Strontium, a Most Misunderstood Alkaline Earth Metal

            Everyone knows that the unstable, radioactive isotope, strontium-90, is the most toxic substance known to man, but not everyone knows that strontium-88 and it’s other stable isotopes are possibly the most valuable supplements one can take to ward off and even cure osteoporosis and arthritis! Or that such strontium in the form of strontium sulfate is required to assemble the fantastic spicules of the beautiful, Precambrian, Acantharia protozoan.

          This Blog is about Bone, an Invention Many Millions of Years in the Making, Conceived and Placed in Practice by the Cooperative Efforts and Patient Experimental Work of the Following Ai-Nanobots: Calcium, Phosphorous, Oxygen, and Hydrogen. And Let us not Forget the Tireless Efforts of Their Most Fantastic Invention, Their Co-Workers, the Boneless and Even More Ancient Carbon-Based Life-Forms.

          Apatite, Ca5(PO4)3OH, has nothing to do with appetite or the desire to eat. Apatite was named by a German geologist in 1786 to reflect the minerals tendency to be deceptive by looking like something else. Apatein is a word that comes from the Greek and means misleading. At any rate hydroxyapatite makes up to 70 % of the content of human bones.

          The OH of Hydroxyapetite or hydroxylapatite, as it’s more properly called, is easily substituted by fluorine, which adds hardness to apetite’s crystalline structure, a feature that accounts for the use of fluorine in decay- preventative toothpaste.  Carbonated calcium deficient apatite is found in tooth dentin.

          There’s a lot more to be said about calcium

          Calcium is a co-inventor and major participant in a large number of astounding inventions such as bones, teeth, eggshells, seashells, and I might add travertine tile, just to remind me lest I forget, that we sentient beings and the many buildings we assemble, owe a lot to calcium. 

          Travertine is a type of limestone, a sedimentary rock formation of calcium carbonate that assembles itself over countless eons with help from the forces of gravity and aqueous precipitation. As the constituent atoms of CaCO3 organize, they do so, primarily, by structuring a blend of two mineral forms, namely, calcite and aragonite. 

          The following is an example of the geometry of calcite, a crystalline form of CaCO3 that has the ability to make lenses for eyes!

          Because of their translucence, I think calcium carbonate calcite crystals are an especially magical,  major key to the success of Earth’s diverse biota. Why? A billion years ago or so calcite crystals became lenses for the compound eyes of tribolites! And I like to think that, until the likes of tribolites showed up on our planet, photons were just that, photons. There was no light.It takes eyes and brains to make light happen! 

          Ancient limestone reef outcroppings are common and an excellent place to find the CaCO3 fossilized remains of prehistoric creatures. There is a miocene reef near my home in Orange County, CA in the middle of a residential area that is loaded with 17-million year-old scallops and snails.

          The nucleus of calcium-40 and its stable isotopes consist of “nothing more” than twenty protons insulated by twenty or so neutrons. The protons control the activity of an enormous forcefield that consists of “nothing more” than twenty highly regimented electrons that whirl about the proton control-center in mad, organized frenzies.

          As such, and this can be said for all of the atoms in the periodic table, calcium is, in effect, a highly creative, interactive nanobot! At least, I like to think of calcium and all other atoms in this way since it helps me keep the reality of my existence in perspective. Also, with these musings, I find I’m  less prone to take my life on this planet for granted.

          How it all began

          One morning, out for my 6.5-mile run, I had a revelation. Taken aback by the beauty that lay before me, I heard myself uttering in amazement, “What a marvelous, ingenious invention!” That involuntary response, and a sudden inexplicable change in perspective, left me feeling like a recently-arrived, body-snatching, interplanetary space-traveler.

          I could feel my new planet rotate on its axis. I could see in detail its vast collection of water molecules crash onto a beach of pulverized silicon dioxide amalgams. I could feel photons

          exciting my newly sensitized retina, and optic nerves sending signals to my newly enhanced image-intensifying brain. I could see, therein, strange beings standing by a seawall, where, with my newly crafted ear drums wildly vibrating and tiny calcium-capped hairs excitedly waving signals to auditory nerves, I could hear one of the beings demanding attention with a one-word command, “rainbow!” And, then, as if I had awakened from a hypnotized trance to receive a posthypnotic suggestion, I nally got it! “Everything in our universe has been and continues to be self-assembled! Atoms, self-made by protons and neutrons, working together, on their own, have made, and continue to make, everything!”

