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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.
It turns out that nature has concealed thousands of pounds of the stuff under billions of cubic feet of earth.
The crack could have been caused by the way the atoms were arranged within the metal. If the metal is allowed to cool, flaws could develop, ruining the bell.
Too much tin, and the copper atoms can't move at all. When the bronze has reached the proper temperature, 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, it's time to pour. Even though the foundry has the technology to precisely control the temperature, and Ralph and his team have decades of experience, bronze remains unpredictable. The bells have to cool for 24 hours, so it's the next day before we can find out if they'll be making music or ending up as scrap. A gleaming chrome, silver magnificent church bell ready for hanging? And now, for the moment of truth: will this bell be good enough to sing? Time to celebrate the millennia-old tradition of bronze.
About three quarters of the elements are metals, and gold is one of the most standoffish. In copper, they can slide past each other easily, which makes it relatively soft and easy to dent, not right for a bell. Ralph places the form into a circular steel sleeve, then fills the space around it with a mixture of sand and epoxy, to withstand the searing heat of the hot metal. Adding tin to copper during melting changes the properties of the metal.
How an atom reacts chemically depends on how willing it is to share electrons with others, and gold is not very social. So do other so-called "noble" metals: silver, platinum, palladium, osmium and iridium, all located in the same quiet neighborhood of the periodic table. The golden mud goes into a 2,000-degree induction furnace, along with a white powder called flux, chemicals that prevent the molten gold from reacting with or sticking to anything. When this company started, they used a mixture of horsehair, manure and just about anything else that would hold a shape without burning, but the goal was the same: to create a hollow shape that follows the inner and outer perimeter of the bell. The larger tin atoms restrict the movement of the copper atoms, making the material harder.