OPEN THREAD 20200121

Basically, all legal free speech is allowed. We will assist the authorities in dealing with illegal speech. You are each other’s moderators. Have fun. And don’t forget to MAGA at nuclear levels.

Citizen U

Day 76 – OSMIUM.

32 thoughts on “OPEN THREAD 20200121

  1. Ah, yes, osmium.

    Denser than even the densest leftist.

    22.59 grams per cubic centimeter, which is as much as we’ll ever experience here on the surface of the earth. (White dwarfs and neutron stars beat it out handily.)

    It’s a very rare element, often found as a by-product of nickel mining. And it tends to be associated with ruthenium, rhodium, palladium, iridium and platinum; the six are collectively referred to as the “platinum group metals.”

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  2. Much of what can be said about any of the PGMs can be said about all of them.

    Osmium has a ridiculously high melting point, along with iridium (and tungsten and rhenium). If you want to melt a solid mass (it’s sold in powder form), you have to pour the powder into the mold, then use an electric arc furnace. As you heat it up, it will glow white hot–and it will be as bright as a light bulb filament–per unit area! So it is MUCH brighter–and radiates energy much faster–than an incandescent filament, because there’s more of it. In fact the instant you stop heating it, it will solidify. That’s why you must melt it in its mold.

    As it cools it shrinks, which means it’s almost impossible to form a solid mass, the outer layer of the melt solidifies, encasing the still-liquid core, which then freezes and contracts, leaving a void in the middle. Thus it’s hard to make a lump of osmium to actually experience its density.

    Iridium is very close to the same density; in fact some sources claim iridium’s density is higher; but (it turns out) that’s based on a bad number for iridium”s atomic weight and is fake news (whcih doesn’t prevent people repeating it).

    One other thing about osmium–its oxide is very, very toxic and, contrary to its “noble metal” nature, it does form that oxide quite readily (it’s below iron, which likes to rust, after all). OsO4 is a liquid that will evaporate immediately, and smells bad (“osmium” is from the Greek for “stench”). I read somewhere that if you can smell it, you’ve already got a bad dose, but I kind of doubt it (or I’m misremembering) as people have survived to tell the tale (and indeed the chemist who discovered that it gives off smelly vapors lived). In solid form, it’s not a hazard, but the powder will oxidize (don’t do lathe work on osmium!) and you probably don’t want to be around molten osmium either, even with very dark sunglasses.

    The Russians (of all people) pioneered handling platinum in industrial quantities in the 1830s, before anyone could even figure out how to build a furnace to melt platinum (much less osmium), and of course that meant getting rid of ossmium impurities; they had too do this safely so the OsO4 wouldn’t be a hazard. They may have been dirt poor, and backward, but they were damned clever.

    Osmium is also very brittle. It may be a metal, but trying to work it is like trying to work ceramic. Good luck not having it shatter.

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    1. If you were to spin osmium on a lathe, what would you use as a bit? It’d erode diamond just about as fast diamond would scratch it.

      Did your set have an osmium coin?

      Liked by 1 person

      1. It did not. He hasn;t figured that one out yet.

        It did have an iridium coin, but it was noticeably thicker than the others, I think it was sintered or something and therefore nothing close to that density.

        Liked by 1 person

        1. Minting something that will flatten your dies would be a bit of a problem. Machining something that eats your tools would be problematic. And casting something that melts your molds has issues….

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  3. Indeed, osmium is a weird beast — roughly twice as dense as lead, which would probably be freaky-deaky to experience in person. It is an extremely rare element and ends up in weird places like fountain-pen nib tips and electrical contacts.

    Because it is so dense, it is not easily compressed, and has been measured to be close to diamond in strength. It also has the third highest melting point of the metals — after wolfram and rhenium. One of my sources nonchalantly asserts, “solid osmium is difficult to machine, form, or work.”

    Osmium has seven naturally-occurring isotopes. Six are stable, and the seventh (Os-186) has a half-life (approximately 2 x 10^15 years, or about 140,000 times the estimated age of the universe) that makes it essentially stable for any living being.

    Osmium is actually named after the Greek “osme”, meaning “a smell” — because its discoverer noted the ashy and smoky odor of osmium tetroxide during its isolation. This is after he’d gone through a bunch of platinum, dissolved the platinum away in aqua regia, dried the remaining crud and treated it at red heat with sodium hydroxide, then dissolved the resulting compound in acid, which he then distilled. Mind you, the sensible thing to do upon smelling anything during any of these processes is to hit the Big Red Button and bail out to fresh air, but times were simpler in 1803.

