Have you ever wondered how many elements there are in a human body? Would you be surprised to hear that today’s integrated circuits are more complicated (element-wise) than we are?
As usual, I’m bouncing back and forth from one topic to another with the agility of a mountain goat (this is much greater than the agility I would have if I were trying to physically jump like a mountain goat).
Just this past weekend, for example, I read two great books. The first was Blink (The Power of Thinking Without Thinking) by Malcolm Gladwell. The second was How I Killed Pluto (and Why It Had It Coming) by Mike Brown. Both of these are great reads and I shall write more complete reviews as soon as I have a free moment...
...but that’s not what I wanted to talk to you about...
Recently I’ve started to become very interested in “stuff” to do with elements. I think my interest was kicked into gear when I read The Disappearing Spoon by Sam Kean (Click Here to see that review). More recently, I was looking at the various ways to present Periodic Tables? At the end of my Periodic Tables blog (Click Here to see that blog) I showed one depicting the elements used to form a human body.
When I first saw this I thought “Wow, I wish I’d thought of that,” and then my mind started to wander (as is its wont) and I ended up blundering into some interesting information after which I spent hours creating the following periodic table images in Visio (getting these to look right took MUCH longer than you might think).
Let’s start with the elements forming a human body (Source: H. A. Harper, V. W. Rodwell, P. A. Mayes, Review of Physiological Chemistry, 16th ed., Lange Medical Publications, Los Altos, California 1977.)
The first five elements in a human body
When we say “first five,” perhaps it would be more appropriate to say “top five” or “most abundant five”. Not surprisingly we see hydrogen (H) and oxygen (O), because – apart from other compounds in which they may play a part – we are around 70% water. Also calcium (Ca) is here because of our bones. And, of course, Carbon (C) is here because it is the basis of life as we know it. I must admit that I was surprised to see Nitrogen (N) feature so prominently in the top five, but what do I know?
The next five elements in a human body
Trace elements in a human body
Minimal trace elements in a human body
Actually I should point out that my understanding of the above with regard to the main elements, trace elements, and minimal trace elements is that these are the ones we need to survive. If you were to actually break a person down into his or her component parts (don't do this at home unless you are a professional) and run a full-blown spectroscopic analysis, you would almost certainly find traces of other elements, but most of these come from pollution or the fact that we come into contact with things that aren’t good for us or whatever… the point being that we could survive (thrive) without these other elements.
OK, now let’s turn our attention to the elements forming integrated circuits (Source: Research Directions for Nano-Scale Science and Technology
, Tze-Chiang (T.C.) Chen, IBM Fellow, VP Science & Technology, Research Division).
Integrated circuit elements before the 1990s
Integrated circuit elements since the 1990s
Integrated circuit elements after 2006
Elements in a human vs. an integrated circuit
Obviously this doesn’t mean anything in particular... it’s simply the fact that there are now more elements in a high-end integrated circuit than there are in a human being that I find to be rather interesting.
Of course the mind-blowing thing is that the majority of these elements were created in supernovae (stellar explosions), which means that in a very fundamental way we are all created from star dust (my dear old mother won’t be surprised to hear this … she always told me I was special :-)