Tuesday, December 11, 2012

MEOWSER Introduction

Mineral Element Browser (MEOWSER) is a wooden cabinet containing APEX mineral samples with LED lighting controlled from a laptop computer.  The laptop can display either the periodic table or a layout of the cabinets.  When the user mouses over elements or minerals the appropriate lights in the wooden cabinet light up.  An Arduino microcontroller serves as the computer - LED interface.

The MEOWSER Video Introduction is posted here.
There are several more videos if you want more details.

This Blog describes each of the APEX minerals I collected.  I discuss the minerals for each element and also some interesting properties of each element.

APEX Minerals in the Periodic Table is the master index page into all the challenges I had collecting APEX Minerals.


Neal Ekengren is a Maker from Longwood, FL.   He works for Thompson Reuters creating Real Estate Valuation software.  He is a recognized Master Gardener, historical miniatures gamer, and world traveller.  But probably his longest running hobby interests have been chemistry and electronics.  The old Radio Shack electronic kits and Chemistry sets from the 1960's were his favorite boyhood "toys".  There were no integrated circuits or microcontrollers.  A single transistor was a big deal.  He survived the perils of these toys to graduate from the University of Kansas with degrees in Biochemistry and Petroleum Engineering.   

Neal, was introduced to the Maker world by a Wired magazine article on the Arduino.  His wife somehow knew he was interested and gave him one for Christmas.  He figured he would play around, learn about these new fancy new microcontrollers, and light up a few LED's.  Then the Maker bug hit.  He envisioned a project combining his Arduino with chemistry, software development, and woodworking.  MEOWSER was born.  He had been viewing all the great online chemistry periodic tables that were showing up.  The great idea was to use a computer mouse to point at the periodic table and  create a cabinet full of mineral samples with LED lighting on each sample.  The whole thing would have a user interface running on the computer that would talk to an Arduino to control the LED's.  
Here are links to the web pages which helped me formed the ideas for MEOWSER:

The Wooden Periodic Table gave me the idea for collecting element and mineral samples.

The Dynamic Periodic Table gave me the idea for the mouser driven software for the mineral cabinet LED's.

The Wired Magazine Article gave me the idea for controlled LED lighting with an Arduino.
Here are the primary links to the web pages which I used for research when building MEOWSER:

A comprehensive list of Minerals for each Element including weight by percentage.

An introduction to the history, sources, uses for each element at Wikipedia and also at

MEOWSER at Maker Faire

Orlando Maker Faire 2013

Tampa Bay Maker Faire 2012

Monday, December 10, 2012

MEOWSER Software Images

MEOWSER software runs on a Windows PC.  Screen shots are shown below.......

MEOWSER Cabinet navigation mode 
Point at the rock and you get lots of info about the minerals in the rock and the elements in each mineral.
MEOWSER Element navigation mode
Point at the element and only the rocks which contain that element light up. 
MEOWSER Architecture diagram of electronics
The database driven computer software sends commands to the Arduino which sends the on/off signals to all the LED lights.  Shift Register integrated circuits translate one byte into 8 bits controlling 8 lights.  Darlington transistor array integrated circuits are the high power power on/off switches for the lights which are switched by the low power Arduino.  
MEOWSER data model diagram of the SQL Server database
Each Mineral contains many elements.
Each Rock contains many minerals.
Each Cabinet (16 lights) contains many Rocks.
Each Rock has one or two lights.

APEX Minerals in the Periodic Table of Elements

A mineral that contains the highest concentration (by weight) of a particular element that is readily obtainable from primary ore samples in a quantity that can be viewed with the naked eye.

This definition is purposefully fuzzy.

  1. "Readily obtainable" means that I can find it at a mineral show or on EBAY for a cheap price.  It means I can afford it.  I have no desire to collect expensive minerals or go on some extended search for some obscure item.
  2. "Primary ore" means I prefer minerals from non-weathered rocks.  There are a large variety of geologic processes which create various minerals.  This is ok.  What I want to avoid is minerals that have resulted from just general climatic weathering (evaporation, oxidation) since these are by their nature very transient.  Another category I want to avoid is "organic" minerals.  There are a variety of mineral deposits that are organic in origin but I really don't want to count that as "Primary ore".  Another category I want to avoid is "salts".  These are formed as evaporites or in volcanic fumaroles.  They are destroyed on contact with water and make poor permanent collections.
  3. "Naked eye" means I have to get a big enough sample to see.  There thousands of minerals which could be APEX except for that fact that they really only exist in microscopic quantities.

In several instances my APEX rules are ignored in the interest of actually having something to display.
  1. Sometimes the highest occurring element concentration is too expensive or is not common enough to be readily available.  We choose the next best choice.
  2. Sometimes the element normally only exists as a Salt so we choose one of these. (e.g. most Sodium minerals are Salts)
  3. Sometimes the Organic mineral is the only available source for the element.  (e.g. there are NO inorganic Nitrogen minerals)

In the beginning, MEOWSER was going to be a 100% Element collection with just the Periodic Table browser.  However I quickly realized this was going to be somewhat boring.  The vast majority of the elements are gray metals.  A cabinet full of these metals didn't seem quite so appealing.  Minerals are much more interesting.  They come in many colors, shapes, textures, etc.  Minerals also are conveniently packaged together into things called rocks which means just one chunk of stuff in my cabinet can represent quite a variety of different elements.  Sold.

Once I started identifying the minerals I wanted, I could have just picked the prettiest.  But somehow I wanted to be more objective.  That's when I hit upon the idea of the mineral with the highest concentration of the element.  Obviously there is still a subjective element of which mineral best satisfies my APEX mineral definition.  My evaluation of which mineral is "APEX" was based primarily on my Google and eBay searches.  If I found very few images or I found no eBay listings it failed my APEX test.

If you can think of a better term for this than "APEX Mineral", please let me know.

Sunday, December 9, 2012

Hydrogen APEX Mineral

Hydrogen (H #1) is the first collectible element on the periodic table for my APEX mineral collection.  

Wikipedia Hydrogen

Amber (polymerized [C,H,O]) containing 11% Hydrogen is my Hydrogen APEX Mineral.

It would seem like such a simple thing to say
"What is the mineral containing the highest concentration of Hydrogen?"
Over 75% of the universe mass is Hydrogen.  So we have plenty of it.  How hard could this be?  Very hard it turns out.

Hydrogen’s unique properties distinguish it from all other elements in the periodic table.  Almost all Hydrogen compounds are highly reactive and only exist temporarily in nature.  The only truly stable compound on Earth is our famous Oxygen Hydrogen compound called Water.  This is where the vast majority of Hydrogen on Earth is found.  Water could be the perfect APEX mineral since by weight it really does have the highest concentration of Hydrogen.  The problem is that Water is not solid at room temperature.   Minerals by definition are solid.  I need to find something else.

The only other Hydrogen on Earth are minor amounts bound into the biological Carbon and Nitrogen cycles.  This would be things like oil, bat guano, etc.  I am trying to avoid organic compounds for APEX minerals so forget these for now.

If I fudge my definition of APEX mineral there is another possibility.  There are a huge number of hydrous minerals.  These are complex structures of H20 water or OH hydroxyls attached in a matrix with other elements.  The Earth contains so many hydrous minerals that there may actually be more water locked into the crust and mantle than there is in the oceans.  Moon rocks contain NO hydrous minerals because water did not exist to create them.

Cement is an example of a hydrous mineral.  It is very hard and you really wouldn't guess the water content unless you knew how it was made.  At high enough temperatures all hydrous minerals will liberate their water.

So if I pick the "best" hydrous mineral it turns out that at most, 5% Hydrogen can be found.  Not a very impressive APEX mineral I think.

OK.  After all my dead ends I decided to "cheat".  I'm going to pick Amber with 11% Hydrogen as my APEX mineral.  Amber is solid at room temperature and will not dissolve in water.  Amber is tree sap that was buried and fossilized and polymerized into basically a type of plastic.  Amber cannot be consumed by organisms like most organic minerals so I chose this as my best specimen.

Hydrogen Gas is quite explosive.
Liquid Hydrogen can be achieved in pressurized vessels at 20 degrees above absolute zero.
Solid Hydrogen has not been produced and may not exist.

