This Illustrated Periodic Table Shows How We Regularly Interact With Each Element

The ability to name all of the elements on the periodic table from actinium to zinc is an impressive feat. Actually being able to explain how each element functions in the real world is a little more challenging. If you agree that learning the everyday relevance of all the Earth’s elements is just as important as memorizing their symbols, check out the chart above. This graphic, spotted by inhabitat, presents the information found in a traditional periodic table with pictographs and labels indicating where you might encounter each element in your life.

“The Periodic Table of Elements, in Pictures and Words” was created by Boeing software engineer Keith Enevoldsen. He frames the design as a tool for teaching students in elementary through high school, but it can also be used by adults looking to polish their rusty knowledge from chemistry class. The uses of some elements are widely known: Sodium, for instance, is paired with a picture of a salt shaker, while neon is illustrated with an illuminated advertising sign. Others, though, aren’t so obvious: Did you know that strontium is used in fireworks, or that boron can be found in sports equipment? What about scandium in bicycles, or tantalum in cell phones? There’s a helpful illustration accompanying each element found in nature.

Section of a periodic table of elements with pictures.

Section of a periodic table of elements with pictures.

Enevoldsen’s table can also be used to study other facts, like each element’s atomic number and material state (solid, liquid, or gas). The educational resource is available as a set of print-out flashcards and as a full-sized poster available on Amazon for $10.

[h/t inhabitat]

All images courtesy of Keith Enevoldsen // CC BY-SA 4.0

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This Puzzle Teaches Kids—and Adults—About Amazing Women Scientists

This 500-piece puzzle sold on Amazon celebrates the achievements of women in STEM fields.
This 500-piece puzzle sold on Amazon celebrates the achievements of women in STEM fields.
Clarkson Potter/Amazon

It’s no secret female scientists have been overlooked for decades, but this puzzle, which sells for $17 on Amazon, aims to rectify that by spotlighting 15 notable women who made incredible strides in STEM fields.

The puzzle is the work of illustrator Rachel Ignotofsky, author of the best-selling picture book Women in Science: 50 Fearless Pioneers Who Changed the World. “The most important way to fight gender bias is to share stories of amazing women with boys and girls,” Ignotofsky told Mental Floss in 2016. “Many of these women have changed the way that we understand our world forever, but we don’t know about them. Steve Jobs and Bill Gates are more household names than Grace Hopper, who invented coding. When we don’t tell these stories, we allow these inequalities and stereotypes to continue.”

The 500-piece puzzle features Grace Hopper along with several other notable scientists, including astronaut Mae Jemison, particle physicist Sau Lan Wu, and Nobel Prize-winning cytogeneticist Barbara McClintock.

Ignotofsky hopes the puzzle, as well as the book it’s based on, will inspire children and adults alike. “My hope is that seeing these women who have led in the past will help girls feel more confident, like ‘Not only do I deserve this, but I’m going to take it,’” she said.

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It’s Easy Being Green: Most Amphibians Are Biofluorescent, Study Finds

An alpine newt glows green after being exposed to blue light.
An alpine newt glows green after being exposed to blue light.
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

If you walk through a forest at night, you see only darkness and shadows, and perhaps the smudgy outline of trees against the sky. But if you were a salamander snuggled in the leaf litter, under the right light conditions, you might see something completely different: foliage glimmering in shades of red, and your fellow amphibians glowing in brilliant greens.

Biofluorescence—in which animals emit a fluorescent glow after absorbing high-energy wavelengths of light—is likely widespread among most, if not all, amphibians, according to a new study published in the journal Scientific Reports. Previously, only one species of salamander and three frog species were known to biofluoresce.

Alpine newt under white light
The same view of an alpine newt under white light
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

“I do field work, so I’m out there capturing species of amphibians, and I think, ‘huh, I wonder if this fluoresces,’” says Jennifer Y. Lamb, an assistant professor of biology at St. Cloud State University in Minnesota. She and co-author Matthew P. Davis, an assistant professor at the university, collected representatives from eight of the 10 salamander families, five families of frogs, and one family of caecelians, a type of limbless amphibian. They exposed each critter to high-energy blue light and then viewed them through a yellow filter to see if and how they glowed.

“One of the first salamanders we tested was the Eastern tiger salamander. We saw that it fluoresced really brightly, and that kind of got us hooked,” Lamb tells Mental Floss. “We started [to look] across salamander diversity, [and asked ourselves], ‘OK, how many species do we see within salamanders that biofluoresce?’ When we started to notice, ‘hey, it’s actually a lot of them!’, the question became, ‘can frogs do it?’ Then we looked at a relative of frogs, the caecelians—‘do they do it?’ And it seemed like biofluorescence in some form or fashion is present in all of these lineages.”

Biofluorescent salamander
A biofluorescent Eastern tiger salamander
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

The various amphibians fluoresced in unique patterns depending on their skin’s coloration and markings as seen under normal white light. Some gleamed in blotches, others in stripes. A few animals' bones glowed. Lamb was surprised to see that salamanders’ bellies, which were usually red or orange under white light, glowed brighter than their backs after exposure to blue light.

“A lot of these newts have evolved what we call aposematic coloration, or warning colors. When they’re threatened by a predator, they’ll basically contort their bodies to show off their bellies as a warning,” Lamb says. “So it begs the question, if these bellies are also biofluorescent, then maybe some of their predators can visualize biofluorescence.”

The researchers intend their study to be a roadmap for further study into the fascinating ability. “Now that we know that this phenomenon exists across amphibians, there’s all kinds of interesting applications that future researchers may head towards,” Davis tells Mental Floss. For example, no one yet knows what kind of mechanisms allow amphibians to biofluoresce: In some groups it might be a color-based molecule or compound; in others, maybe something in their mucus.

Biofluorescent frog
A Cranwell's frog glows under blue light.
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

Scientists also don’t know exactly how different amphibians might visualize their own biofluorescence. Salamanders, frogs, and caecelians have rod cells in their eyes that are sensitive to green light, suggesting that they may have evolved green biofluorescence and the ability to see it at the same time, though further research is needed on that front.

“We have to be careful about not falling into the trap of only perceiving the world through our own eyes,” Lamb says. “Human vision is set to a particular set of wavelengths, and that’s not the case across all animal diversity. And that may not be the case in terms of these amphibians.”

Biofluorescent salamander
A biofluorescent three-lined salamander
Jennifer Y. Lamb and Matthew P. Davis

Finally, researchers are debating what purpose biofluorescence serves. In other animals, scientists have suggested it could play a role in communication, camouflage, or choosing a mate. Amphibians might use biofluorescence to locate each other in dense leaf litter.

“We’re hoping this study stimulates researchers to start looking at biofluorescence more broadly across the various different kinds of amphibian lineages that they may work on, so we can fill in the gaps in knowledge,” Davis says.

“There’s still a lot to learn about animal groups that we think we know,” he adds. “There’s still lots of interesting things out there to find that can help us rethink their life history and biology, and that may point us in new exploratory directions.”

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