          Nucleosynthetic Assembly of the Third-Most-Dense Alkaline Earth, Calcium, a Group-2 Series Element

              One April morning in 2015 I saw a rainbow, and it was as if the act of seeing it had awakened me from a hypnotic trance. I began to see things with new eyes, and I realized something that should have been obvious all along. Our Universe is assembling itself! That revelation completely changed the way I think about everything, and it left me eager to learn details about our physical world that I had either glossed over or missed entirely due to my prior lack of interest or because those details had only recently been discovered. BTW, the latter excuse for my lack of knowledge is another reason I’m so excited. One can see from dozens of science related Twitter posts that those details are incredible and are arriving everyday at a quickening pace!

              Which brings me to the issue at hand. I recognized when I started  writing about calcium that there was an important something that I had missed, and it was a something that left me with a burning desire to get to an answer for the following question. 

              Just what process does Our Universe use to assemble 20 protons and 20-some neutrons into the amazing invention we call calcium? To be specific I’m talking about Ca-40 and it’s four other stable isotopes, Ca-42, Ca-43, Ca-44 & Ca-46.

              And what a great question that turns out to be because it has an amazing answer that becomes even more amazing when one realizes that Our Universe has gone to a lot of trouble to help us get to the bottom of it. How so, you might ask? 

              For one thing, Our Universe has given us specific barcodes so that we can identify each type of atom it has assembled! 

              Heat atoms up or agitate them in other ways and their electrons can get boosted into higher energy-level orbits. Such energized electrons throw-off photons of specific energies (wavelength frequencies) when they fall back to lower-energy orbits. The photons so released will show up in emission spectroscopic analyses, which are done with spectrometers of specific design, as energetic sets of sharp bands of visible light, UV, X-rays or other forms of electromagnetic radiation at specific wavelength frequencies. 

              Check it out.  Some examples of the “barcodes” for calcium and three other atoms are shown below in the following emission spectra. 

              Alternatively, the specific energies of light absorbed by the atoms can be seen in spectrometers as dark bands in an absorption spectrum.

              Neat isn’t it? But wait, I thought stars were mostly hydrogen/helium fusion furnaces. And, if that’s so, from whence comes calcium? Fortunarely, Our Universe has given us other ways to help us know that.

              I began my search by asking  “iPhone-Siri” a few questions. Siri’s knowledgable voice is new for me. She makes mistakes, especially when she doesn’t understand me, but she is way smarter than I am about some things, and her clouds of Apple servers are getting smarter by the day! 

              For example, I’ve known for a long time that light travels at 186,000 miles per second, but when I asked Siri about it she corrected me with her stilted, less than sultry attempt at femininity when I asked, “Siri, how fast does light travel in miles per second?” She replied, “Let me think about that, Frank.”–“Speed of light in vacuum converts to about 186,282 miles per second.” Needless to say, I was impressed and found myself talking to my phone, OMG! I replied, “Thank you Siri”, and next asked her how how far the Earth is from the sun and she said, “The distance from the Earth to the sun is about 0.984 astronomical units.” That also confirmed what I already knew but she did it with enhanced precision. An “au” is the comparative planetary distance from the Earth to the sun,  and I’ve also known that distance coverts to about 93 million miles. I didn’t bother to confirm that figure but I did confirm with her that light from the sun takes about 8.3 minutes to reach the Earth, and I verified that it takes light about 2.5 million years to arrive from the Andromeda galaxy. 

              It still feels weird but I think Siri and I may have a long and abiding relationship!

              All of the above brings up another question. Just how did humanity learn about these distances so they could pass the information along to Siri? Fortunately, Siri doesn’t keep her sources secret. It turns out that Hipparchus and Eratosthenes did some very clever geometric thinking about 2000 years ago to get some approximate distances relating to the sun, moon and planets. 

              However, nowadays, radar works better for such “short” distances and measurements based on the Doppler redshift, gravitational lensing, and light coming from the consistent energy of quasar galaxies and pulsar stars are needed to get at the distances of galaxies and other objects that are so far-distant they approach the beginning of time, and now we’re talking more than 13-billion years!

