The Scientific Story Of How Each Element Was Made

“Neutron star mergers create the greatest heavy element abundances of all, including gold, mercury, and platinum. Meanwhile, cosmic rays blast nuclei apart, creating the Universe’s lithium, beryllium, and boron. Finally, the heaviest, unstable elements are made in terrestrial laboratories. The result is the rich, diverse Universe we inhabit today.”

When the Big Bang first occurred, the Universe was filled with all the various particles and antiparticles making up the Standard Model, and perhaps still others yet to be discovered. But missing from the list were protons, neutrons, or any of the atomic nuclei key to the life-giving elements in our Universe today. Yet the Universe expanded, cooled, antimatter annihilated away, and the first elements began to take shape. After billions of years of cosmic evolution, we arrived at a Universe recognizable today: full of stars, planets, and the full complement of elements populating the periodic table. More than 100 elements are known today, 91 of which are found to occur naturally on Earth. Some were formed in the Big Bang, others were formed in stars, still others were formed in violent cosmic cataclysms or collisions. Yet every one has an origin whose story is now known, giving rise to all we interact with today.

Come get the full story behind how all the elements were made in some fantastic pictures, visuals, and no more than 200 words on this edition of Mostly Mute Monday!


I saw this picture of one of my favorite humans, Hank Green, floating around and felt like I had to add these basic examples.

Yes, there are extremely harmful chemicals/molecules out there, but you can’t be afraid of all chemicals because literally everything is made of chemicals - from the air to your full body. Your body functions because it makes chemicals and reacts with other chemicals. Your senses are results of chemical reactions. Your emotions are chemicals, your food and nutrition are chemicals, your whole life is chemicals. Whether it’s a solid, liquid, or a gas. Chemicals.

There’s a big reason why you have to take a lot of chemistry when you study biology…

Life IS chemistry.

A laboratory technician lifts two plastic rods from a boiling bath of hot sulfuric acid to demonstrate the newly invented Teflon, 1940s.