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  4. It’s tough to find the price of osmium, because so little is traded. In 2017, the US imported about 90 kg for various uses (about 3000 troy ounces).

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    1. You have to buy it at least 50 kg at a time to get that price.

      Try finding someone who will sell you smaller quantities and the price goes WAY up.

      That’s true of iridium as well. In fact, I could almost skip tomorrow’s post (but I won’t).


        1. Granted I made my inquiries probably 15 years ago. I found one company that would sell to “collectors” and they wouldn’t sell less than a kilo. Rhodium at the time was 400 buck an ounce (it bounces all over the place over time), but that was too much. And it would have been a bottle of black powder, not a solid chunk of it.

          There have since been places that will sell you solid pieces of the four “obscure” PGMs (Pt and Pd are readily available in coin shops)–but again, for MUCH higher prices per troy ounce,

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          1. One of the things that tends to happen with Platinum Group Metals, as well as rare earths, is that some wonky process that it can catalyze becomes insanely popular overnight……and, then, is replaced by something 2/3 as efficient but much cheaper.

            Osmium had its own encounter with this phenomenon. In 1909, Fritz Haber and Robert Le Rossignol (his assistant) demonstrated a way to make ammonia from air using osmium and uranium based catalysts at about four fluid ounces per hour. This process — the Haber Process — was purchased by BASF and given to Carl Bosch to scale up to industrial levels — who quickly purchased nearly the entire world’s supply of osmium to ensure success — at which point the price, understandably, spiked.

            Not long thereafter, under Bosch’s direction, BASF researcher Alwin Mittasch discovered an iron-based catalyst, which is still used today. Bosch managed to achieve industrial-level production in 1910, Haber got a Nobel in 1918, Bosch got a Nobel in 1931, and Germany was not starved of nitrates (to produce munitions) during WWI — and the price of osmium slumped hard because it wasn’t going to compete with iron as a catalyst.

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  5. If you have an osmium tetroxide spill, it can rapidly be rendered harmless using either vitamin C or corn oil….whichever you have around.

    And, no, that’s real — ascorbic acid and polyunsaturated vegetable oils both make OsO4 nontoxic.

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  6. OK, I’m closing links and folding on Osmium. I’m going to round up a joke and musical interlude. It’s been super-fun having SteveInCO to bounce off of — you want to do a music link or joke?

    Liked by 1 person

  7. There is a “real life” Jethro Tull. He’s the inventor of an improved seed drill in 1701. Seed drills are important to the agricultural revolution because they ensure accurate spacing and depth of seed planting, helping to maximize yield per acre.

    And, then, there’s

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  8. Here in Silicon Valley, on the cutting edge of technology, you often have to react to things that you have never seen before.

    Overheard at lunch in Saint John’s Bar and Grill in Sunnyvale (nice place for a cheesesteak, BTW)…..

    One pale guy with thick glasses and a squint, pizza stains on his clothes, and frazzled hair says to another, “You wouldn’t believe what happened this morning. A girl rode up to me on her bike, took off all her clothes, and said ‘Take whatever you want!’ … So I took the bike.”

    The second guy says, “Good choice, her clothes probably wouldn’t have fit you.”

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  9. Pavlov is sitting in a pub, quietly enjoying a pint. The pub’s phone rings and he leaps up, exclaiming, “oh, shit — I forgot to feed the dog!”

    Liked by 2 people

  10. A programmer’s wife tells him, “go to the store and pick up a loaf of bread. If they have eggs, get a dozen.”

    He returns with 12 loaves of bread.

    Liked by 3 people

  11. As just a final aside…’s quite likely that the earth has a whole bunch of osmium…….that has sunk to the lowest point of the earth’s core — after all, there’s nothing more dense.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. If we ever start mining asteroids, I expect the prices of all PGMs to drop relative to gold.

      Gold likely sank to the center too, but more of it stayed behind because it has affinities to other minerals (like quartz).

      So if one hundredth of the quartz stayed in the crust, but only one ten thousandth of the PGMs (no, I don’t know that those are the numbers, I’m using those for illustration purposes)…when we access iron nickel asteroids in quantity we’ll see the PGMs become 10,000 times as common on the market as now, and gold only 100 times so. Gold will drop in price…but the PGMs will positively crater, perhaps een reaching levels somewhere between copper and silver today.

      Liked by 1 person

  12. You guys are always entertaining. I really enjoy reading about the elements, the musical interludes and the jokes (some I get and some I don’t). Thx for starting my day off with info and a chuckle!

    Liked by 2 people

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