Keith Veronese – Rare: The High-Stakes Race to Satisfy Our Need for the Scarcest Metals on Earth (2)



– Highlight Loc. 182-85: As copper communication wires are replaced with fiber-optic cable, erbium is used to coat fiber-optic cable to increase the efficiency and speed of information transfer, and the permanently magnetic properties of neodymium lead to its extensive use in headphones, speakers, microphones, hard drives, and electric car batteries.
– Highlight Loc. 197-98: All our heavy metal elements, to which many of the rare metals belong, were born out of supernovas occurring over the past several billion years.
– Highlight Loc. 200-203: Afghanistan and regions near the Chinese border are wellsprings for technologically viable rare metals due to the disproportionate spread of these high-demand metals in the planet’s crust. In an interesting move, the United States tasked geologists with estimating available resources of rare metals during recent military actions in Afghanistan.
– Highlight Loc. 209-10: Discovery of extensive deposits of a not-so-rare metal, tin, was enough to send a part of Africa into a bloody war at the turn of the millennium.
– Highlight Loc. 213-14: During his rule of fourteenth-century BCE Egypt, King Tushratta declared gold to be „more plentiful than dirt” due to its abundance in Northern Africa.
– Highlight Loc. 224-25: An ounce of gold in the days of ancient Rome was worth twelve ounces of silver, with this divide becoming a chasm in the intervening fifteen hundred years as an ounce of gold is now worth roughly sixty ounces of silver today.
– Highlight Loc. 244-48: The fifteen rare earth elements separated and placed below the periodic table are known in historic chemistry circles as the lanthanides. This awkward name is taken from their first member, lanthanum, with each of the remaining fourteen rare earth metals in the row having one more proton than the previous, exhibiting basic properties similar to lanthanum. Overlapping properties in consecutive elements as you look from left to right on the periodic table is an anomaly—elements typically exhibit radical changes with the addition of a proton.
– Highlight Loc. 251-53: The rare earth elements suffer from an unfortunate happenstance—the adjective that takes the spotlight in their name. „Rare” suggests that the metals are nigh impossible to find in any form, but this is not really the case.
– Highlight Loc. 259-61: The elements are spread so well that they appear in very small, trace quantities „a gram here, a milligram thereâ” in deposits and are rarely, if ever, found in a pure form. Extracting and accumulating useful, high-purity quantities of these seventeen metals is what lends them the “rare earth†name, as their scattered nature spreads them throughout the planet, but in tiny, tiny amounts.
– Highlight Loc. 368-73: The seventeen rare earth elements are often separated further from the periodic table, with the seventeen split into two groups: the light rare earths and the heavy rare earths. As can probably be guessed from the name, mass of the element plays a role in this separation. The light rare earth elements (LREEs) are lanthanum, cerium, praseodymium, neodymium, and samarium, while europium, gadolinium, terbium, dysprosium, holmium, erbium, thulium, ytterbium, lutetium, and yttrium make up the heavy rare earth elements (HREEs). As a general rule, an HREE is harder to find in substantial usable quantities than an LREE, making the heavy rare earth elements more valuable.   
– Highlight Loc. 465-67: The rare earth metals dysprosium, neodymium, terbium, and lanthanum are the four-pronged linchpin of efforts to create an environmentally friendly transportation sector, with each metal needed in massive quantities if the electric car revolution succeeds in removing combustible engines from our roads and highways.
– Highlight Loc. 486-89: The first of the seventeen rare earth metals discovered was yttrium, a discovery that began with the teamwork of a scientific “odd couple.†Johan Gadolin, a thirty-one-year-old native of Finland who abandoned a career in mathematics to become a chemist, examined the composition of a black rock he received from Carl Axel Arrhenius, a lieutenant in the Swedish Army.
– Highlight Loc. 495-97: Gadolin is believed to be the first professor to create hands-on laboratory exercises for his pupils, the forerunner of the modern university laboratory courses that provide valuable instructional time for undergraduates and give graduate students an opportunity to sharpen their teaching skills.
– Highlight Loc. 509-10: To honor Gadolin’s work, the rare earth metal gadolinium was named for him; it is used to create the memory-storage components of hard drives.
– Highlight Loc. 516-21: Scientists emanating from Sweden and Finland during the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries made a disproportionate number of findings when compared to the rest of Europe and the world, in part because of the early movement to organize scientists in the region through the 1739 founding of the Royal Swedish Academy of Sciences, a group that leads the selection for the Nobel Prize in physics and chemistry to this day. The two countries, both allied under the Swedish flag at this time in history, also benefited from a comparatively strife-free nineteenth century while England, France, and Spain were continuously embroiled in war at home and abroad.
– Highlight Loc. 535-37: Like Gadolin before him, Mosander’s oversight is no indication of his ability as a chemist. He discovered three elements—the rare earth metals lanthanum (eventually teased from the aforementioned lantana), erbium, and terbium—cementing him as one of the preeminent but sadly overlooked scientists of the modern era.
– Highlight Loc. 573-76: During the 1950s and 1960s, the United States and the USSR dedicated resources to discovering new elements, particularly metals. US scientists at Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory and Soviet researchers at the Flerov Laboratory of Nuclear Reactions along with enormous amounts of money were dedicated to these projects in the hope of finding a substance similar to uranium that could be manipulated to build weapons of mass destruction.
– Highlight Loc. 609-13: The cyclotron is responsible for the most important elemental discoveries of the twentieth century: the 1940 discovery that plutonium and neptunium are created when neutron-heavy forms of hydrogen traveling at near-relativistic speeds impact a uranium target. The United States kept the creation of plutonium a thinly veiled secret and in the five years after its discovery built and funded the Manhattan Project in order to scale up production of plutonium and create the atomic bombs that would fall on Hiroshima and Nagasaki in the summer of 1945.
– Highlight Loc. 633-36: Glenn Seaborg, who would later have an element named in his honor, brought plutonium into the modern purview through a series of experiments carried out by his research team at the University of California–Berkeley at the dawn of World War II. He reported his successful experiments, in which he bombarded a sample of uranium-238 with atoms of deuterium, a form of hydrogen that carries with it an extra neutron in 1940, changing the world.
– Highlight Loc. 642-43: Current estimates place the world census of naturally occurring plutonium at a whopping one-twentieth of a gram.
РHighlight Loc. 702-7: Twelve years after Noddack reported the finding of masurium, credit for the discovery of element forty-three had been transferred to a pair of Italian scientists, Carlo Perrier and Emilio Segr̬. The duo successfully detected and isolated element forty-three by performing experiments on radioactive discards from a cyclotron decommissioned from the US Lawrence Berkeley National Laboratory. Perrier and Segr̬ studied a piece of foil created from element forty-two, the metal molybdenum, which researchers bombarded with neutrons in the process of cyclotron use, hoping to find atoms of molybdenum transmuted into a new element. Success came quickly, with the pair naming this new element technetium.
– Highlight Loc. 747-50: Neodymium and its neighbor on the periodic table, samarium, are relied on to manufacture critical components of smart bombs and precision-guided missiles, ytterbium, terbium, and europium are used to create lasers that seek out mines on land and under water, and other rare earth elements are needed to build the motors and actuators used for Predator drones and various electronics like jamming devices.
   – Highlight Loc. 766-68: Each element from position eighty-four to the end of the periodic table at one hundred and eighteen is radioactive, and of these thirty-six elements, only twelve are available in large enough quantities to be useful to humans.
– Highlight Loc. 965-66: …a small group of astrophysicists in the Netherlands posited in 2013 that a natural nuclear reaction gone awry led to the ejection of a massive portion of the planet, which went on to exit the earth’s atmosphere and become the celestial object we call the moon.
– Highlight Loc. 1248-5: Once scientific analysis showed polonium to be the cause of Alexander Litvinenko’s death, forensic explorations were made to detect polonium in the remains of one of the most controversial leaders of the twentieth century. Swiss scientists studying the exhumed body of Palestinian leader Yasser Arafat in November of 2010 found nearly twenty times the baseline amount of polonium in his bones, along with traces of the radioactive element in his clothes and the soil where he was laid to rest.
– Highlight Loc. 1252-54: Arafat died in 2004 from what is described as a stroke by his attending physician after a bout with the flu characterized by vomitingâ €”a symptom that plagued Litvinenko immediately after his poisoning. The discovery of such a large concentration of polonium has changed the way historians and political scientists view Arafat’s death,


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