10 Jan. 2007
SETI League
PriUPS Project

Out of Sodium

Almost nobody has a lithium story.  As it turns out, I could have had one, but I had to choose between having a good story and saving a certain parent's life, which was my reluctant decision.  It was probably the correct choice.  Potassium stories don't abound, either.  Potassium metal was very expensive when I was a youth, and you can bet that even in lab demonstrations of hydrogen generation and the instant ignition thereof, only the tiniest piece was used.  I've never seen rubidium or cesium except in photos of atomic time standards.  And of course francium might as well be unobtainium, being both incredibly rare (less than a pound total in the earth's crust) and highly radioactive.

That leaves sodium alone among the alkali metals about which most can speak from personal experience.  Sodium is a light, soft metal.  You can cut it with a knife.  Sodium reacts violently with water.  A small piece will skitter about on the surface, a large piece will catch fire, an even larger piece may detonate, flinging droplets of molten sodium this way and that. 

How do I know this?  How do human males know anything about dangerous stuff?  We read about it and then experiment under controlled conditions.  Of course that's what some of us do.  Others, who like to tell stories about their "friends," have offered tales of exploding plumbing, ingots of sodium launched as torpedoes, and fairly impressive practical jokes, at least one of which involved a punch bowl. 

I'm not cut from that cloth.  In fact, I never even owned any sodium until adulthood.  Most of my chemistry mayhem involved mercury.  Of course there was also potassium permanganate, magnesium ribbon, powdered metals various, and the odd bit of purified brimstone.  I could say more but just in case my ex-neighbors have found this blog, I want them to enjoy the enduring mystery.  For what did I use my sodium?  One ingot, a full kilogram, was passed in a ceremonial transfer to a gentlemen recently appointed to high position.  The additional kilograms have either been "consumed in experimentation" or, and I am truly sad to admit this, oxidized themselves into oblivion.  The were not packed under oil when I purchased them, and there seems to have been some leakage of atmosphere into their separate containers.

Of course I must replenish my supply, but I'm not entirely certain when I shall be able to buy more, given that I'm unwilling to pay "list."  My initial purchase was occasioned by a most wonderful event:  It seems the chemical supply house was having a sodium clearance sale.  

NP:  "Playing in the Band" - Bob Weir

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