Hydrogen; the most abundant element in the universe and the first element on the periodic table. Appearing on its own as an odorless, colorless gas, it is most commonly encountered  on Earth in the form of it’s most well-known compound, water. As it turns out, I was able to get both of these forms into the same sample.


A sample vial containing both hydrogen gas and hydrogen bonded with oxygen in the form of water.

I made this sample myself using a crude hydrolysis apparatus made from a Styrofoam cup and some paperclips as electrodes. A couple of minutes hooked up to a daisy-chain of three 9V batteries produced this much hydrogen. I was also trying to collect oxygen during this operation, but most of the oxygen reacted with the steel paperclips to form iron oxide. This turned the water in the cup a rather unappealing brown color. Also, the salt I had mixed into the water to increase its electrical conductivity and speed up the electrolysis process reacted with the iron on the positive electrode to form green iron chloride.

Shortly after making my first sample for hydrogen, I acquired this one.

5g of Deuterium Oxide

A vial containing five grams of deuterium oxide.

This is a vial containing 5g of deuterium oxide, a.k.a. “heavy water”. Chemically, heavy water is the same as “normal” water, being composed of two hydrogen atoms bonded to an oxygen atom. In normal water, the nuclei of the hydrogen atoms contain a single, lone proton in an isotope knows as “protium”. In heavy water, though, the hydrogen atoms contain both a proton and a neutron. This isotope of hydrogen is the “deuterium” in “deuterium oxide”. As a result of the extra neutrons, heavy water is rougly 11% more dense than normal water (ice cubes of frozen heavy water sink in normal water). Heavy water is well known for its use as a neutron moderator (a substance which slows down emitted neutron radiation) in some nuclear reactors. Contrary to popular belief, heavy water is not radioactive.

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