Wednesday, September 04, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 26

Fearless is nothing if not relentless in this countdown of the Washington Capitals and their place in the periodic table of the elements.  He is rewarded with a look at one of the strongest of elements…


While common on earth, iron is often produced in stellar furnaces, a process that involves fusion in high-mass stars.  The process is intensely “exothermic” (releasing energy, usually heat, from the system) It makes iron one of the most abundant elements in all the universe.  In its pure form iron is a reactive element in the presence of oxygen or water, often forming the class of compounds known as iron oxides, which take on a red color.

Iron has been found in objects dating back at least 5,000 years.  References to it can be found in both the Old and New Testament of the Bible.  In ancient times it was often used for weaponry, having the advantages of durability (even with its propensity to rust) and strength superior to that of bronze.

As time passed, processes to produce iron were discovered and refined.  With those refinements came an expansion of its applications, from warfare to agriculture, architecture, and infrastructure.  Processes were developed to remove impurities from iron, then alloying it with other metals (nickel or chromium, for example).  This substance – steel – was more malleable than iron, more versatile, more durable.  Adding carbon to iron to produce a form of steel makes the resulting substance harder, stronger, and more durable, especially well-suited for tools and machinery.  Iron also can be found in some fungicides, pigments, and abrasives.  One might make a case that it is the cheapest, yet most useful of metals.

Iron is a ubiquitous and essential element in biology.  It gives blood its red color with its presence in hemoglobin.  It is present in some enzymes that are involved in fixing nitrogen, a process that makes nitrogen more reactive than in its more common, gaseous diatomic state.  It can be found in some proteins.  In the physical world it can be found in a molten state in the earth’s core.

Iron, as you can see, is quite literally essential to the life blood of the body.  It is strong and durable, especially when in the presence of other elements.  It is tempered in the heat of stars; it is reactive in air and water.  Over time it has seen its applications grow in importance and variety.  It might bring to mind a young, feisty, sturdy goaltender who has played in at least 50 games in each of the last seven seasons (including playoffs), save for the abbreviated 2013 season.  Even in that instance he played in 43 of the team’s 55 games.

Iron… the “Braden Holtby” of elements of the periodic table.

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