Cover art for podcast Elemental


98 EpisodesProduced by RNZWebsite

A journey through the periodic table of elements with chemistry professor Allan Blackman, from AUT, and Alison Ballance

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Zirconium - shape-shifting time capsule

December 22nd, 2019


Zirconium is a shape-shifting tough cookie, that is a tale of gemstones, medical implants and nuclear reactors, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 96 of Elemental.

Zinc - more useful than you realise

December 19th, 2019


Zinc is a very useful metal that turns up in everything from sunscreen to paint, & galvanised metals to cereals, as well as brass instruments, …

Yttrium - here's that village Ytterby again

December 15th, 2019


Yttrium is yet another element named after the village of Ytterby and is important in the development of high temperature superconductors, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 94 of Elemental.

Ytterbium - yet another element named after Ytterby

December 12th, 2019


Ytterbium is yet another lanthanoid named after the Swedish village of Ytterby, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 93 of Elemental.

Xenon - a stranger in search of strange particles

December 10th, 2019


Xenon is a noble gas that turns up in various lights, gets used in xenon ion propulsion systems for spacecraft & plays a key role in the search …

Vanadium - Model T Fords, big batteries & sea squirts

December 8th, 2019


Vanadium makes steel stronger & lighter, is being used in what will be the world's largest battery, and sea squirts are full of it, says Prof …

Uranium - first radioactive element to be discovered

December 5th, 2019


Named after the planet Uranus & associated with Hiroshima & nuclear bombs, uranium is the highest-numbered element found naturally in significant quantities on earth, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 90 of …

Tungsten - highest melting point of any metal

December 1st, 2019


Tungsten's very high melting point made it an ideal filament for incandescent light bulbs, & as it is in some enzymes it is the heaviest element …

Titanium - light, strong & quite pretty

November 28th, 2019


Titanium is light, strong, corrosion resistant & is used to repair broken limbs as it is able to get integrated into the bone, says Allan Blackman from AUT speaking from personal experience in ep 88 of Elemental.

Tin - from whistles to organ pipes & anti-fouling paint

November 26th, 2019


The element tin turns up in all sorts of alloys, but tin cans are - mostly - not made from tin, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT, in ep 87 of Elemental.

Thulium - the most laborious of the lanthanoids

November 24th, 2019


Isolating the element thulium was a truly laborious process that took many years, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 86 of Elemental.

Thorium - potential source of cleaner nuclear energy

November 21st, 2019


Named after Thor, the Norse God of Thunder, thorium could provide a cleaner source of nuclear power in the future, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT …

Thallium - the poisoner's poison

November 17th, 2019


Thallium is most famous for some infamous poisoned family cases & its appearance in an Agatha Christie novel solved a medical mystery, says Allan …

Terbium - turns up in old TVs & new Euro notes

November 14th, 2019


A discovery from the chemically prolific Swedish village of Ytterby, terbium produced the green on old TV sets & adds security to Euro notes, …

Tellurium - usually associated with gold

November 10th, 2019


Tellurium is a metalloid often found with gold and the US town Telluride is named after it, says Prof Allan Blackman, in ep 82 of Elemental.

Technetium - the first synthetic element

November 7th, 2019


Technetium was the first element on the periodic table to be synthesised. It is rare, radioactive and has only a few uses, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 81 of Elemental.

Tantalum - a tantalising chemical element

November 3rd, 2019


The metal tantalum is usually found with the element niobium, has a very high melting point but is a 'conflict mineral', says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 80 of Elemental.

Sulfur - king of bad smells

October 31st, 2019


Sulfur is responsible for some very bad smells, is the number one industrial chemical and is also an essential element, says Prof Allan Blackman in …

Strontium - from sensitive teeth toothpaste to nuclear fission

October 27th, 2019


Named after a Scottish town, strontium can be highly radioactive & glow-in-the-dark, but also used in toothpaste, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT, in ep 78 of Elemental.

Sodium - a salt of the earth spectator

October 24th, 2019


Sodium is vital for life & usually found in combinaton with other more interesting elements, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 77 of Elemental.

Silver - a popular noble metal

October 22nd, 2019


Silver is widely used in jewellery, has interesting light sensitive abilities and has antimicrobial properties, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 76 of Elemental.

Silicon - a ubiquitous part of modern life

October 20th, 2019


Silicon is a blockbuster metalloid with many uses, from glass to computer chips & bathroom sealants, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 75 of Elemental.

Selenium - good reason to eat seafood & Brazil nuts

October 17th, 2019


New Zealand soils lack the vital element selenium, which also used to be important in photocopiers and bathroom plumbing, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 74 of Elemental.

Scandium - the scandal of the scandium cricket bat

October 15th, 2019


Predicted by Mendeleev & useful for alloying with aluminium, scandium was involved in a famous cricket scandal, says AUT's Allan Blackman in ep …

Samarium - magnets for making & listening to music

October 13th, 2019


Samarium magnets are used in headphones & guitar pickups, and samarium was the first element named after a real person, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 72 of Elemental.

Ruthenium - a 'sort of' precious metal

October 10th, 2019


Ruthenium is a 'sort of' precious metal that is a useful catalyst and alloy. It is toxic and smells like ozone, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 71 …

Rubidium - expensive and not very useful

October 6th, 2019


Rubidium is a reactive metal with few uses, named 'deepest red' due to its beautiful red spectral lines, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 70 of …

Rhodium - used in cars, drugs ... and aftershave

October 3rd, 2019


Rhodium is an expensive precious metal that is used in catalytic convertors, to make the Parkinson's drug L-DOPA, create shiny jewellery and add the …

Rhenium - has a number of claims to chemical fame

October 1st, 2019


Named after the Rhine river, rhenium is a metal with very high boiling and melting points, and it was the last naturally occuring, non-radioactive element to be discovered, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 68 of Elemental.

Radon - radioactive basement risk

September 29th, 2019


The radioactive gas radon can be a risk in the basements of stone houses and used to, erroneously, be touted for its health benefits, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 67 of Elemental.

Radium - famous but not very useful

September 26th, 2019


Radium was famously found by the Curies, and was once widely used in face creams, drinks and luminous watch dials, despite being highly radioactive, says Allan Blackman in ep 66 of Elemental.

Protactinium - a very dull chemical element

September 22nd, 2019


Protactinium is a rare, radioactive element that has no uses and may be the most boring element, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 65 of Elemental.

Promethium - rare and unremarkable

September 19th, 2019


Despite its gruesome mythical name, the radioactive element promethium has no particular claim to fame, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 64 of …

Praseodymium - a long name but not many uses

September 15th, 2019


Praseodymium is a metal wirh the second longest name on the periodic table and not many uses, says Prof Alan Blackman from AUT in ep 63 of Elemental.

Potassium - a matter of life and death

September 12th, 2019


From levitating burnt buttocks, to excitable nerves and sure-to-rise baking, potassium is highly reactive and vital to life, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 62 of Elemental.

Polonium - few redeeming features

September 8th, 2019


Polonium will be forever linked with the names Curie and Litvinenko and has negligible desirable features, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 61 of …

Plutonium - nuclear bombs & nuclear power

September 5th, 2019


A radioactive heavyweight associated with nuclear bombs & power, which is powering the Voyager spacecraft, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 60 of Elemental.

Platinum - another pricey precious metal

September 1st, 2019


Platinum is useful in catalytic convertors, is used to treat testicular cancer and will be useful in hydrogen fuel cells, says Prof Allan Blackman …

Phosphorus - P was discovered in pee

August 29th, 2019


Phosphorus, chemical symbol P, was first isolated as an element from thousands of litres of urine. Also found in guano, aka bird poo. Allan Blackman …

Palladium - cleaning up your car's exhaust

August 25th, 2019


Palladium is a pricey precious metal most commonly used in catalytic convertors on car exhausts, says AUT's Allan Blackman in ep 57 of Elemental.

Oxygen - the friendly element

August 22nd, 2019


Oxygen is very friendly with other chemical elements & very helpful for life on Earth, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 56 of Elemental.

Osmium - heavyweight champion of the elements

August 18th, 2019


Osmium is extremely rare and expensive. It is the densest chemical element, rivals diamond as being the least compressible of all known substances & has a distinctive 'pong' according to Allan Blackman in ep 55 of …

Nitrogen - a vital powerhouse

August 15th, 2019


Most important biological molecules contain nitrogen, even though it takes lots of energy to make or break its chemical bonds, says Allan Blackman …

Niobium - useful at high & low temperatures

August 11th, 2019


Niobium is a metal that is useful at both very high temperatures, as in jet engines, and very low temperatures as a superconductor, says Allan …

Nickel - more than just a 5 cent coin

August 8th, 2019


The chemical element nickel is named after a German word for Satan or the Devil, but nickel is now more usually thought of as a North American five cent piece, says Allan Blackman in ep 52 of Elemental.

Neon - the red of neon lights

August 4th, 2019


There are no known compounds of the noble gas neon, which does however produce the brilliant crimson of red - and only red - neon lights. Ep 51 of Elemental with Prof Allan Blackman from AUT.

Neodymium - the secret behind supermagnets

August 1st, 2019


Neodydmium magnets include the strongest permanent magnets known and are found in devices like speakers & headphones, says chemistry professor Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 50 of Elemental.

The most boring chemical element

July 31st, 2019


The Elemental podcast has inspired Prof Allan Blackman from AUT and Dr Rebecca Jelley from the University of Auckland, to publish a paper in the journal Nature Chemistry - here's a quick lowdown on 'The most boring …

Molybdenum - a catalyst at bacterial to industrial scales

July 28th, 2019


Molybdenum has an essential role as a catalyst at microbial and industrial scales and is an important element in enzymes, says Prof Allan Blackman, …

Mercury - mesmerising quicksilver

July 25th, 2019


Mercury is the only metal that is liquid at room temperature and atmospheric pressure, says Allan Blackman in ep 48 of Elemental.

Manganese - the 'essential' essential element

July 23rd, 2019


The metal manganese is a vital part of photosynthesis and is found in aluminium drink cans, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 47 of Elemental.

Magnesium - loved by everyone and everything

July 21st, 2019


Magnesium is loved by plants, folk suffering constipation and boy-racers, as Allan Blackman reveals in ep 46 of Elemental.

Lutetium - an obscure Parisian

July 18th, 2019


After a fierce struggle for naming rights, the last lanthanoid element to be discovered was eventually named after Paris, says Allan Blackman in ep 45 of Elemental.

Lithium - a mood enhancing element

July 14th, 2019


Lithium is the lightest metal, and it is used in batteries and for the treatment of bipolar disorder, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 44 of …

Lead - sweet-tasting but deadly

July 11th, 2019


Lead is the element that took down an empire, and its sweet taste belies a metal that is dangerous for human & animal health. All this and more with Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 43 of Elemental.

Lanthanum - curious case of a 'lost' element

July 7th, 2019


Despite giving its name to a whole group on the periodic table, chemists can't agree if lanthanum even belongs in that group, says Prof Allan …

Krypton - its name means 'hidden' but it's a real thing

July 4th, 2019


In real life krypton is a noble gas which is commonly used in neon signs and laser light shows, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 41 of Elemental.

Iron - creator of the modern world

June 30th, 2019


Iron is formed in stars, makes up most of the Earth's core & as a result enables life as we know it to exist, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT, …

Iridium and the end of the dinosaurs

June 27th, 2019


Iridium is the second-densest element on the periodic table and the most erosion-resistant metal. A layer of iridium in rocks marks the demise of the dinosaurs, according to Allan Blackman from AUT, in ep 39 of …

Iodine - a vital trace element

June 23rd, 2019


A lack of iodine causes goitre, and seafood and iodised salt are good sources of this important trace element, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT, in ep 38 of Elemental.

