Worldbuilding 14.3 – Mercury

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Welcome to first Worldbuilding article of 2016, where we start things off with Mercury. Mercury has a rather… interesting, and partially horrific, history that remains relatively unknown today due to discontinued use of the element. This is largely due to the negative effects it has on our bodies, but this was only known in the last few hundred years, yet its history dates back to the ancient world.

The first part of 2016 will be covering the Metals of Antiquity. I have already covered Copper and Silver, with Mercury being one of 7 known metals known of until the 1700’s. All Metals of Antiquity is important for you to know when it comes to Worldbuilding, especially fantasy writers, thought it might be possible that without it, the world might not have been all that different.

 

INTRODUCTION

Mercury has an atomic number 80. The metal has been known by many names, including quicksilver and hydrargyrum. It is the word hydrargyrum that we get Hg on the periodic table, coming from a Latinized form of the Greek word, hydrargyros, which means water-silver. It was later named, Mercury, for the Roman God of the same name who was known for his speed and mobility. More than just share the name of the God, it is the only metal that shares its name for a planet, which was also named for the God, and both the planet and the metal share the astrological symbol.

MercurySymbolMeaning

http://www.whats-your-sign.com/images/MercurySymbolMeaning.jpg

Mercury is rather rare. Of the Metals of Antiquity, only Gold is more rare than Mercury. Mercury has a rating of 50 part per billion (ppb), where Silver is 70ppb, and Gold is 1.1ppb. While it can be found it is native state (rare), Mercury is mostly found in ores, but constitutes anywhere from 0.1% – 2.5% of the total mass of the ore.

The common ores where Mercury is found is Cinnabar, Corderoite, and Livingstonite. Mercury ore is generally found in young Orogenic Belts, areas where the tectonic plate is move under another plate, forcing mountains to rise (also known as Fold Mountains). Can also be found near hot springs and volcanic areas.

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Orogenic Belts in light blue. https://upload.wikimedia.org/wikipedia/commons/a/a9/World_geologic_provinces.jpg

Throughout history, the demand for Mercury has gone up and down. Today, the demand for it has decreased that many mines throughout the world have shut down. As of 2005, China is the top producer of Mercury, followed by Kyrgyzstan. It is believed that many other countries have unrecorded productions of Mercury, likely in use of Electrowinning process of extracting metals from ore.

SPECIAL PROPERTIES

Mercury is silvery-white metal that is a poor conductor of heat but a decent conductor of electricity. It is rather unique, as it is in a liquid state at room temperature, though metals such as Caesium, Gallium, and Rubidium, melt just above room temperature. Mercury melting point is -37.89 F (−38.83 C) and it’s boiling point is 674.114 F (356.73 C). Both the melting and boiling point is low compared to other Metals of Antiquity, as the next lowest one is Tin with a melting point of 447.8 F (231 C).

150291-004-B307B7A2

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Why? Such an explanation requires a deep understanding of chemistry and quantum physics, which is well beyond me. All I can offer is that the outside structure of a Mercury atom doesn’t hold onto another Mercury atom very well.

Upon inspection, Mercury looks very similiar to water. Unlike water, Mercury is highly dense. So dense that most objects you put in a pool of Mercury will float. Even a cannon ball.

ALLOY

Mercury forms many alloys, which is called Amalgam. Almost all metals can become an alloy with Mercury, except for  Iron, Platinum, Tungsten, and Tantalum. Because of this, Mercury was often traded in containers made of Iron. It is this reason that Patio Process, and later Pan Amalgamation, was so successful with Silver (and Gold) extraction. Mercury can dissolve these metals into an Amalgamation, and then all you have to do is heat the Amalgam to remove the Mercury.

Beyond the Patio Process, the most common uses of Amalgam is in Dentistry. When one had tooth decay, Mercury (mixed with Silver, Tin, and Copper) was poured into the tooth. This was first documented 16th century and had widespread use in 1800 which continued into the 2000’s, though there has been a decline in recent years due to potential health risks.