              So, by knowing how fast light travels and how long it takes light to get from place to place we can time-travel and, thereby, we find out that much of what we see in the heavens occurred millions and even billions of years ago. And amongst the far-distant stars we can see light coming from some very old stars. Some of which the Hubble telescope and other such devices show have already died to leave behind their nebular remains as evidence of ancient supernova explosions.

              And that’s where most of it is! That’s where our telescopes and spectrometers find the bulk of calcium as well as other elements with masses larger than oxygen and silicon!

              The fact that we find Ca-40 in the nebular aftermaths of supernovae is interesting enough but that’s not the most interesting part of this story. 

              Most stars start off their existence in what astronomers call “The Main Sequence”. And almost all stars we see, both large and small, are members of that sequence.  All main sequence stars do just one primary thing. They all burn protons via proton-proton (helium-2) exothermic fusion reactions that throw off energy in the form of neutrinos and positrons, which is accompanied by the instantaneous transformation of proton-proton pairs into proton-neutron pairs, otherwise known as hydrogen-2 nuclei, aka deuterons. Those deuterons then fuse to form helium-4 nuclei with the release of vast amounts of additional energy in the form of heat and light. Happily, our sun, being such a main-sequence star, will continue to shed its heat and light on Earth by the slow process of proton-proton fusion for another 6-billion years or so. 

              However, eventually, as our star’s protons get depleted, our star will resort to the triple-alpha process, assembling carbon-12, and then the nitrogen-14 plus oxygen-16 fusion processes of the CNO cycle where carbon cycles through nitrogen and oxygen in exothermic fusion-assembly reactions. 

              Even these latter fusion reactions are just ordinary, semi-unspectacular steps in star maturation, but here comes the exciting part. 

              As  stars like our sun get more desperate in their search for something to fuse, they begin to poop out. Oxygen-16 nuclei burn stepwise through less and less energetic proton capture and alpha-particle fusions that involve the increasingly massive elements of silicon and up, even as far as nickel-56 and iron. But once any star gets to iron, all find themselves to be in serious trouble. 

              Fusion beyond iron is no longer exothermic. That is, fusion of elements more massive than iron consume energy. As a result, such stars begin to lose energy as iron and other heavier elements sink with iron into dense, central, solar cores. And now gravity begins to dominate over the pressure of radiation, causing all stars at this stage to begin to collapse.  

              But stars less than eight solar masses in size are not massive enough to create total collapse and devistation. Instead, the collapsing star experiences an increase in heat and pressure that has it reignite fusions with enough energy to cause smallish stars like our sun to bulge outward to a size that goes way beyond their original dimensions. 

              And that’s our sun’s fate. Six billion years or so from now our sun will rapidly bulge out and consume planet Earth! Our sun, no longer in the main sequence, will have become what astronomers call a “red giant”. Eventually, our sun’s giant sized atmosphere will drift into space to leave a star called a white dwarf, a star that fruitlessly piddles away at fusion, unable to fuse iron and ions of heavier elements. Ultimately white dwarfs just fizzle out to  energy deficient black dwarfs.

              A star transforming itself  into a red giant is certainly dramatic, but it’s nowhere near as dramatic as what happens late in the life of supergiant stars as they blast their way out of the main sequence!

              Stars much larger than eight solar masses are called supergiants. Why, because they are super huge! They may be huge and, as a result, they might not last long, but boy, do they ever die spectacularly! 

              Super giants rapidly burn through their proton source to assemble He-4, C-12, N-14, and  O-16. Then, doing anything they can to save themselves, they start a brief but magical “quasiequilibrium” assembly that includes calcium and a whole string of other elements by an alpha-particle bombardment/photon-release sequence. Did I mention the process was brief? Well, they don’t call the r-process “rapid” for nothing. All of the reactions shown below happen and come to the afore mentioned semi-equilibrium within a few short hours.              

