Element Collection

Element Collection

Tuesday, December 24, 2013

Oil of Wintergreen

This post is the video companion to this video.

Today's experiment will be making a minty-scented oil for the winter time: methyl salicylate, or oil of wintergreen. This can be made simply from two very common and easy to obtain chemicals, and with a very simple procedure. This is also one of my first forays into organic chemistry!

  • 13.0 g aspirin, C9H8O4 (the actual tablets will weigh more!)
  • 60 mL methanol, CH3OH
  • 8 mL concentrated sulfuric acid, H2SO4
  • Distilled water 
1 mol aspirin + 2 mol methanol --> 1 mol methyl acetate + 1 mol methyl salicylate

Sunday, October 13, 2013

Chevreul's Salt

This post is the Video Companion to this video.

Chevreul's Salt is a little-known copper compound that is quite easy to prepare, and has a few very interesting properties. In this post, I'll go over in detail what I did.

This experiment only requires two materials: copper sulfate and sodium metabisulfite. The former is sold at hardware stores as root killer for plumbing, and the latter is commonly found on eBay (since it is used by gold recovery people).

Wednesday, September 18, 2013

Potassium Chlorate from Bleach

This post serves as the Video Companion to this video.

This experiment was also featured on Hack a Day!

In this simple experiment you can create potassium chlorate, a powerful oxidizer that finds use in amateur rocketry, a convenient source of oxygen, and the famous "screaming gummy bear" demo (among other things), from common household items with a minimum of effort. The tradeoff is that it's a very inefficient process and yields tend to be very low. Electrolysis is a far superior method, and is something I plan on trying out in the future.

Monday, August 12, 2013

'Video Companion' Posts

Recently I read a comment thread elsewhere on the 'net where people were arguing the pros and cons of conveying information by video vs. by text. Some prefer video because you actually get to see what's going on, and some prefer text because they can peruse it at their own pace and it is in an easily searchable format. I think it's at least partially a case of visual learners vs. reading-writing preference learners, but I digress.

While I presonally prefer video format (as you may have guessed from there being much more content on my YouTube page) I can understand the points of both sides, and have decided to write blog posts here that I will call "Video Companions". These posts will include a basic write up of the experiment shown in one of my videos, to include things like procedures, formulas, necessary calculations, and any other observations I didn't point out in the video. I think these posts will help to reach a wider audience, enable people to explore the science more, and hopefully take away more from my experiments. I'll try to do this for all my new videos from here on out, and also add posts for older videos (probably progressing in order of their popularity). You can easily search for these types of posts by clicking the tag in the Categories side bar to the right.

So if you prefer text, rejoice and stay tuned for more! If you prefer video, feel free to stick to YouTube, but I encouorage you to visit here occasionally if you have any questions.

Sunday, February 3, 2013

The Element Display: LED Control Circuitry

This post will describe the electronics I used to drive and control the LEDs for my element display. These were designed by my good friend and very skilled electrical engineer Bill Porter (www.billporter.info) and built by him and myself. To read about the project as a whole, see the introductory post.

I’m not an electrical engineer, but I will try to describe what I can here. Bill has a much deeper knowledge of this sort of thing, and has posted a much more in-depth article about how all this works on his website, which he has dubbed the Elemental Illuminator.

The Element Display: LED Lighting

This post will describe the LED lighting scheme I used to illuminate my element display, including where I sourced the LEDs, how they are attached to the backboard, and the table’s overall color scheme. To read about the project as a whole, see the introductory post.

The Element Display: Acrylic Shelves

This post will go into detail on how I assembled the individual acrylic shelves for my element display, including where I ordered the plastic and the process of attaching 240 shelf pins to the 120 shelves. To read about the project as a whole, see the introductory post.

The Element Display: Backboard Construction

This post will go into detail on how I constructed the backboard for my element display, including cutting it into sections to make it transportable, drilling the required 360 holes, and attaching the sections together in the final configuration. To read about the project as a whole, see the introduction post.

The Element Display: Introduction

For a very long time I have been interested in the hobby of element collecting. That is, collecting actual samples of elements from the Periodic Table. It's amazing to me that it is possible to possess all the building blocks for every piece of matter in the universe! This desire to start an element collection was actually what got me started as a home chemistry hobbyist in the first place. In fact, many of my experiments have the ultimate goal of isolating a pure element to add to my collection. While there are currently 118 elements discovered, it’s generally agreed that only the ones up to Uranium (92) are collectable (but it’s actually possible to get a few more than that, thanks to smoke detectors!). All elements heavier than Uranium, and a few lighter ones too, have no stable isotopes – they are radioactive and will eventually decay into lighter elements. That leaves a total of 95 samples to collect (including Am).

I've steadily grown my collection over the years, and now it's become large enough where I wanted to build a nice display case for it. This project has taken me many months to design and construct, and has evolved through a lot of different concepts and iterations. The idea quickly grew from a simple shelving unit to one that included programmable LED lighting, shelves arranged in the shape of the Periodic Table, and the ability to be broken down easily for transport. This was a massive undertaking, and even the simplest alteration required tons of work to propagate through the entire display. It has been an incredibly rewarding and very fun experience, and has taught me a lot of handy skills like painting, soldering, and carpentry in the process. I spent three months designing it, built three prototype small-scale versions, and spent another 13 or 14 months constructing it off and on during my free time. Below is a video of the finished product and a summary of how I put it all together. Much more detail can be found in the following posts here on my blog.