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Home » Lithium: An Unexpected Journey: Ben Lillie at TEDxNewYork (Transcript)

Lithium: An Unexpected Journey: Ben Lillie at TEDxNewYork (Transcript)

Ben Lillie – High-energy particle physicist 

So this is Lithium, It’s got 3 electrons, 3 protons and usually 4 neutrons, and you probably don’t think about it very much. Umm, right?

Show of hands, who doesn’t think about Lithium? You probably don’t think about it very much, you probably know that it’s used in a medication, you know that it’s used in batteries, and… that’s it.

A couple of years ago, I was sitting in my room, very emo and depressed, and listening on repeat to the song “Lithium” by Evanescence. You might, if you’re slightly older, know the song “Lithium” by Nirvana, and it struck me as odd that these two intense emotional bands had both written songs about Lithium, and this isn’t really a thing that happens, right? OK, people write songs about Gold and Platinum, but there is no Beryllium song, there is no Boron song. Why this one?

And I started digging, and it turns out that Lithium is one of the strangest elements in the Universe and I want to tell you about it, starting with the fact that it probably shouldn’t be here on Earth at all. So, you’ve all heard the phrase “we’re all stardust.” So what that means is that way back in the early Universe there was a giant cloud of Hydrogen gas, and somewhere in that cloud of gas a little bit became denser than the rest, and the gravity of that part started pulling it in further and further, and as more accumulated, it’s started pulling in faster and faster, and eventually the whole thing began collapsing and heating up and eventually it heated up to the point where nuclear fusion ignited and the force of explosion from that fusion counteracted the implosion from gravity and that’s what a star is.

Then, inside that star, the Hydrogen, element number one with one proton, began fusing with other Hydrogen, one plus one, and you end up with element number two, Helium. And that went on for hundreds of millions of years and then eventually, the Hydrogen was used up, it stopped burning, collapsed, heated up more to the point where it could fuse Helium, element number two. So, one plus one gave us two, element two plus element two gives us element six, that’s right. And that’s because of Quantum Mechanics.

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