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The World's Most Dangerous Elements

The World's Most Dangerous Elements

By Valerie Burn

As if the periodic table wasn't complicated enough, now we have to update it. Scientists confirmed last week that there's a new element: one with 115 protons at the center. The new as-yet-unnamed element is classified as a "super-heavy" element, since the number of protons directly relates to its weight. For reference, our good friend lead (Pb) has 82 protons at its center.

For now, scientists are calling it Ununpentium, which sounds science-fictiony and like a great band name, but it comes from the Latin and Greek words for one-one-five.

So, we have new "super-heavy" element. Basically all of these super-heavy elements have been created in labs and do not occur naturally (uranium is the heaviest "naturally-occuring" element, at 92 protons), so they're almost all a result of some nuclear reaction.

That sounded dangerous to us and got us thinking. What are some of the world's most dangerous elements?

Plutonium (Pu): A quick web search will tell you that, like, everyone thinks plutonium is super dangerous. Basically, our buddy Pu is used to make atomic bombs and generate nuclear power. Further, it's extremely toxic due to its radioactivity.

Other big-bad-super-radioactive elements include all that stuff at the bottom of the periodic table: neptunium, uranium, curium, and americium.

Mercury (Hg): Mercury's another one of those "I'm pretty sure that's bad" elements. Mercury is extremely toxic to humans and is easily absorbed through unbroken skin. Personally, it gives us the heebie-jeebies. Through the skin? That's some serious stuff, yo.

Arsenic (As): Like Mercury, arsenic is very poisonous to humans. In ye olde Shakespearean times, arsenic was everyone's #1 top choice for poisoning their enemies and husbands. Now, however, it's very easy to detect so villains and jealous kings are less likely to use it. Still, people die all the time from arsenic poisoning, so you should try to avoid it.

Rubidium (Rb): Rubidium ignites spontaneously with air. And don't try to put out that fire with water: it reacts dangerously with H2O. According to Wikipedia, "To ensure safety and purity, this metal is usually kept under a dry mineral oil or sealed in glass ampoules in an inert atmosphere." No thanks.

Francium (Fr): Fr, like a lot of those heavy elements, is highly radioactive and extremely unstable. There's basically no video or storage of it, because it becomes something else (usually radon, astatine, or radium, none of which are harmless) after about 20 minutes. Because of this, Fr is really hard to study and unpredictable and we don't know what it will do next. Fr is a total wildcard. However, since it's so rare and unstable, you probably won't run into it any time soon.

Iron (Fe): Wait, what? Isn't iron supposed to be good for us? Well, it's OK for us humans but it's a death sentence for stars. Iron fusion absorbs energy instead of radiating it, basically sucking the life out of stars. Now we're depressed. Science made us sad.

There are lots more dangerous elements, of course. Don't even get us started on cesium.

What element do you find the weirdest or most dangerous?

Tags: science, chemistry, elements, ununpentium, plutonium, uranium, nuclear physics

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About the Author
Valerie Burn

Valerie Burn is a very cool Midwestern lady. She has lived in tons of exciting places, such as Wisconsin, Illinois, Minnesota, and Michigan. She spends her free time snuggling her beautiful, perfect dog Teddy, and reading the entire internet every day. Valerie enjoys eating things, buying things, and writing things, as well as watching terrible TV.

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