Other interesting Amalgams are Thallium. Thallium has a lower freezing point that Mercury at -72 F (−58 C). This Amalgam is used for low temperature thermometers. There is also Tin, which was used as a mirror coating. And Sodium, which is technically a metal, and this Amalgam is important as a reducing agent for Organic Chemistry.

Aluminum Amalgam is also worth noting. As will likely be discussed with Aluminum, the metal has a protective layer to protect against oxygen. Iron, when exposed to oxygen will rust, or Copper will turn green. The layer protecting Aluminum is Aluminum Oxide. Now when Mercury comes in contact with Aluminum Oxide, nothing happens. But say there is a scratch in the Aluminum Oxide and the Aluminum is exposed, then the metal begins to Amalgamates and corrodes the Aluminum structure, as it leaves behind the Aluminum Oxide. See video below.

Due to this reaction, there are restrictions imposed on the handling of Mercury in airplanes. Primarily, they are not allowed to be on an airplane as they are built primarily with Aluminum. We are more talking large amounts of Mercury transport, but even a little bit in a crucial area can cause a plane to go down.

There is another process that Mercury can cause, called Liquid Metal Embrittlement. Basically, a liquid metal that causes a metal to lose its ductility (or it’s ability to stretch), and become more brittle (prone to breaking when stretch). Aluminum is a very ductile metal.

APPLICATIONS

Mercury has had a lot of uses throughout history, thought most uses were done out of ignorance of how bad Mercury actually is.

Medicine

Since the time of the Ancient Age, Mercury was believed to be a medicine. In China (4th Century BC), Ge Kung believed that one could obtain immortality by ingesting Mercury. By the 2nd Century BC, Qín Shǐ Huáng Dì ingested Mercury for the reason of immortality. He likely died due to liver failure and brain damage due to the ingestion of Mercury.

Cinnabar was used by the Chinese as a medicine, and pigmentation in paint by the Chinese, Olmec, Egyptian, Ancient Greeks, and Ancient Roman. Ancient Greeks also used it for ointments, while Ancient Romans and Egyptians used it in cosmetics.

The use of metal for teeth can date back all the way back to 659 AD in China, but was made of Tin and Silver. It wouldn’t be until 1505 in China did an amalgam of Mercury, Silver, and Tin documented. It was also documented in use in Germany in 1528.

From the 1600’s to the 1800’s, a common medicine of the time was called Blue Pill. Unlike today in our association of Viagra, Blue Pill was mostly a treatment for syphilis, but could also be used for tuberculosis, toothache, and pains of childbirth (basically a cure all pill). When mixed with black draught, was a cure for constipation. Blue pill with black draught sounds like it left your liver black and blue.

Most famous use was by Abraham Lincoln. It is believed he used Blue Pill either for his depression or constipation; though it may also have been both, as the common belief of the time was that difficulties of digestion caused the body to be imbalanced, thus depression. It is believed that his use of Blue Pill caused his more erratic behavior.

The Crawcour Brothers (mistakenly identified as brothers, as they were actually cousins) brought the first Dental Amalgam from England to the US in 1833. The use of Dental Amalgams were controversial as the American Society of Dental Surgeons (ASDS) declared its use as malpractice, and forcing its members to sign agreements not to use this. It wasn’t until the disbanding of the ASDS in 1856 and the founding of the American Dental Association (ADA) in 1859 where they not only used, but strongly defended by the ADA up to today.

