Metals that aren't & other edge cases

Eleanor Konik

Eleanor Konik

Professionally, I teach pre-teens about ancient civilizations. In my downtime, I enjoy combining storytelling with my love of sharing obscure history and science.


I was working on a bronze age story where the protagonist needed to be able to melt stone in a cauldron, which at her technological level would have been impossible given the properties of bronze. Since realmwalking gods were involved, I was able to work around her limitations, but if I was leaning on magic anyway, I didn't want to base her cauldron on anything boring like steel, so I didn't a little digging...

Fun Facts

  • Ruthenium is the suspected catalyst behind the methane flames that have burned for over a thousand years in Turkey; normally methane can't form at such low temperatures.
  • Microlattice is the lightest metal alloy (it's nickel phosphorus tubes) ever made; like an aerogel, it can balance on top of a dandelion.
  • Lithium has a density similar to that of pine; it floats on water and, in its pure form, burns in air.
  • Having an electron shell with only one electron in it makes lithium, potassium, and sodium relatively large for their mass.
  • Lead, cadmium, mercury, manganese, copper and arsenic are common heavy metals that sometimes appear in tap water. In large enough quantities, they're quite toxic.

Clear Ceramic

Aluminium oxynitride is bulletproof glass, except way better — it's lighter, thinner, and harder (and, you know, more expensive). It even resists damage from acids, bases, and water. The only bummer is that, despite the name (cribbed from Star Trek), it's technically a ceramic. The US military is working on developing ways to make bigger sheets with more applications.

Hot & Unbothered

Tungsten is the heaviest common, naturally occurring metal and has the ability to retain its strength at very high temperatures — in fact, it has the highest melting point of any metal, making it perfect for a god-given cauldron designed for melting magic-infused rock. Modern machinists have to shape it using powder metallurgy, since no other vessel can contain it.

Under Pressure ♫

On earth, hydrogen is definitely not a metal; it's a poor conductor because of the lattice-like way its atoms are arranged. Inside of gas giants, though, hydrogen is under such high pressure that it loses its electrons, and the unbound electrons can move easily between nuclei, making them behave like a metal.

The Beating Heart

You can melt gallium with your body heat. It shatters like glass. If you put it on top of aluminum, it'll gradually bond with the aluminum, weakening the structure of the aluminum. More interestingly, though, it beats like a heart when activated by electricity, to the point where scientists think it could be used to power robot muscles.

📗 ICYMI: If you found this interesting, you may also enjoy this story featuring a Realmwalking god.

💚 If you learned something from this overview, consider forwarding it to a friend and encouraging them to sign up for more research deep dives into obscure history and science.

🪙 What's your favorite use of weird metals in a fictional story?


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