniques you can use to make sure the wetting does not occur.I am not too happy with Museums. When I first started this work Museums were the source of some of my loudest critics. Some Museums just ignored my emails while others described me as being a bit ‘nutty’ for even thinking about assembling such a collection. The only Australian Museum (Public) that showed any real interest and provided some help was the South Australian Museum (SAM). I have discussed the need to establish a ‘Hall of Chemical Elements’ at the Museum and some of the curators at SAM are very receptive to the idea. But I must emphasize that I will always be pro private collectors – the needs and interests of private collectors come first in my view. Regarding safety much of what I do is just plain common sense. When I was a young boy I took many risks, but I also accepted the consequences of my actions too. We now live in a ‘nanny state’ where every young boy should be wrapped up in bubble wrap and watched with great care, lest they be cut, bruised or scratched. A casual walk through any major hardware store (Bunnings/Mitre10) will expose you to some of the most toxic, corrosive, highly inflammable and possible carcinogenic substances known to man or women. Many people routinely use house cleaning products that are potentially very hazardous. Again common sense and good work practices should prevent any problems.I am thinking about writing a book on my adventures with the chemical elements.Gareth

14th Sep 2019 17:09 BSTcascaillou

While under the shower this morning, I was thinking of fluorine gas (hey, to each his fantasies), and wondered in which transparent & colorless material one could possibly encapsulate such a highly reactive gas? CaF2 vial? Fluorinated polymer? Fluoride glass, possibly passivated with an inner fluoride layer?

14th Sep 2019 22:24 BSTGareth Evans

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Dear Cascaillou:Shown above is a block (100 mm x 100 mm x 40 mm) containing a crystal of Chinese Fluorite from De’an. This block was going to be used as an example of the element Fluorine. I made this block about four years ago but never finished sanding and polishing it. I was not terribly happy with it and I planned to make another using a larger piece of Fluorite, possibly a slice of light green material.Fluorine is a hard one to contain – it readily reacts with glass and does not show well. At least with Chlorine gas you do see a faint green colour, but Fluorine is near invisible unless in great volume. Gareth

15th Sep 2019 09:33 BSTBart Cannon Expert

There are many posts on Facebook from suppliers who are all selling the same display block of the elements.

Very nice water clear casting showing most non gaseous elements.  Identification is provided with a periodic table format.

Watch out, though.  I ordered one and I was sent and billed for six.  They were all empty blocks, and I can't get my money back.

15th Sep 2019 22:04 BSTGareth Evans

Dear Bert:That is very true. There are three dealers in Europe, one in Austria, one in the UK, and one in Italy. They have all seen my work and are very impressed – I have emails from all three, including emails from Theodore Gray, the author of the book called The Elements. For me I was not happy with what they had for sale. The blocks they sell are 50 mm x 50 mm x 50 mm, and thus the amount of element contained in each is very small. They can make larger blocks but you will pay a lot for them. They use the acrylic method, which restricts the amount and type of element that can be contained. My blocks are 4 times the size, and contain a very generous amount of element. Also no one has attempted to do what I have done. Ask to see what they are doing with the Lanthanides, or ask them to supply you with a block containing a vial with 40 ml of Bromine. Ask them to supply you with a thick-walled borosilicate glass tube containing 40 ml of liquefied Chlorine and see what they say. Ask them to supply you with specialized plasma tube.A video link about the acrylic method: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=EHD71oF5j2UGareth

15th Sep 2019 22:51 BSTGareth Evans

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Shown above are the first two blocks I made some eight years ago. The blocks are 100 mm x 100 mm x 40 mm. The block on the left contains 10 grams of Cesium, and the other block contains 25 ml of Mercury. To create the blocks I used a non-acrylic substrate that allows me to work at ambient temperatures and atmospheric pressures (1 ATM) unlike the acrylic method, which requires both elevated temperature and pressured, and are ‘baked’ in an autoclave. I am in the process of making much larger blocks about 250 mm x 250 mm x 50 mm, so I can encapsulate Museum size samples.

16th Sep 2019 03:22 BSTGareth Evans

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Shown above is a cylinder (boule) of chip grade silicon (99.9999%). The cylinder is 110 mm high with a diameter of 85 mm. In front of the cylinder are some chip grade silicon wafers. Before splicing the wafer was 100 mm in diameter with a height of 10 mm. I am in the process of locating Germanium in a large boule for a major display of the carbon group elements.

16th Sep 2019 04:22 BSTGareth Evans

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Above is a photo of some random chip grade silicon fragments. I usually give these to aspiring element collectors to get them started on a very fascinating hobby.

 
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