When we set out with the Mendeleev’s Madness project, our intent was to generate some breadth of knowledge about the elements of the periodic table, and a greater depth of knowledge about some of those elements. Largely that breadth was covered in the first round, where they relied on Theodore Grey’s Elements along with a few other resources to learn about the history of different elements, their unique properties, and some of the ways in which they influence our lives.
In round 2, we delved a little deeper into some of the physical & chemical properties of the elements (propensity for gaining or losing electrons, and their atomic and ionic radii, e.g.) as a way of increasing understanding of why the reactivities of elements depend on both unique and predictable properties.
The focus of round 3 was on compounds containing the elements, whether they occur naturally or are produced synthetically, and what these compounds are for. Represented among the selected compounds had all different applications, origins and classes of compounds.
Bela’s round 3 compounds included bismuth subsalicylate (left), the active ingredient in Pepto-Bismol, and a flat molecule known as 18-crown-6 (center) that can trap positively charged ions and acid. Silver (I) phosphate (right) is a black, insoluble salt, allowing for it to be used to measure the amounts of phosphate present in cells following a reaction with a reagent like silver (I) nitrate.
Claudia’s round 3 compounds included the mineral aluminum tribromide (left) and the environmental toxin methyl mercury (right). She also looked at lithium stearate (a common soap ingredient) and the ionic compound gold (III) tetrachloride.
Sifting through information about different compounds proved to be a larger task than anticipated we took a break in round 4 to consider which of our final four elements would sound best as band names. At this point, our semifinalists were as follows:
Bela: Oxygen v. Phosphorus
Claudia: Chlorine v. Rubidium
For round 5, they consulted a new book they had not used before – The Disappearing Spoon – as well as looking over their notes from all the battles of the final two elements, making the decision based on that reflection. Winners of each match were selected individually, with justifications selected from the information relevant to the round. The final winners of Mendeleev’s Madness 2018:
While both are necessary for life, Bela talked about the multiple configurations of phosphorus (red, white, black, e.g.), all of which have different degrees of stability and reactivity.
Rubidium’s chemical activity as an alkali metal was of great interest across later rounds, but she landed with this bit from Round 1 – that its radioactive decay frequency is used for atomic clocks.
Through completing this competition for the ‘best’ element they clearly gained a greater appreciation for the widespread impact of chemistry in our lives, from the most basic necessities of life & our environment, the complexities of medicine, and technologies both great and terrible.