Back in mid-2008, I discussed the chemical elements, mainly from the standpoint of memorizing them.
In this update, we turn our attention to understanding the elements. As always, I've tried to find the best resources that help you obtain that understanding as efficiently as possible.
Ever since I first saw this explanation of the atom on TV, I was astounded at how simple and direct it was! It's from the original show WKRP in Cincinnati, from an episode where Venus is asked by a friend to help convince her son to return to school. To do this, Venus bets the son he can explain the basics of the atom to him in 2 minutes:
This is a great basis on which to build. The Chem4Kids introduction to the periodic table, mentioned in my 2008 elements post, is still a great way to go from there.
Even if you understand the basics of the atom, and why the periodic table is grouped as it is, it's quite another thing to understand each element, especially when there are 118 of them! Fortunately, the science dept. of the University of Nottingham has found a great and clear way to teach about each elements.
The approach is taught on their site, The Periodic Table of Videos. The main menu is set up just like the classic periodic table, and clicking on an element takes you to a corresponding video featuring experiments and explanations. All of the videos are also available on the periodicvideos YouTube channel.
Here's a sample of the videos on the site, focusing on hydrogen:
Like the high school chemistry classes you may have forgotten, the experiments really help drive home the main points. However, they do have two advantages over the old science class. First, you can go back and review as many times as you want. Second, the videos are often updated, especially when an element is in the news. This video examining NASA's recent claim of arsenic as a building block of life is a perfect example.
If you go through the videos a few at a time, even just 1 or 2 per day, and work through the mnemonic methods I discuss back in the 2008 post at the same rate, you could quickly and effectively develop a better knowledge of the elements than probably 90% of the general public!
These resources are a great example of using your imagination to help break down complex topics into manageable parts, which is a lesson you can take beyond chemistry.
Update [12/17/10]: One great related link I've been sent is to Mr. Edmond's YouTube channel, where he teaches science concepts to music. Since this is a chemistry column, here's one on the difference between ionic and covalent bonds: