Science – The Elements – Lithium


What is an Atom?

The Elements – Helium

What is Lithium?

Lithium is the third element on the periodic table. It has 3 protons, 3 electrons, and 4 neutrons. Lithium gets its name from the Greek word “lithos” which means “stone”.

Atomic Number 3
Atomic Weight6.94
Type of MatterSolid

Lithium is the first element on the periodic table to be a solid at room temperature. It is also the first metal and has a shiny silver color. Lithium is so light that it can float on water! It would be a bad idea to put pure lithium in water though. Lithium explodes when it touches water!


How was Lithium discovered?

In the 1790s, José Bonifácio discovered a new mineral called petalite in Sweden. He noticed that the rock burned bright red when he threw it in a fire. It burned red because the mineral contained lithium. But he didn’t know that!

Johan August Arfvedson tested petalite in 1817 and figured out that it contained a new metal. He called it “lithium”, probably because it was discovered inside of a stone. He wasn’t able to find a way to separate lithium from the petalite though.

In 1855, two scientists, Robert Bunsen and Augustus Matthiessen, discovered a way to separate pure lithium from minerals. Now it could be studied!

Fancy Science Words
PetaliteA mineral that contains lithium, aluminum, silicon, and oxygen. It can be clear, yellow, pink, or gray
IonAn atom that has more or less electrons than it has protons

What is Lithium Used For?

The main use for lithium is in rechargeable batteries. Since lithium batteries are so light, they’re great for smartphones, tablets, and laptops. They’re even used in electric cars!

An atom of Lithium

Lithium is used in the glass of huge telescopes to keep lenses and mirrors from getting too hot. It’s also used in grease to keep machinery cool and running smoothly. Some medicines are made with lithium too.

Science Facts
Lithium batteries work by storing extra electrons. When you charge your battery, electricity flows into the battery and adds electrons to the lithium atoms. This turns the atoms into ions. The atoms move from the positive side of the battery to the negative side. When you use your phone, the lithium atoms move from the negative side of the battery to the positive side. The extra electrons leave the atoms and power your phone!

That’s it for lithium. Next time, we will learn about beryllium. It’s going to be out of this world!


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Science – The Elements – Helium


What is an Atom?

The Elements – Hydrogen

What is Helium?

Helium is the second element on the periodic table, and the second lightest element in the universe. It has two protons, two electrons, and two neutrons.

Helium gets its name from the Greek word “helios”, which means “sun”, because it was first discovered surrounding the sun!

Atomic Number2
Atomic Weight4.003
Type of MatterGas

Helium is a gas at room temperature, and it has no color or smell. There isn’t much helium on Earth because it’s so light that it floats off into space. Jupiter’s atmosphere has a lot of helium. In fact, it actually rains helium on Jupiter!

How was Helium Discovered?

Pierre Janssen first discovered helium in 1868. While watching a total solar eclipse in India, he noticed a yellow glow around the sun. When heat or electricity runs through an element, it will glow a certain color. The element glowing yellow around the sun was helium!

An atom of Helium

In 1889, William Hillebrand put a mineral called uraninite in acid. It made a gas as it dissolved. That gas was helium. He didn’t know that though!

Finally, in 1895, Sir William Ramsay did a similar experiment. He wasn’t looking for helium, but he found it! This was the first time that helium was discovered on earth.

Fancy Science Words
Total Solar EclipseWhen the moon passes between the earth and the sun and completely covers the sun
UraniniteA mineral made up mostly of uranium and oxygen with some helium, lead, and other elements
Particle AcceleratorA machine that smashes atoms and particles together at high speed so they can be studied

What is Helium Used for?

Helium is usually collected from natural gas. It is used to make party balloons, weather balloons, and blimps float! Particle accelerators, like the Large Hadron Collider in Switzerland, get really hot, so they use liquid helium to keep them cool. Helium is also used in car airbags to make them inflate quickly.

Science Facts
Did you know that Helium is a noble gas? Noble gases don’t react with other elements, so they don’t combine with them. Helium atoms don’t make bonds with other atoms, but they aren’t lonely. About a quarter of the atoms in the universe are Helium!

In the next article, we will learn about Lithium. Don’t forget to charge your batteries!

Science – The Elements – What is an Atom?


If you can eat it, throw it, dance on it, or ride it to the moon, it’s made of atoms. Atoms are all around us, in fact, they are us! So, what exactly is an atom?

What is an Atom?

Simply put, atoms are the building blocks of matter. Things that take up space are made of matter. Things like basketballs, toothpaste, and air. Stuff like electricity and heat are energy, but we will talk about that another time.

Fancy Science Words
MatterAnything that takes up space.
EnergyPower, like electricity or heat.
ElementAnything that is made up of only one type of atom.

There are 118 different types of atoms that we know of. When we are talking about just one type of atom, we call it an element. Hydrogen is an element, and so is Oxygen. When you put them together, you get water!

Can Atoms be Split Apart?

Atoms can be split apart. But splitting an atom will change its element. Atoms can also be smashed together. This changes their element too.

Fancy Science Words
Nuclear FissionSplitting atoms apart.
Nuclear FusionSmashing atoms together.

For example, an atom of Uranium can be split apart into an atom of Barium and an atom of Krypton. This is called Nuclear Fission.

When two Hydrogen atoms get smashed together, they turn into one atom of Helium. This is called Nuclear Fusion, and that’s how the sun gives us heat and light!


What are Atoms Made of?

Fancy Science Words
ParticlesSmall parts that make up atoms.
ProtonsA particle with a positive charge.
NeutronsA particle with no charge.
ElectronsA particle with a negative charge.
NucleusThe center of an atom. Made up of protons and neutrons.
Periodic TableA chart listing all of the different types of atoms.

Atoms are kind of like peanut butter and jelly sandwiches. Jelly is jelly and peanut butter is peanut butter, but when you put them together on bread, you get a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. Atoms are made up of three parts too. These parts are called particles. The three particles that make up an atom are protons, neutrons, and electrons.

An atom of Helium

Protons and neutrons stay in the middle of the atom. This is called the nucleus. Electrons circle the nucleus, just like the moon circles the earth. Atoms stick together because protons and electrons have electrical charges. Protons have a positive charge, and electrons have a negative charge. This makes them want to stick together like two magnets.

ElementAtomic Number

So, there you have it. Atoms are peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, and if you stick them together, you can make basketballs and toothpaste. Well… not exactly.

In the next article, we will learn about Hydrogen, the first element on the periodic table. It’s going to be explosive!

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