Explore the World of Chemistry with NOVA: Hunting the Elements

Looking for resources for your class?  Where do nature’s building blocks, called the elements, come from? Elements are the hidden ingredients of everything in our world, from the carbon in our bodies to the metals in our smartphone. To unlock their secrets, NOVA’s Hunting the Elements spins viewers through the world of weird, extreme chemistry: the strongest acids, the deadliest poisons, and the universe’s most abundant- and rarest- elements. This collection will allow you and your students to explore this fascinating chemical landscape and take a tour across the periodic table.

Anatomy of Fireworks

Fireworks have changed a great deal in the 1,000 years since they were first developed in China. The primary chemical component in nearly all fireworks is “black powder.” The recipe for black powder, a mixture of 75 percent saltpeter (potassium nitrate), 15 percent charcoal, and 10 percent sulfur, originated in China about 1,000 years ago with a slightly different proportion of ingredients. Black powder has been used in loud and fiery displays ever since–first to ward off evil spirits, and later to entertain and celebrate. Today’s fireworks rely on black powder for two critical functions. Gas released when the powder combusts first propels the firework skyward and later blasts its contents outward into the elaborate patterns that spectators come to see.

The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements

‘The Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements’ is an exciting series about one of the great adventures in the history of science: the long and continuing quest to understand what the world is made of. Three episodes tell the story of seven of history’s most important scientists as they seek to identify, understand and organize the basic building blocks of matter. These episodes show us not only what these scientific explorers discovered but also how, using actors to reveal the creative process through the scientists’ own words and conveying their landmark discoveries through re-enactments shot with working replicas of their original lab equipment. Knitting these strands together is host Michael Emerson, a two-time Emmy Award-winning actor. Meet Joseph Priestley and Antoine Lavoisier, whose discovery of oxygen led to the modern science of chemistry, and Humphry Davy, who made electricity a powerful new tool in the search for elements.

Talk Like a Firefly

Science Friday: If you’re lucky enough to live where fireflies flash at night, then you have surely seen their magical illuminations on warm summer evenings. But did you know that by observing fireflies while they are flashing, you can learn to communicate with them? If you haven’t already, watch the Science Friday Video “In a Flash: Firefly Communication” for a little background on how fireflies use light to communicate:

By watching and comparing fireflies all across the country, scientists have been able to map out the unique flash patterns of male and female fireflies of different species. Dr. John E. Lloyd, an entomologist at the University of Florida, featured in the video above, was one of the first to do this extensively for North American species of firefly in the genus Photinus. Check out these family friendly activities from Science Friday.