The Element Mercury
Mercury is a silvery-white transition metal that is liquid at standard temperature. It is known for its mobility and high surface tension; both of which cause it to go rolling on surfaces and into the formation of spheres. Moreover, it has a high density which allows most other metals to float on top. It was once used in batteries, fluorescent lights, thermometers, and more. However, over time the toxic metal has been replaced with safer alternatives. Find out more about this unique metal down below!
Cool Facts About Mercury
- Its chemical symbol is Hg, which stood for its original name hydrargyrum. In greek, this name translates to “living water” which references mercury’s lively movement on flat surfaces. For this reason, it is also known as “quicksilver”. Moreover, its current name comes from the roman god mercury who was known for being fast and mobile.
- The element is not allowed on airplanes because it corrodes aluminum–which is commonly used in aircrafts.
- It exists around the world as mercuric sulfide, also known as cinnabar. This creates the pigment known as “vermilion”.
- Mercury the only metal that is liquid at room temperature
- It is very heavy! In fact, it weighs 13.6 times as much as an equal volume of water.
- It was used to treat syphilis until the 20th century. They believed it would cause the patient to salivate the disease out. Side effects included gum ulcers, tooth loss, and death.
Where to Find Mercury
Mercury is found rarely in the earth’s crust. It is primarily found in the mineral cinnabar, also known as mercury sulfide. Spain and Italy control about 50% of the world’s supply of cinnabar ores. There are two forms of this that occur in nature. One is red and the other is black. In order to extract the mercury out of the mineral, it must first be heated. Then, the vapor is condensed and collected. Though pretty rare, mercury ores can be found near volcanic regions and hot springs.
Mercury in Today’s World
Vaccinations with Mercury
Mercury has been used in medicine since ancient times. Often, it resulted in poisoning and premature death. As the years have gone on, it has been replaced with safer alternatives. What you may or may not know, is that it is still used in vaccines today. However, it is safe to use. The compound used is called Thimerosal and it’s a preservative. You may be familiar with the modern argument that vaccines cause autism. This is the compound contained in the vaccine on which this claim is disputed. However, there currently exists no scientific evidence to support this. So how much mercury is in a vaccine that contains thimerosal? According to the FDA, the amount of mercury is roughly equivalent to that in a 3-ounce tuna fish can.
Biomagnification of Mercury in Food
If you are a seafood enthusiast, you may be familiar with the term “biomagnification“. This is a process in which harmful substances can bioaccumulate farther up the food chain. Mercury is a stubborn substance as it likes to be absorbed but not excreted. This means it builds up and over time, can lead to serious health complications. So, how are humans involved in this bioaccumulation? We are the consumers of the ocean critters who have accumulated higher mercury levels from their food chain. For example, salmon are on the lower end so they can be consumed often. Trout are a step up and can be eaten a few times a week. However, larger predators such as halibut can only be eaten a few times monthly due to their high levels of mercury.
History of Mercury
Though we do not know who discovered mercury, we do know it has been around since ancient times. We know this because the transition metal has been found in various artifacts belonging to the ancient Chinese, Egyptians, Native Americans, Greeks, and more. Historically, it was often used in ancient tombs, medicine, and makeup. One interesting use of the liquid metal was by the second ruler of the Tulunid dynasty in Egypt, Khumarawayh ibn Ahmed ibn Tulun. In a bid to cure his insomnia, he had a lake of mercury created for which he would float on top and fall asleep.
Mercury- compounds, reactions, synthesis, and oxidation states
Mercury is a silvery-white transition metal that can dissolve with other metals to form alloys in a process called amalgamation. It can form amalgams with all metals except iron. One use for amalgams is in dentistry. Dental amalgams consist of mercury paired with trace metals such as silver tin and zinc. They are used to fill cavities and have been used for over 150 years by dentists. It should be noted that whether or not these fillings pose a risk to a certain individual is up to the health care provider.
There are two types of compounds of mercury: organic and inorganic. The most common organic compound is methyl mercury, which is extremely toxic. There are no industrial uses for methyl mercury and it is formed naturally in the environment via the methylation of the inorganic mercury ion. The most common inorganic compound is mercuric chloride, which is used in photography, laxatives, disinfectants, fungicides, and more. However, its use has declined in many products so it is mainly found in disinfectants and pesticides. As previously mentioned, mercury exists naturally as mercury sulfide which creates the red pigment vermilion.
Mercury is very picky with what elements or compounds it will react with. It will not react with dilute acids or non-oxidizing acids. It also prefers to react with compounds and elements that are at a high temperature.
How it’s Synthesized
As previously stated, mercury is extracted from the mineral cinnabar through the purification process of distillation. This is done by first crushing the ore. It is then heated in a furnace which vaporizes the element. This vapor is then collected and condensed into liquid form. Vaporized mercury is extremely toxic and can wreak havoc on the respiratory system, so it is important to do so with caution.
Mercury oxidation states
The transition metal has two main oxidation states: +1 and +2.
- Melting point: -38.9 °C
- Boiling point: 356.6 °C
- Density: 13.6 g/mL
- Atomic weight: 200.59 g.mol -1
- Atomic number: 80
- Electronegativity: 1.9
- Classification: Transition Metal, Group 12 Metal
- Crustal abundance: 0.05 ppm
- Electron shell configuration: [ Xe ] 4f14 5d10 6s2
- Isotopes: 56 total – 7 stable and 33 radioactive
- Found naturally in cinnabar (HgS)
- Toxicity: Organic forms of the element are more toxic than inorganic ones. However, inorganic forms can still be physically corrosive and toxic if ingested. The main danger comes form inhaling the vapors.
Where can I buy mercury?
Pure mercury can be purchased from amazon and specialty shops. However, it is toxic so it’s important to be careful with it.