Nobles, Royals, Hot air & Salt: Elemental Exposé

Chemistry is the central science – the manifestation of the laws of physics, and the field from which all life develops. It is the heart of everything we can experience, and how we encode experiences. And so, it is where my heart goes into science.

Last year we spent time working with the rock tumbler and learning about minerals and crystal structures, so it made sense for us to explore the elements that make up those crystals – and everything really – by studying the periodic table.

One of the ideas Amber came up with this was a double elimination tournament (like NCAA March Madness), which soon came to be as Mendeleev’s Madness. I picked a subset of 32 elements, covering a lot of really important ones, and a bunch of random weird ones, too. While some of the pairings were made between similar elements (iodine and chlorine), I also sought to challenge them with vastly different comparisons (hydrogen and gold).

For each match, the kids need to read and learn about each element, and watch some relevant videos, taking notes throughout. Where applicable, we have also done a show-and-tell (tungsten in razor blades, bismuth in Pepto-Bismol, inhaling helium from a balloon, etc).

Some of the matches are being promoted with event posters, fitted with element-appropriate epithets & trash talk.

Mendeleevs_Madness-match4 - Ag_Bi

At the end of the match, they pick a ‘winner’ to progress forward. They may base this decision on anything they wish with two exceptions: the atomic mass & element number. So, favoring an element for being extremely dense, or highly reactive (or inert) would all be valid justifications, but they could not choose a larger element because of its relative mass. They also do not have to pick the same element.

With 31 total matches across 5 rounds of eliminations, they will have to delve deeper and deeper into learning about the elements they choose to push forward, culminating in what should be a great appreciation for the chemistry of a host of elements, and many more hours spent just learning about the wonders of the material world around us.