Tuesday, March 29, 2011

Neither a Borrower Nor a Lender of Electrons Be

Neither a borrower nor a lender be;
For loan oft loses both itself and friend,
And borrowing dulls the edge of husbandry.
This above all: to thine own self be true,
And it must follow, as the night the day,
Thou canst not then be false to any man.
~Act I, Scene 3 of William Shakespeare's Hamlet

Polonius was speaking of money or gold, giving advice to his own son Laertes. But what sort of miserable person never borrows nor lends money?  A King? Nobility?

The noble gas helium neither borrows nor lends electrons. The price it pays is lonely chemical stability. Helium is the most noble of the noble gases, grudgingly condensing to liquid only at extremely low temperatures.

Hydrogen is the the most common element in the universe and it freely gives, takes, and shares electrons with others. It is the most promiscuous element, forming compounds with practically all other elements except the noble gases.

Those very first two elements display the full range of chemical reactivity and stability--another reason why they sit atop the Periodic Table at opposite ends, bracketing the whole thing as it were. And it's all done with the simplest spherical orbital -- the lowly 1s orbital. Every other heavier element has those same electrons at their very core too. But they aren't part of chemistry -- they're just there -- an inert core. And they're not mere abstractions either--they're part of me as well.


  1. You lose me with the chemical talk dude.

    I mean it sounds great but the only thing I know about chemicals is that I am scared of them.

  2. I mean it sounds great but the only thing I know about chemicals is that I am scared of them.

    Et tu kemo sabe?

  3. I think of helium as a byproduct of hydrogen fusion.