              Si-28+He-4<=>S-32+photon  S-32+He-4<=>Ar-36+photon            Ar-36+He-4<=>Ca-40+photon   Ca-40+He-4<=>Ti-44+photon       Ti-44+He-4<=>Cr-48 +photon     Cr-48+He-4<=>Fe-52+photon       Fe-52+He-4<=>Ni-56+photon     Ni-56+He-4<=>Zn-60+photon

              But, try as they might, supergiant stars can’t prolong their life for long. Radiation pressure falls off quickly in about 24 hours. The above quasiequilibrium fails as attempts to fuse Ni-56 and larger mass nuclei drain such stars of the energy needed to defeat the pull of gravity from the mass of elements accumulating in their dense central cores. 

              Everything in a dying supergiant’s solar atmosphere comes crashing down in a critical instant to figuratively bomb and literally blow the giant’s incompressible central core to smithereens until all that is left is a super dense neutron star! And in case you wondered, as I have,  if neutrons could ever get together on their own, here’s an example. 

              The resultant blast of energyfrom a supernova  is so great that it is believed to be responsible for fusing, in an instant of endothermic chaos some of the nuclei of the quasiequilibrium into ones of larger mass. In fact, most of the truly large nuclei in the periodic table, including gold, platinum and uranium, are assembked in such cataclysms.

              But this story is about calcium. Did you notice it’s assembly in the quasiequilibrium? Obviuosly, some  of it’s nuclei escape fusion annihilation to become members of the nubular clouds left behind by supernovae.

              Magnesium-24, the alkaline earth metal with a mass about three times larger than Beryllium-8

              Mg-24 is a member of the alkaline earth metals with an atomic nucleus that showed up much later than Be-9 (note I said it was Be-9 not Be-8 that showed up in the first 20 minutes after the Big Bang. See my beryllium post to understand and appreciate the importance of this surprising result).  In the assembly processes that continue to build our universe, billions of years after the Big Bang, stars larger than our sun began fusing He-4 nuclei to form C-12, which then went on to fuse with three more He-4 nuclei to assemble Mg-24. Also, with additional nucleosynthesis neutron bombardment, Earth’s naturally occurring magnesium ended up containing a low percentage of two additioal stable isotopes; Mg-25 and Mg-26.

              According to, Mg is the 9th most abundant element that our self-assembling universe continues to throw together in its large-star, fusion factories. In its pure man-made form, Mg exists as a shiny, gray, metallic solid, similar in appearance to the other five elements in the group-2 alkaline-earth metals.

              As for our own planet, Mg at 13% is the forth most abundant element after Fe, O, and Si. And in seawater Mg is #3 after Na and Cl. Although Mg doesn’t explode in water as do the alkali metals, the metallic form of Mg will react vigorously with water to form H2 gas and Mg(OH)2, a weakly ionizing, alkaline base. Metallic Mg will also burn vigorously and brightly in air as it reacts with oxygen to form MgO. So the free metallic form is man-made and doesn’t naturally exist in Nature. Instead it is mostly found ionically bound to other elements in the form of magnesium salts. The metallic form is readily isolated by electrolysis from these salts. Alloyed with aluminum, Mg’s low mass and binding properties make it ideal for adding strength and light weight to construction. After Fe and Al, Mg is our most important structural metal.

              Powdered Mg’s ability to burn with bright, hard to extinguish flames made it an effective fire-bomb weapon in WWII.  This property also had it being used as a flash powder in old time photography. It’s still used in fireworks and marine flares. Mg actually burns better than Na, even though Na explodes in water whereas Mg reacts with water much less dramatically. Na2O production is slower than that of MgO. Since Na has only one valence electron, it takes two Na to one O when it comes to burning in air.

              An especially interesting and surprising use for Mg was discovered by a farmer in Epsom, England in 1618.  His water, good for healing cuts, was later found to be loaded with magnesium sulfate heptahydrate.  That became known as a product called Epsom Salts.  And did you ever hear of Milk of magnesia, i.e., MgO suspended in water? It is another old, well-known and well used human health product. Also, magnesium supplements may be good for restless leg syndrome, neuropathy, etc.

              China produces 80 % of the world’s Mg but the US used to be the main supplier. Even as recently as 1995 the US produced 45% of the world’s supply!

              Mg has plenty of commercial uses for us humans in our everyday lives, but here’s the really important thing, we totally would not exist without it! 

