Ulster Museum. Belfast

Explore The Elements

The Ulster Museum offers an amazing exhibition, with full 3D models of elements in the periodic table, to help you learn. From visiting the Ulster Museum I gained inspiration for my Elements project as it opened my mind further to how elements are used in modern health, day to day. By doing these work shops with KS3 and KS4 students, it has been a way to show kids and adults that science can be made fun and interactive and found all around the world.

The Elements exploration begins with a stunning 3D display of the Periodic Table, beloved by scientists and chemists alike. 

90 elements occur naturally on Earth, with almost 30 more created in nuclear reactors and laboratories, yet you will be surprised how rare most of them are. Just six familiar elements – carbon, hydrogen, oxygen, nitrogen, calcium and phosphorus – make up 99% of the atoms in our bodies and only three elements – oxygen, silicon and aluminium – make up more than 85% of the Earth’s crust!

So what use are all of those other obscure elements? It turns out that even the rarest of them are far more useful than might think. Our modern lifestyle relies on many elements that most people have never heard of. Gallium and terbium are used in electric lights. Tantalum – the rarest non-radioactive element in the Universe – is essential for creating slim mobile phones. Without indium there simply would be no touch screens. And computer hard drives contain a whole smorgasbord of elements, from the familiar copper to the downright exotic hafnium.

What may surprise visitors is how many of these items on display link directly to our everyday lives – and how many of the different elements, sometimes strange and unfamiliar, we rely on. There also are examples of familiar elements that have been put to bizarre uses, such as lead, mercury and arsenic used in cosmetics or medicines, and exotic elements like titanium, niobium and zirconium turned into beautiful jewellery. Still other objects are just plain weird. A spark plug tipped with deadly radioactive polonium, and a toy science kit containing radioactive elements and a geiger counter.


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