Indium - Queen of the touchscreen

June 20th, 2019


Indium is a very soft metal, and as indium-tin-oxide it is an indispensable part of the swipeability of touchscreens, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 37 of Elemental.

Hydrogen - 'number 1 in the Universe'

June 16th, 2019


Hydrogen is the first element on the periodic table. It is the oldest, lightest and most abundant element in the universe, but on earth it is usually …

Holmium - obscure, but an important surgical laser

June 13th, 2019


Holmium has interesting magnetic properties and is an important part of precise surgical lasers known as the 'Swiss Army knife' of lasers, according …

Helium - rare on earth but universally abundant

June 9th, 2019


Helium is the second most abundant element in the universe and possibly the most unreactive element on the periodic table, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT, in ep 34 of Elemental.

Hafnium - helped land the first astronauts on the moon

June 6th, 2019


Hafnium is named after Copenhagen and as it has a very high melting point it was used in the thruster nozzles of the Apollo Lunar modules, according …

Gold - a most desirable noble metal

June 2nd, 2019


Gold is highly valued for its colour as well as for being malleable and ductile, and as a noble metal it is unreactive and doesn't rust, says Allan …

Germanium - important in the first transistors

May 30th, 2019


Germanium is a metalloid that was a key element in early transistors and is now used in optical fibres and infrared night vision scopes, says Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 31 of Elemental.

Gallium - mysterious case of the disappearing spoon

May 28th, 2019


Gallium is the second element named after France, is a key element in mobile phones & Blu-ray players & melts at body temperature, says Prof Allan Blackman in ep 30 of Elemental.

Gadolinium - plays a key role in MRI scans

May 26th, 2019


Gadolinium has interesting magnetic properties and is used as a contrast agent in MRI scans, according to AUT's Prof Allan Blackman in ep 29 of …

Francium - final naturally-occurring element to be discovered

May 23rd, 2019


Francium was the last naturally-occurring element to be discovered and has never been seen, says Prof Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 28 Elemental.

Fluorine - the non-stick element

May 19th, 2019


Fluorine is a highly toxic green gas that is the main ingredient in non-stick teflon coatings. In ep 27 of Elemental, Prof Allan Blackman from AUT, says that fluorine has very different properties from fluoride.

Europium - putting the security in the Euro

May 16th, 2019


Europium is named after Europe and is responsible for a forgery-busting aspect of the Euro banknote, reports Prof Allan Blackman in ep 26 of Elemental.

Erbium - through rose-tinted glasses

May 12th, 2019


Erbium is named after a chemically famous Swedish village, and adds a rose-tinted glow to the periodic table, in ep 25 of Elemental with Allan Blackman from AUT.

Dysprosium - hard to get

May 9th, 2019


Dysprosium earned its name by being very hard to separate from other elements and has become very important in electric car motors. Join Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 24 of Elemental.

Curium & meitnerium - in honour of two pioneering women

May 7th, 2019


There are only two chemical elements on the periodic table named after women: curium, in honour of Marie & Pierre Curie, & meitnerium after Lise Meitner. Allan Blackman from AUT introduces the women and their …

Copper - essential, in moderation

May 5th, 2019


Copper is a soft metal that is an essential element for enzymes and life, gives octopuses their blue blood and was often used to make coins. Allan Blackman from AUT has the lowdown on copper in ep 22 of Elemental.

Cobalt - goblin of the periodic table

May 2nd, 2019


Famous as the colour of blue glass and important in red blood cells, cobalt can form a permanent magnet and is vital for livestock. Allan Blackman …

Chromium - colourful and shiny

April 28th, 2019


Chromium is a transition metal that gives colour to precious jewels, the shine to your car fender and your kitchen bench, but can also be a killer. …

Chlorine - good for health, bad for health

April 25th, 2019


Chlorine is the culprit in the 'case of the exploding trousers'. It is also well-known as a disinfectant and chloride ions are essential for life, …

Cerium - combustible and confusing

April 21st, 2019


Cerium is the most abundant rare-earth element and pops up in self-cleaning ovens, cigarette lighter flints and spectacle glass. Find out more with Allan Blackman from AUT in ep 18 of Elemental.