Some stray notes on WATER which really is a magical compound:

  • Water is called the Universal Solvent because it is able to dissolve many more chemicals than most solvents. This makes it very useful in transporting chemicals through living organisms.
  • The cohesiveness or surface tension of Water makes it a great solvent for  upward water transport in plants.
  • Water can absorb and release much more heat than most other chemicals.  This makes the oceans a great moderator of climate changes.  It also gives mammals an efficient evaporative cooling mechanism (sweating).
  • Water expands when it freezes which makes an excellent floating ice heat barrier.  This prevents bodies of water from freezing solid and again moderates the climate.

Water is a great way for the universe to consolidate the two most common reactive elements.  
  • Hydrogen by definition is primordial stuff that is the most common element in the universe.
  • Helium by definition is also primordial stuff and is the second most common element in the universe.  However Helium is not reactive in the chemical sense and does not combine with other elements into minerals.  Stellar Nucleosynthesis (fusion in stars) is the only mechanism the produces and consumes Helium.
  • Oxygen is the third most common element. This is a direct result of the Stellar Nucleosynthesis processes in first generation stars that convert Hydrogen and Helium to heavier elements.  
  • Hydrogen and Oxygen are both highly reactive with other elements.  So now if we just press the GO button and make all the universe elements react we get lots and lots of water as the easiest and most stable product to get generated!!

Some Hydrogen Chemistry Notes:

Where does Hydrogen go on the periodic table?  There really is no perfect spot for it.

The most common placement is shown above at the head of column (Group) one because, like the alkali metals, it has only one electron in its valence shell. That position, however, does not truly reflect the chemical or physical properties of the element. In particular, its ionization energy is far higher than those of the other Group 1 elements, so hydrogen is not a metal, although it may be found naturally in a metallic state where extreme pressures exist, such as the core of Jupiter. 

Some periodic tables put hydrogen at the head of Group 17 because, like the halogens, it requires only one electron to complete its valence shell. But the electron affinity of hydrogen is far lower than that of any of the elements of Group 17 and the discrete hydride ion, H- , is encountered only in certain compounds.

Hydrogen is a unique element because of its ability to be found in 3 forms in which it can perform chemical reactions:

  • H+, a proton
  • H-, a hydride with a filled valence shell (electron configuration of 1s2)
  • H., a covalent-sharing its electrons

Basically, all Hydrogen compounds are highly reactive and only exist temporarily nature.  Many Hydrogen compounds will react violently in air or water at room temperature.  Others will transform very quickly into other compounds.  The only Hydrogen compounds which are stable at room temperature contain Carbon, Nitrogen, or Oxygen.

A summary of the stability of all Hydrogen-Element combinations is listed below:
  • Hydrogen - Group 1 compounds all react violently with air and water.
  • Hydrogen - Group 2 compounds all react vigorously with water.
  • Hydrogen - Group 3-12 compounds (Hydrides) are not possible in many cases and are very volatile where they exist.
  • Hydrogen - Group 13 compounds all react violently with air.
  • Hydrogen - Group 14 compounds (including hydrocarbons) all are very flammable or are unstable.
  • Hydrogen - Group 15 compounds are flammable and are commonly found in explosives.  The interesting thing is that explosives are not made from other Hydrogen Group compounds because they are TOO explosive and TOO dangerous.
  • Hydrogen - Group 16 compounds are toxic and flammable.
  • Hydrogen - Group 17 compounds are highly corrosive and toxic.


Helium APEX Mineral

Helium (He #2) is the next element on the periodic table for my APEX mineral collection. 
Wikipedia Helium
Helium Minerals - There ZERO Helium minerals.

Helium is our first Noble gas.  That means it won't react with anything and can't create minerals.

Helium on Earth is rare.  What exists is created by the radioactive decay of 
Thorium and Uranium.  This Helium is trapped with natural gas in concentrations up to 7% by volume.

Helium boiling and melting points are the lowest of any element. It exists only as a gas except in extreme conditions.  Helium represent 24% of the total mass of the universe.  So now, with Hydrogen, we have accounted for 99% of the total mass of the universe.
Helium is used for many purposes that require some of its unique properties, such as its low boiling point, low density, low solubility, high thermal conductivity, or inertness. Most Helium is used in cryogenic applications. 
Helium has no biological role.