Europium Metal Cube 99.5%
Europium Metal Cube 99.5%
At one time a few months ago this was just another crazy idea. In the quest to make objects of the pure elements you go through the periodic table picking out the low hanging fruit: iron, copper, tin... all household words with an extensive knowledge base for the metallurgist to refer to. And then you run out of the easy ones and you traipse into exotic domains. Indium, manganese, ytterbium.... there's no rulebook for making things out of this stuff. Uncharted territory in metallurgy.
And so it's easy to imagine the birth of these cubes as having taken place in what at first was just another mundane task in a Shanghai factory. Probably late on a Friday as engineers are slacking at their desks talking with their buddies about hitting the bars in just another hour or two when in waltzes a boss commanding said engineer if before punching out he could just please whip up some little cubes of, uh, eu...ro-pee-um, whatever that is, and to please have it ready for Monday morning's DHL pickup bound for America.
Only after a little while does it begin to sink in that this is no ordinary task. No, not at all. He scurries to a drawer where he keeps his metals. No, not that one with all the carefully coded steel alloys nor the bin with the aluminum stock bars. For this he's going to have to take a trip to the lab upstairs where they keep those smelly jars full of stuff you don't want to have anything to do with. His buddies are long gone, likely slamming down Olympic amounts of Tsingtao and chopsticking their way through who knows how many bowls of dumplings.
Meanwhile our nameless engineer's spirit has been fully crushed when he's handed a jar full of what looks like things that should be flushed down the toilet. From this nasty, slimy mess he's expected to make pretty little cubes to be sold for decoration in the West. How cute. The metal, he finds out, can't be cut with the normal tools because it smears paste-like across the cutting surface. It can't be left in air or it turns to dust. Oh, and waste not even a bit of it for it goes for $20 a gram. What fresh hell is this, he asks, why him?!
This sad novel ends here. After much labor he has managed his deadline despite having fully ruined his weekend. The cubes, the &^%*@ cubes are done and hopefully he'll never have to do this again as far as he's concerned.
And, thousands of miles eastward there's grins on the faces of a handful of nerds who can now look forward to adding the grownup's version of a rare trading card, filling perhaps a long sought-after keyhole in a nearly complete collection!
And really, that's just about the entirety of pure europium's uses. Funny because while in this elemental state the metal is truly and utterly useless (it is, as mentioned above, too soft, expensive and prone to corrosion) it is eagerly bought and sold by big companies worldwide. If the rare metal hits a bump in production it's enough to give execs an ulcer for flat panel makers cannot do without this rare commodity lest their screens be made minus the color red. Not a good thing. It also finds a presence in many different electronics parts, in chemistry and a number of other uses known but to those who make the stuff we need in this modern life.
And well, there you have it. Let's raise a toast to an imaginary factory schlep who no doubt cursed for hours while figuring out how to make us pure europium metal cubes.
Now - to the nitty gritty. In case you didn't read the overlong intro these cubes are fragile. Held between thumb and index fingers it could foreseeably be squished like a jelly bean. And there's also the environment to worry about. To protect them each cube is now fully enclosed in a glass ampule with pure argon gas to control corrosion (and squishing).