Carbon - life & times of the 'king of elements'

April 18th, 2019


Carbon underpins life as we know it, fuels our world and gets its own branch of chemistry, according to AUT professor Allan Blackman, in ep 17 of Elemental.

Calcium - strength and beauty

April 14th, 2019


Calcium creates objects that are strong and beautiful, from caves, to teeth and bones, and coral reefs. Find out more in ep 16 of Elemental, with …

Caesium - the time-keeper

April 11th, 2019


A second, the basic unit of time, is defined by caesium, which is also useful for dating things. Find out more about caesium's role as a timekeeper, …

Cadmium - colour and quantum dots

April 7th, 2019


Cadmium has featured in red traffic lights, rechargeable batteries and now has a role in quantum dots, according to Allan Blackman, from AUT, in ep …

Bromine - the colour purple and poison gas

April 4th, 2019


The story of bromine is one of the color purple, the Dead Sea and an early poison gas used in the First World War, says Allan Blackman from AUT, in …

Boron - made by cosmic rays, useful in the kitchen

March 31st, 2019


Made by cosmic rays and supernovae, used in ovenproof cookware, and a key ingredient in the strongest acid ever made. Allan Blackman from AUT explores boron in ep 12 of Elemental.

Bismuth - an unusual heavy metal

March 28th, 2019


Bismuth is a heavy metal that expands when frozen, and can be used to levitate trains and soothe upset guts, as Allan Blackman from AUT explains in episode 11 of Elemental.

Beryllium - sweet and precious, but deadly

March 24th, 2019


You'll find beryllium in precious jewels and a space telescope mirror, but just don't inhale the dust - all in episode 10 of Elemental, with AUT's Professor Allan Blackman.

Berkelium and the synthetic heavyweights

March 21st, 2019


The heaviest elements on the periodic table have only ever existed fleetingly in the lab, so Allan Blackman from AUT has grouped them all together in episode 9 of Elemental.

Barium - never found on its own

March 17th, 2019


Barium is never found on its own in nature, as it loves buddying up - but a version of it is found in hospitals. Allan Blackman from AUT reveals barium's secrets in episode 8 of Elemental.

Astatine - awfully rare

March 14th, 2019


No one has ever seen astatine, which shares the distinction of being one of the rarest naturally-occurring elements on earth. Find out more with Allan Blackman from AUT in episode 7 of Elemental.

Arsenic - the well-known poison

March 10th, 2019


Arsenic is a well-known killer that was once dubbed 'succession powder'. Join Allan Blackman from AUT in episode 6 of Elemental, a journey through the periodic table.

Argon - every breath you take

March 7th, 2019


Argon is in every breath you take and its inertness is its best feature, as we discover with AUT chemistry professor Allan Blackman, in episode 5 of Elemental.

Antimony - takes lives, saves lives

March 3rd, 2019


Antimony can be used to take lives - and to save lives. Check out episode 4 of Elemental with Professor Allan Blackman from AUT.

Americium - a radioactive, domestic do-gooder

February 27th, 2019


Invented during war, radioactive americium has become a bit of a do-gooder that is in most homes. Find out more with AUT's Allan Blackman in episode 3 of Elemental.

Aluminium - light & versatile

February 24th, 2019


Aluminium is a light, well-known metal with lots of useful properties. Join AUT chemistry professor Allan Blackman for episode 2 of Elemental.

Actinium - rare & radioactive

February 21st, 2019


The first alphabetical element in the periodic table is actinium. It is a heavy radioactive element, as we discover in episode 1 of Elemental, with Professor Allan Blackman from AUT.

Tales from the periodic table

February 19th, 2019


In the prequel to Elemental, AUT's Allan Blackman introduces us to Dmitri Mendeleev and chemistry's periodic table of elements.

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