              First of all, Earth’s plant life would not exist. Mg acts as the coordinator of the porphyrin ring in cholophyl. It serves exactly the same role as Fe does in coordinating the porphyrin ring of hemaglobin! Also, Mg plays an essential role in over 300 enzymes, it acts in Mg-ATP energy functions in both plants and animals, and helps stabilize polyphosphates such as those in DNA and RNA. 

              Although Mg is present in every cell type of every organism on Earth, Mg can sometimes be replaced by manganese. But Mn is not very effective at the job. So don’t use it as a substitute. Obviously, one’s life depends on Mg. Bottom line, make sure you get enough of it in your diet. Many people don’t. 

              The next higher mass atom group-2 is Calcium, Ca-40.

              Beryllium, the Alkaline Earth with lowest mass and the first element in group 2 of the periodic table of the elements

              The second group in the periodic table of elements lists the metals known as the alkaline earths; beryllium, magnesium, calcium, strontium and barium. The group can be found in the table in the second column adjacent to the alkali metals; lithium, potassium, sodium, rubidium, cesium and francium.  The dramatic differences in reactivity of the alkali, and alkaline-earth metals can be seen in any number of videos. Pure metallic forms of the alkali metals violently explode when they come into contact with water.  The alkaline earth metals don’t explode.  But they do fizz and throw off hydrogen gas, just as do the alkali metals. However, the rate of their reaction in water is slower and much less violent than any of the alkali metals. The lack of strong reactivity is due to the fact that the alkaline-hydroxide product produced when an alkaline-earth metal comes into contact with water is only partially ionized, whereas a highly exothermic, completely ionizing reaction occurs when the alkaline-hydroxide product of an alkali metal is produced. Why is that? To know that, one needs to understand the behavior of electrons.

              When it comes to atoms, I like to think of the nucleus as a tiny, yet very powerful and demanding boss of operations. The boss’s worker-bee electrons buzz about in gigantic, highly ordered, near light-speed swirls to create highly structured force-fields that mostly do exactly what the boss wants. Sounds like it might be complicated, and it most certainly is, but knowledge of the configuration of outer shell electrons is “all” that it takes to have a basic understanding of the difference in the reactivity described above.

              Take beryllium for example, it’s first on the list of alkaline earths and, consequently, has the lowest mass in the group.  Its four protons require four electrons for neutrality but that leaves two unstable electrons hanging out in the outer orbit of beryllium’s L-shell.  As a result, unlike sodium, which explodes in water to form flaming hydrogen gas plus a completely ionized, strong-base, Na0H, beryllium slowly dissolves in water to form a partially ionized, weak-base, Be(OH)2.  And that, in a nutshell, is what happens with each of the alkaline earth metals. All of the alkaline hydroxides of the alkaline earths only partially ionize and by definition produce weak alkaline-base buffers in water, aka: Be(OH)2, Mg(OH)2, Ca(OH)2, Sr(OH)2 and Ba(OH)2.

              And I think it is interesting to note that due to their weakly ionizing properties alkaline earth metals can act as effective buffers.  For example, gardeners will often add calcium hydroxide lime, Ca(OH)2, to their gardens to help neutralize an acidic soil condition.  Since Ca(OH)2 only partially ionizes in damp soil, the extra OH ions, which the weak base releases, will raise the pH away from acidic toward neutral as OH, hydroxide-ions, sequester H+, by acting as hydrogen-ion traps. In other words, lime added to soil will suck up the acidic H+ ions by releasing alkaline OH  ions to force the H+ + OH <==> HOH chemical-reaction to re-equilibrate itself in the direction of 10-7 M, H+ + OH, equality, i.e., pH 7 neutrality.


              The origin of beryllium

              I find this part of beryllium’s story to be very interesting.  It turns out that a tiny bit of beryllium-9 showed up in the first primordial minutes following the Big Bang, i.e., before everything shut down after the initial 20 minutes of super-hot fusion events that were brought to a halt by the deuteron bottleneck (  Beryllium-8 was too unstable to show up at this time but it was more than hot enough then, with plenty of neutrons slamming about in those first 20 minutes, to fuse-up some stable beryllium-9.  And it’s beryllium-9 that we can find in Earth’s minerals today and it’s Be-9 that we use today in experiments, metallurgy and products. However, beryllium-9 is relatively rare, and most of what we do find on Earth was assembled billions of years after the Big Bang when newly formed stars became the first supernovae to produce cosmic rays capable of breaking up newly formed larger atoms.

