NPR logo The Extinction Of Elements

News

The Extinction Of Elements

Doctors use gallium to detect inflammation in the lungs. National Institutes of Health hide caption

toggle caption
National Institutes of Health

This one's for BPP editor Tricia McKinney, who right now is editing an interview she did with her aunt for tomorrow's show, and who thus may not know that the world is dangerously close to running out of the element gallium.

Planet Earth is also short on indium. And hafnium. And zinc. And, as Tricia has told us so many times, copper. Here's Robert Silverberg, writing in Asimov's Science Fiction about a looming reality:

I was taught long ago that the ninety-two elements found in nature are the essential building blocks of the universe. Take one away — or three, or six — and won't the essential structure of things suffer a potent blow? Somehow I feel that there's a powerful difference between running out of oil, or killing off all the dodos, and having elements go extinct.

We can blame the loss of gallium on our hunger for flat-screen TVs and computer monitors — the element goes into liquid-crystal displays.

(With thanks to Andrew Sullivan.)

NPR thanks our sponsors