Slide 1 of 17
Elementary, My dear
Unless you're a real science geek, chances are you never knew these eight elements even existed. Nonetheless, many of them form the foundations of modern life, from europium (a critical element in television and computer screens) to tellurium (used in solar panels and memory chips). Here's a sample of little-known but important elements you'd rather not live without.
EuropiumSlide 2 of 17
Next time you're traveling through Europe, take note of some euro paper banknotes. They contain tiny amounts of europium, a hard, silvery metal, as an anti-counterfeiting measure.
There are a handful of places in the world where europium-containing ore is mined, but deposits of the rare element (atomic number 63) are in short supply. Few people cared until the invention of the television.
Early color television programs were barely colored: The blues were muted, yellows appeared somewhat bleached out and whites were dingy and grayish. The reason? Nobody could find a way to reproduce a strong, rich red color, so the other colors were toned down to maintain some balance.
Then, once it was discovered that europium reproduced a robust red in television (And later, computer) screens, the scramble for europium supplies was on. Mines in China, Russia and a small mine in California supply most of the world's europium.Slide 3 of 17
ArgonSlide 4 of 17
If you live or work in a new or recently renovated building, chances are you're within spitting distance of a cache of argon: Argon (atomic number 18) is often used between the double panes of glass in energy-efficient windows because of its low thermal conductivity.
Argon is a noble gas that's more common in the Earth's atmosphere than even carbon dioxide. In addition to its uses in homes—incandescent light bulbs are filled with argon because it keeps the filaments from burning away—argon has numerous industrial uses, from arc welding to laser surgery.
Though it's generally safe, pure argon is heavier than air and can be lethal in areas where it displaces oxygen. It's used in poultry production to asphyxiate birds, but it can also suffocate people if it's allowed to concentrate in an enclosed area.Slide 5 of 17
ScandiumSlide 6 of 17
First discovered in 1879, scandium (atomic number 21) was named for Scandinavia by chemist Lars Fredrik Nilson. Though it's fairly common in the Earth's crust, nobody had any real use for this silvery metal until about 100 years after its discovery.
But in the 1970s, metallurgists found that aluminum-scandium alloys are strong and lightweight, making it useful in aerospace components. It wasn't long before sporting-equipment manufacturers started using the alloys in everything from baseball bats to lacrosse sticks.Slide 7 of 17
BerylliumSlide 8 of 17