26 Jul 2019

Mercury - mesmerising quicksilver

From Elemental, 8:00 am on 26 July 2019

Mercury is an unusual metal that is liquid at standard room temperature and atmospheric pressure.

Mercury is named after the planet, and its chemical symbol Hg comes from the Latin hydrargyrum or liquid silver.

Its silver-grey colour was a familiar sight in old-fashioned thermometers and in amalgam fillings in our teeth.

Mercury alloys easily with other metals, in a process called amalgamation.

It was widely used to extract gold during mining, and to plate metals with gold in a process known as gilding.

Mercury is highly toxic, and there are many examples of widespread mercury poisoning incidents.

The term Mad Hatter refers to the health consequences of the use of mercury by milliners and hatters in the felting process that was part of making hats, says Professor Allan Blackman from AUT.

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Photo: RNZ

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The Elemental podcast is celebrating 150 years since the periodic table was first published by Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev.

Find out more about events during the United Nation’s International Year of the Periodic Table.

Professor Allan Blackman is at Auckland University of Technology.