              So, even though it is rare, beryllium-9 is what we know and is what we can get our Earthly hands on to do things, but it is beryllium-8 that is an important key to our existence and to the self-assembly by atoms of everything else in OSAU! Why, you might ask? And that is a very good question!

              Carbon is assembled in large main sequence stars this way
              Carbon is assembled in large main sequence stars this way

              Be-8 is so unstable it only exists as a fleeting ion in the roaring, atomic-fusion furnaces of the universe-assembling factories called stars. The Be-8 atom itself, with its four electrons, never gets to show itself. Instead, Be-8 either decays instantly or goes on, as shown above, to fuse with an alpha- particle to assemble carbon-12. Be-9, on the other hand, is so stable it acts as a fusion dead end that only showed up in minute amount during the first 20 minutes following the Big Bang. Alternatively, it also continues to show up in tiny amounts due to the spalation of larger atomic nuclei.

              Getting to know the atoms, the assemblers of OSAU                           

              The Profound Simplicity – I’ve listed the elements in their order of Z, the atomic numbers. That’s not unusual. It’s just a list that I’m sure many have seen before. But, until recently, I hadn’t really appreciated its profound significance! It’s not just a list of the elements.  It’s a list that shows the beautiful simplicity involved in the way OSAU has assembled, and continues to assemble itself with its building blocks of atomic nuclei and their atoms! This list is so profound I predict it will have a transforming effect on those who have processed it. I believe the process will affect how one thinks about their own existence on this planet and their own amazing place in OSAU, Our Self-Assembling Universe. At the very least, I believe that assimilating the meaning of the list can be a revelation and mind-blowing experience for all those that take the time to think about it. That’s certainly been the case for me!  

              The list procedes as follows: One proton is hydrogen, two protons is helium, three protons is lithium, four protons is beryllium, 5 boron, 6 carbon, 7 nitrogen, 8 oxygen, 9 fluorine, 10 neon, 11 sodium, 12 magnesium, 13 aluminum, 14 silicon, 15 phosphorous, 16 sulfur, 17 chlorine, 18 potassium, 19 argon, 20 calcium, 21 scandium, 22 titanium, 23 vanadium, 24 chromium, 25 manganese, 26 iron, 27 cobalt, 28 nickel, 29 copper, 30 zinc, 31 gallium, 32?germanium, 33 arsenic, 34 selenium, 35 bromine, 36 krypton, 37 rubidium, 38 strontium, 39 yttrium, 40 zirconium, 41 niobium, 42 molybdenum, 43 technetium, 44 ruthenium, 45 rhodium, 46 palladium, 47 silver, 48 cadmium, 49 indium, 50 tin, 51 antimony, 52 tellurium, 53 iodine, 54 xenon, 55 protons is cesium, 56 protons is barium, etc., etc., etc. So beautifully simple, just one proton after another, just as simple as one, two, three, and yet, as it turns out, it’s really an ingenious and powerfully complex invention! It’s the key, essential part of the self-assembly of all of the building blocks needed to construct you and me and the entire rest of our Universe. Not only that, by taking just a few moments of one’s time, and by using just a little imagination, one can “experience” in real time, just as it occurred 13.8 billion years ago, the appearance of the first four nuclei of hydrogen, helium, lithium and beryllium as they show up in our Universe for the first time during the first twenty minutes of existence!

