Element of the Month

Hydrogen is the simplest element (atomic number 1) in the entire universe. Hydrogen is the true primordial substance, the first atom produced after the Big Bang. All chemical elements were formed from hydrogen by the processes of nuclear fusion. A major constituent of Biology associated with oxygen in the form of water.

Helium, named for the Greek Titan of the Sun, Helios, is an inert monatomic gas, being the first in the noble gas group in the Periodic Table. After hydrogen, helium is the second most abundant element in the observable universe. Its vast majority was formed during the Big Bang, but large amounts of new helium are continuously being created by nuclear fusion of hydrogen in stars.

Lithium is the lightest metal and solid element. Its transmutation to helium, in 1932, was the first fully man-made nuclear reaction. It has several industrial applications, including heat-resistant glass and ceramics, grease lubricants and batteries. Lithium is also present in biological systems in trace amounts; its salts have proven to be useful as a mood-stabilizing drug in the treatment of bipolar disorder in humans.

Beryllium is a steel-gray, strong, lightweight and brittle alkaline earth metal. It is a relatively rare element in the Universe and in Earth in present, e.g., in emeralds (as (Be3Al2(SiO3)6); the green color is due to trace amounts of chromium and sometimes vanadium). Beryllium is used in aerospace material for aircraft components, missiles, spacecraft, and satellites; it is also the most common window material for X-ray equipment and components of particle detectors. From the Biological point of view, inhaled beryllium-containing dusts can cause a chronic life-threatening allergic disease, called berylliosis.

Nitrogen is the 7th most abundant element in the Universe and the 4th in living organisms (only behind hydrogen, oxygen and carbon), being used by all organisms for the biosynthesis of amino acids, nucleosides and other fundamental compounds. Life on Earth, thus, depends on the nitrogen biogeochemical cycle to keep this element in forms that can be used by living organism, by recycling it within the biosphere, soil, oceans and atmosphere (the largest nitrogen source). Nitrogen is also present in many industrially important compounds (such as ammonia, nitric acid, organic nitrates and cyanides) and this element is a component of materials as diverse as fertilisers, energy-stores, propellants, explosives, pharmacological drugs or superglue.

The name "nitrogène" was suggested by French chemist Jean-Antoine-Claude Chaptal in 1790, when it was found that nitrogen was present in nitric acid and nitrates. Antoine Lavoisier suggested instead the name azote, from the Greek ἀζωτικός , meaning"no life", as it is an asphyxiant gas, and this name is used in many languages, such as Portuguese, French, Russian, Romanian and Turkish, and appears in the English names of some nitrogen compounds such as hydrazine, azides and azo compounds.