Question of the Week Podcast

Question of the Week episode

Mon, 6th Jul 2015

What's the most expensive element on Earth?

Periodic Table (c) Armtuk @ Wikipedia

This week, Graihagh Jackon drilled into John's question to try and find out what the most expensive element in the world is... But first, how do we define 'expensive?' Chemist Mark Lorch set us straight...

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I cannot get a transcript of the show but I would assume it is antimatter that costs an awful lot to produce syhprum, Mon, 6th Jul 2015

Top of the league must be anti Hydrogen a vast amount of money has been spent to produce a few atoms syhprum, Tue, 7th Jul 2015

Not an element, admittedly, but back in the 1970's I bought some specialist subminiature thin-film thermistors which cost 400 times as much as moondust per gram.

On the side of natural elements, some diamonds have the property of becoming conductive when irradiated with x-rays. These "counting diamonds" are useful in precise applications of radiotherapy but most display a background "dark current" which varies with temperature and makes the calculation of radiation dose a bit less accurate.

One physicist of my acquaintance built a machine to automatically sort through counting diamonds and extract those with minimal dark current. After 2,000,000 trials he found one called the Superstone that behaved like an ideal radiation monitor, with no detectable dark current but 3000 times more sensitive than a conventional ion chamber. He cut it into 30 pieces and distributed the chips (about 0.7 mm square and 0.1 mm thick) to various national laboratory research groups, including mine. As a gem, my chip would have been worth about 1, but as far as we knew these chips were the only ones in the universe with this exceptionally useful property, and I was preparing to spend about 1,000,000 over several years incorporating it into a primary measurement standard, where its benefit to mankind could have run into several million pounds per year. We lost it.    alancalverd, Tue, 7th Jul 2015

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