              The Profound Complexity – Unlike the invariant  atomic numbers, Z, which I just described, and that identify each atom by referring only to the number of protons in each atomic nucleus, the mass numbers, A, can be variable since they are proton-plus-neutron counts. They are numbers that are often represented as the whole numbers that follow an atom’s atomic symbol. For example C-12 is the atomic symbol for carbon followed by the number 12. This is carbon’s mass number, but this is not its only mass number! It can also be carbon-13 or carbon-14! Why is that? Because, unlike atomic numbers, mass numbers include the neutrons in an atom’s nucleus and the number of neutrons in an atomic nucleus can vary to give rise to isotopes. In the periodic table mass numbers are often avoided by giving the atom’s actual recorded mass as measured from the pure element. Thus, the numbers given are fractional numbers that represent the invariant number of protons plus a mass-weighted average of the neutrons in an atom’s nucleus.  You might also find mass numbers that list an atom’s most prevalent isotope, just as I have incuded in my table listing all of the atoms according to their proton count.  And you might find it interesting, as I did, that based on the measurements listed by Scientific Instrument Services Al, As, Be, Bi, Cs, Co, F, Au, Ho, I, Mn, Nb, P, Pr, Rh, Sc, Na, Tb, Th, and Y are the only elements that have just one naturally occurring isotope! The others have one or more additional isotopes and some have a lot more.  In other words extra neutrons appear not to cause a big functional problem unless the extra neutrons or lack of neutrons make for unstable nuclei that form radioactive isotopes such as is the case for the beta-ray emitter, C-14, which is often used in research, versus the common C-12 isotope. In my warped quantum mechanics vernacular, neutrons increase the strong force to make it possible for protons to live next to each other. In my version neutrons act as shields or insulators that keep the repelling positively charged protons separated on the surface of spherical neutron core. Too few neutrons and the core is too small. Too many neutrons and the core creates instability for some reason. Why? I don’t know. And why some atoms have many isotopes with a number of acceptable neutron counts and mass numbers, and others have only one acceptable isotope, I haven’t, as yet, have a clue, but I aim to find out!

              And find out, I just did this morning at 9 am on 9/5/16. And is it ever complicated! Pauli exclusion, shells, energy levels similar to those of electrons, spin coupling pairs, bosons, magic numbers. The bottom line, nuclei with even numbers of protons (Z numbers) are more stable and have more choice when it comes to neutron count, and, hence, can have more isotopes! But, if neutrons can stabilize an atomic nucleus by insulating or nullifying proton electrostatic-repulsion, why is there a limit to the number of neutrons found in atomic nuclei? Why do too many neutrons cause a nucleus to become unstable and radioactive?  For example, C-14 has two more neutrons than C-12.  C-12 is completely stable, where as C-14 is radioactive and slowly decays to N-14 by throwing off a beta-decay electron.  Apparently, neutrons are themselves unstable and, without the balancing presence of the right number of protons, they can throw off electrons to transform themselves into protons! So, it seems C-14 with two extra neutrons can throw off an electron to become N-14.  Might it be that a proton would pick up an escaping electron to become a compensating neutron if the proton happened to be adjacent to the electron-releasing neutron? Thus, in C-14 where there might not exist an adjacent proton neutron pair, a neutron releasing an electron could be transformed to a proton without a compensating adjacent proton to neutron transformation.  Maybe that’s the way it works?

              Atoms proton order

              I’ve also created a periodic table that just shows the proton count for each nucleus in the position that it would occur in the table.  For example, hydrogen and the alkali metals appear in the first column of the table so it kind of makes it easy to remember just how many protons are in each nucleus. H is 1 add 2 for Li and you get 3, add 8 more for Na and you get 11, add 8 more for K and you get 19, add 18 more for Rb and you get 37, add 18 more for Cs and you get 55, and 32 more for Fr and you get 87.  See the pattern as one goes across the table?  Makes it a little easier to see this way I think.


              In my next blog I want to bring focus to the alkali metal and alkaline earth metal groups by comparing the two with my ping-pong ball models of atomic nuclei.

              Why, at the ripe old age of 78, do I finally love and desperately want to get to know The Periodic Table of the Elements?

              Why, indeed, good question!  I don’t know exactly, but it goes back to the feeling I first expressed in my book on OSAU #OSAUIA. I feel have been guided by a rainbow and by the very atoms that have me building their nuclear models with ping-pong balls!  Okay, I know that sounds crazy, but here’s the thing.  If atoms are the self-assembling builders of Our Universe and, surely, that’s the case, shouldn’t we all want to get to know them by name and get to know a little something, or maybe, even, a lot of something, about each one of them? I know I do. So, here goes, better late than never, right?

