What is the most common element in the universe? Can you name the noble gases? Everything we see around us is made of chemical elements, but most of us know little about them.
Penned by award-winning science writer John Emsley, Nature's Building Blocks explains the what, why and wherefore of the chemical elements. Arranged alphabetically, from Actinium to Zirconium, it is a complete guide to all 115 of those that are currently known, with more extensive coverage of those elements we encounter in our everyday life. The entry on each element reveals where it came from, what role it may have in the human body, and the foods that contain it. There are also sections on its discovery, its part in human health or illness, the uses and misuses to which it is put, and its environmental role. Readers discover that the Earth consists of around 90 elements, some of which are abundant, such as the silicon and oxygen of rocks and soils, while some are so rare that they make gold seem cheap. Our own bodies contain about 30 elements, some in abundance, some in trace amounts; some vital to our health, and some that are positively harmful. A list of the main scientific data, and outline properties, are given for every element and each section ends with an "Element of Surprise," which highlights some unexpected way in which each element influences our everyday life.
Both a reliable reference source and a high browsable account of the elements, Nature's Building Blocks offers a pleasurable tour of the very essence of our material world.
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John Emsley is Science Writer in Residence at the University of Cambridge. Author of the highly popular "Molecule of the Month" column for The Independent and of the book Molecules in an Exhibit, he has received both a Glaxo Award for science writing and the Chemical Industries Association's President's Award for science communication. He lives in London.
Written by the author of The Elements (3d ed., Oxford, 1999), a data book on chemical elements created for scientists, this work is aimed at a general audience. All of the elements are covered, from actinium to zirconium to an element thought to exist but not yet synthesized (element 119). The alphabetically arranged entries range in length from two (Actinium) to nine pages (Hydrogen). Elements of atomic number 101 and above are discussed in a single entry for the transfermium elements.
Following brief information on the element's name and pronunciation, each entry is arranged into several sections addressing specific uses or roles. For example, "Food Element" treats the importance of the element in the human diet, and "Element of History" deals with the element's discovery. Also covered are medical, economic, environmental, and chemical aspects. There is even an "Element of Surprise," which highlights some interesting facts. Here and in occasional sidebars we learn that Mozart may have been accidentally poisoned by antimony, cobalt was once used to make invisible ink, silver can be used to sterilize water, mercury was once used to treat syphilis, and Napoleon may have been poisoned by arsenic from the wallpaper at his home on St. Helena.
There are many sources of accurate information on the chemical elements. A distinguishing feature of this work is the inclusion of unusual facts that should appeal to the general reader with little science background. It is recommended for special, public, and academic libraries. RBB
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