What Is the Coolest Element?

Contenders for the Title of "Coolest Chemical Element"

Which element do you consider to be the coolest element?
Which element do you consider to be the coolest element?. Thinkstock Images / Getty Images

Each of the chemical elements has its own distinctive set of properties, making it cool in its own way. If you had to choose the coolest element, which would it be? Here are some top contenders for the title and reasons why they are awesome.

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Science Picture Co/Collection Mix: Subjects/Getty Images

Pretty much all of the radioactive elements are cool. Plutonium is particularly awesome because it truly does glow in the dark. Plutonium's glow isn't due to its radioactivity, though. The element oxidizes in air, emitting red light like a burning ember. If you were to hold a chunk of plutonium in your hand (not recommended), it would feel warm thanks to the huge number of radioactive decays and the oxidation.

Too much plutonium in one place leads to a runaway chain reaction, also known as a nuclear explosion. One interesting fact is that plutonium is more likely to go critical in a solution than as a solid.

The element symbol for plutonium is Pu. Pee-Uuu. Get it? Plutonium rocks.

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Diamonds are pure carbon.
Diamonds are pure carbon. Salexmccoy, Wikipedia Commons

Carbon is cool for several reasons. First, all life as we know it is based on carbon. Every cell in your body contains carbon. It's in the air you breathe and the food you eat. You couldn't live without it.

It's also cool because of the interesting forms assumed by the pure element. You encounter pure carbon as diamonds, graphite in a pencil, soot from combustion, and as those wild cage-shaped molecules known as fullerenes.

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Elemental sulfur melts from a yellow solid into a blood-red liquid. It burns with a blue flame.
Elemental sulfur melts from a yellow solid into a blood-red liquid. It burns with a blue flame. Johannes Hemmerlein

You usually think of sulfur as a yellow rock or powder, but one of the cool things about this element is that it changes color under different conditions. Solid sulfur is yellow, but it melts into a blood-red liquid. If you burn sulfur, the flame is blue.

Another neat thing about sulfur is that its compounds have a distinctive smell. Some might even call it a stench. Sulfur is responsible for the odor of rotten eggs, onions, garlic, and skunk spray. If it's stinky, there's probably sulfur in there somewhere.

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Use copper or barium for green flames and lithium or strontium for red flames.
Use copper or barium for green and lithium or strontium for red to get a Christmas-colored flame test. Datacraft Co Ltd, Getty Images

All of the alkali metals react spectacularly in water, so why did lithium make the list while cesium did not? Well, for one, you can get lithium from batteries, while cesium requires a special permit to obtain. For another, lithium burns with a hot pink flame. What's not to love?

Lithium is also the lightest solid element. Before bursting into flame, this metal floats on water. Its high reactivity means it would also corrode your skin, so this is a no-touchy element.

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Pure gallium has a bright silver color.
Pure gallium has a bright silver color. These crystals were grown by the photographer. Foobar, wikipedia.org

Gallium is a ​silvery metal that you can use to perform the bending spoon magic trick. You make a spoon of the metal, hold it between your fingers, and use the power of your mind to bend the spoon. Really, you're using the heat of your hand and not a superpower, but we'll keep that our little secret. Gallium transitions from a solid to a liquid slightly above room temperature.

The low melting point and resemblance to stainless steel makes gallium perfect for the disappearing spoon trick. Gallium is also used for the gallium beating heart demonstration, which is a much safer version of the classic chem demo that uses mercury.