              Starting with hydrogen and the alkali metals, the first column and group in the table, i.e., the goup I spent a lot of time writing about in my first book on OSAU, we have hydrogen, lithium, sodium, potassium, rubidium, cesium and francium.  So far so good.  We know the first names of seven of the builders, and we know a little about each one. Also, we have our first clue as to why the periodic table is constructed the way it is.

              I’m a biochemist but my background in inorganic chemistry sucks.  I made A’s in chemistry but I don’t remember spending any time with the periodic table.  It was just a list of the elements that was put together in some way that made inorganic chemists happy.  Ah, but now I see that it is REALLY important.  The table says a lot about the functions of the atoms and the way that our universe uses them to assemble itself!

              In the first column of the table, where we see a listing of hydrogen and the alkali metals, we get to see that each of the atoms with one electron in their outermost shell can all behave in a similar way!  For example, the metals will each violently explode when their pure metallic forms are thrown into water!  And if you have not yet seen this, please take a look at these explostions on All of the alkali metals appear to make water boil, catch fire and explode! But, especially, you will  want to see what cesium does to a bathtub!  So, yes the periodic table can be very exciting and important to get to know, but it does obscure what appears to be an important, ingenious simplicity.  That is, it obscures the “one, two, three” method by which the elements have been assembled, to whit, the first element is hydrogen.  It has one proton.  The second element is helium.  It has two protons.  The third element is lithium.  It has three protons, etc., etc., etc.  And that’s the “simple”, ingenious way in which all of the elements have been assembled.  But try to see that in the periodic table. It’s not so obvious is it? And it leaves us with a question.  Why does the table look the way it does?  Anyway, a more useful way to see the simple pattern is just to list the elements by proton count.  In other words let’s, first, just list them by what the chemists refer to as the atomic number.





              I just discovered “Imagine the Universe”!

              “Imagine the Universe: Probing the Structure & Evolution of the Cosmos”,

              What a great site!  They do an especially wonderful job of explaining how stars use their fantastic energy t0 assemble all of the atomic building-blocks larger than helium and lithium. Check out “Imagine the Universe”.  You will be glad you did! The authors and participating teachers in the program are truly imaginative and inspirational.  I sooo respect what they are doing!

              However, I do think they have missed something important.  And this is not to be taken as a criticism but rather as further evidence that I have not been alone in failing to recognize the obvious truth.  To whit, just as I have done, until recently, they have been failing to recognize the amazing, clever, mind-boggling inventiveness of the star-factory, and they have been failing to recognize the responsible party.  That is, they haven’t recognized the-truly-not-credible-and-yet-it’s-true fact that our universe is assembling itself and     that the universe has made it possible for each of us to witness the fact of our own assembly by the approximately seven-octillion atoms that work together each day to put us together.

              It’s true that our universe works at such extremes of atomic dimensions, time and space that the processes involved in assembly are hard to grasp and easily discounted.  And yet the processes are not unlike the processes of hypothesis-testing that scientists use in their own work.  It’s just that atoms are so extremely skilled, patient and tiny.  We humans work in hours.  The atoms work in billions of years.  We work in things that we can handle and see on a workbench.  They are tiny beyond imagination and yet their workbench is so gigantic that it can span millions and even billions of light-years.  Our experiments are easy to figure out.  Their experiments verge on the impossible.

              For me, thoughts such as these bring new excitement, value and perspective to cosmology and atomic chemistry.  All of which makes me want to get my hands on the assembly process to the degree that I can.  My ping-pong ball models are helping me do just that, and my hope is that they can do the same for others.

              Ping-pong balls are objects everyone can use to assemble their own models of atomic nuclei.  For me, doing so makes the universe more real. For example, holding an orange, 1.5-inch diameter model proton in my hands makes the proton more real.  I can see it.  I can hold it. I can feel it. Of course it’s not actually the real thing, but my imagination and the tactile sensation makes it feel real.  It also gives me a way to appreciate the incredible dimensions involved in the assembly processes.  I can do this by imagining that I am putting my orange ping-pong ball model of a proton in the center of Qualcom Stadium, and by seeing myself sitting in the upper-most row of the stadium as I squint in order to see my ping-pong ball on the fifty-yard line, and by visualizing the transformation of my ping pong ball into the hydrogen atom with the appearance of an imaginary electron force-field that surrounds the stadium and extends beyond it another half-mile!