It's here we find elements at their most elemental, because every nucleus contains protons, and it's the number of protons that determines what kind of element the atom is. Every high school student has seen the elements chart, but author Theo Gray's version is unique: handmade, with each element's identity card meticulously carved into the wood.
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I wonder, though, if there's a more scientific way to evaluate the metal. First, a polishing wheel gives the bronze a mirror-like finish. We'll have to zoom in a hundred million times to see an atom.
To find out, I'm taking a piece of it to David Muller, at Cornell University. Then the sample is inserted into a powerful electron microscope. To understand the scale, imagine if I were floating in space, 2,000 miles above the earth, looking down at the United States. Now what we're actually starting to see is the microstructure of the grains in that bronze. They are meant to absorb and reflect sound, because the microscope itself is so sensitive that if you were to talk, just the pressure wave from your voice is going to, is going to give enough mechanical vibration to shake this thing around.
The crack could have been caused by the way the atoms were arranged within the metal. If the metal is allowed to cool, flaws could develop, ruining the bell.
Too much tin, and the copper atoms can't move at all. When the bronze has reached the proper temperature, 2,200 degrees Fahrenheit, it's time to pour. Even though the foundry has the technology to precisely control the temperature, and Ralph and his team have decades of experience, bronze remains unpredictable. The bells have to cool for 24 hours, so it's the next day before we can find out if they'll be making music or ending up as scrap. A gleaming chrome, silver magnificent church bell ready for hanging? And now, for the moment of truth: will this bell be good enough to sing? Time to celebrate the millennia-old tradition of bronze.
Using cyanide to react with the gold allows them to gradually reduce 40,000-gallon tanks of pulverized sludge to this: three trays full of mud? This is the first time an outsider has been allowed to pour gold. I'm not sure they entirely know what they are doing, but they are going to let me pour the gold into a gold bar mold. They'll have to throw it away or just let me take it home in my luggage. Once he removes the aluminum and joins the two halves, a bell-shaped space remains on the inside, ready to accept the molten bronze. That's a, that's a mixture, actually, of 80 percent copper and 20 percent tin. A blow causes the atoms to vibrate, but the tin prevents them from moving too far out of position.
Tin is good for a bell, but only in the right proportion.
Every day she receives hundreds of samples of earth taken from the mine. …then pulverized to the consistency of baby powder. But two rows above gold is another metal of antiquity that looms large in our lives: copper; symbol Cu; atomic number 29—29 protons, 29 electrons. Bronze helped to spur global trade, and, once forged into tools and weapons, it played a defining role in the empires of antiquity. I'm here because they're about to cast several bells.
This rock face is about a quarter mile below the surface, and, according to John Taule, it's loaded with gold, somewhere. That's where Gayle Fitzwater and the assay team come in. I think I've seen one of these machines at Starbucks. It is, perhaps, the most emotional of the elements. Tin added in small amounts to copper makes bronze, the first manmade metal alloy. This is The Verdin Company, a 170-year-old family-run business in Cincinnati, Ohio.
If David's microscope is powerful enough, we should see regular rows of copper atoms with tin atoms packed in between. Well, thanks for my tour into the, to the unseen and to what used to be the pure, purely theoretical.