NOVA: Hunting the Elements Collection

Expand/Collapse NOVA: Hunting the Elements Collection


Where do nature’s building blocks, called the elements, come from? They’re the hidden ingredients of everything in our world, from the carbon in our bodies to the metals in our smartphones. To unlock their secrets, NOVA's Hunting the Elements spins viewers through the world of weird, extreme chemistry: the strongest acids, the deadliest poisons, the universe’s most abundant elements, and the rarest of the rare—substances cooked up in atom smashers that flicker into existence for only fractions of a second.

The media resources below allow educators to explore the periodic table in detail with their students—from its basic structure and properties to the sometimes volatile behavior of specific elements.

For additional classroom resources, download the periodic table handout to use as a reference for your students, or as an activity where students can color code the element groups. You can also download a periodic table poster to use as a visual aid in your classroom.

  • Atomic Structure of an Alloy

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue visits The Verdin Company, a manufacturer of bells, to learn about bronze. Find out how copper is typically alloyed with tin to make bronze—a metal alloy widely used in tools and weapons during the Bronze Age and still in use today. Learn how to make a bell and why bronze is still the manufacturer's material of choice. Explore how the atomic structure of a metal determines its properties, such as conductivity and malleability, and how combining metals can create a new material with different properties.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Rare Earth Elements

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue learns about a set of elements commonly referred to as rare earths. Hear how rare earths are often used in technological applications and visit a rare earth mining site to learn more about where they are mined. Discover that rare earths are not really that rare and explore how their atomic structures make them nearly indistinguishable from one another.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • A Fission Chain Reaction

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue investigates the radioactive elements located at the bottom of the periodic table. Discover how scientists once thought that uranium was the end of the periodic table and find out how the table has grown since atomic scientists created synthetic elements. Visit the Nuclear Museum in New Mexico to learn about the process of nuclear fission and to see a demonstration of what happens inside a nuclear reactor.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • What Makes an Element Reactive?

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue examines how atomic structure determines reactivity. Meet Theo Gray, chemist and author, who helps David explore how the electron configuration of an atom affects its ability to combine with other atoms. Discover why noble gases are not reactive and why halogens and alkali metals are highly reactive.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Radioactive Decay of Carbon-14

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue explores how isotopes of carbon can be used to determine the age of once-living matter. Learn how variations in atomic structure form isotopes of an element and how the three natural isotopes of carbon differ from each other. Meet paleoclimatologist Scott Stine, who uses radiocarbon dating to study changes in climate. Find out what it means for an isotope to be radioactive and how the half-life of carbon-14 allows scientists to date organic materials.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • The Value of Copper

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue visits the New York Mercantile Exchange to learn about copper's essential role in human civilization. Find out about the valued properties of copper and its many applications, including electronics and building materials. Hear about the global copper market and discover how copper is such an important metal that its price can be used to gauge economic health.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • How Elements Form Compounds

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue investigates chemical reactions involving sodium. Find out how the electron configuration of sodium, an alkali metal, makes it a highly reactive element. Meet chemist and author Theo Gray, who demonstrates two sodium reactions: a spectacular explosive reaction with water; and an exciting reaction with chlorine, a highly reactive halogen. Examine how sodium and chlorine atoms combine to form the compound sodium chloride (ordinary table salt).

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • Developing the Periodic Table

    In this video excerpt from NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," New York Times technology columnist David Pogue explores how the periodic table of elements took shape. Learn how the periodic table developed its current form when Dmitri Mendeleev organized the elements by families with similar properties as well as by relative weight. In addition, find out how Mendeleev was able to predict elements that had not yet been discovered, and how the periodic table has accommodated dozens of new elements that have since been discovered.

    This video is available in both English and Spanish audio, along with corresponding closed captions.

    Grades: 6-12
  • NOVA Elements

    Learn about chemical elements and molecular structure in this interactive activity from NOVA. Explore an interactive periodic table to learn more about each element, including its properties, uses, and other interesting facts. Build an atom in the atomic sandbox where you can experiment with atomic structure and determine how many electrons, protons, and neutrons you need to construct an element based on its atomic number and weight. Construct elements and molecules found in everyday objects, such as a cup of coffee, in the "Essential Elements" game. In addition, watch the full episode of NOVA: "Hunting the Elements," a two-hour program hosted by David Pogue, New York Times technology columnist.

    Click on the links below to download the app.

    iPad App | Windows App

    Grades: 6-12

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