In 1899, the first edition of the Merck Manual was released. To this day, it is considered one of the most authoritative medical books. However, in the first edition, it included some medicines that used Mercury:

  • Mercauro – A mixture of the bromides of mercury, gold and arsenic used to treat syphilis
  • Mercuro-iodo-hemol – Same as above, includes iodine; used to treat syphilis.
  • Mercury-ammonium chloride – used as an antibacterial and antiseptic.
  • Mild Mercury Cyanide – Nitrogen, carbon, and Mercury; used as antiseptic and syphilis
  • Mercury Sulphate – used to detect alcohol in liquid
  • Mercury Tannate – used to treat Syphilis
  • Mercury Chloride – disinfectant, tanning of leather, spray for potato seedlings (to protect from disease), insecticide, preservation of wood, embalming fluid, textile printing, and engraving
  • Mercuric Oxide – disinfectant, fungicide (to kill fungi), perfumes and cosmetics

There are many more left out, only because I couldn’t find what their uses were, but we can see that Syphilis and disinfectant were the most widespread. Most interesting, due to the fact that Mercury had side effects, for the longest time, those side effects were mistakenly believed to be symptoms of syphilis.

Even today, one can still find Mercury in Thermometers, Sphygmomanometers (blood pressure monitors), and some over-the-counter drugs including: antiseptics, laxatives, diaper rash ointments, eye drops, and nasal sprays. It should be noted that the use of Mercury for these types of products are in the decline in the 21st Century, as some first world nations have banned them while others are phasing them out.

Vaccines

Of course, we can’t talk about Mercury without talking about Vaccinations. Many vaccines use Mercury as a preservative, as it can be antifungal. A vaccine contains about 1 microgram, which is well below the safety tolerance of mercury by the World Health Organization.

The use of Thiomersal, which is the Mercury component to vaccines, has come under scrutiny as the leading cause of Autism in children. While Autism is increasing in frequency of children today, it being a result of Thimoersal has been considered unfounded by the scientific community.

Vaccines that contain Mercury have been on the decline, especially for us in children under the age of 6, except in the case of Influenza.

Please note that I am not taking the side that Mercury in Vaccines are bad, nor am I saying they’re good. I try very hard not to engage in political discussion on this blog, but will report only the controversy itself.

Batteries

Mercury Batteries, also known as Mercutic Oxide Battery or Mercury Cell, is a non-rechargeable electrochemical battery. The voltage remained consistent at 1.35 volts, and had a higher capacity than zinc carbon batteries of the same size, with a long shelf life of 10 years.

The Mercury Button Cell design was used for watches, hearing aids, cameras, and calculators. It gained popularity in World War II for use in portable electronic equipment, such as metal detectors and walkies-talkies.

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The manufacturing of Mercury batteries were banned in Europe, and in the US was set that the manufactures had to have a disposal operation. While direct threats to health were not such much an issue, it was the indirect health risks that were a concern. Primarily the dumping of batteries in landfills.

Photography

Mercury was once a major component to photography, for a type of photography called Daguerreotype. Daguerreotype was one of the commonly used machines for recording photographs when introduced in 1839 and continued for about twenty years. I quote wikipedia on how a Daguerreotype operated:

“To make a daguerreotype, the daguerreotypist would polish a sheet of silver-plated copper to a mirror finish; treat it with fumes that made its surface light-sensitive; expose it in a camera for as long as was judged to be necessary, which could be as little as a few seconds for brightly sunlit subjects or much longer with less intense lighting; make the resulting latent image on it visible by fuming it with mercury vapor; remove its sensitivity to light by liquid chemical treatment; rinse and dry it; then seal the easily marred result behind glass in a protective enclosure.”

Other uses

Mercury switches were little tubes filled with Mercury that would tilt, and would them complete a circuit. Such switches were used for light switch, air conditioning, and fire detectors. The use of Mercury Switches has been on a decline in the last 40 years.

Early computers made use of Mercury Memory. Unlike today where we have RAM (Random Access Memory), in the 1950’s, they used Delay Line Memory. When we discuss computers, we will go over this more, but I will say that this type of memory used Mercury as a way of holding data for limited time when processing information.

Once used in lighthouses. The lens would sit on top of a pool of Mercury as it rotated to reduce friction.

Mercury was once used as a gun barrel bore cleaner.

Another famous use of Mercury was in the production of Felt hats. Animal skins rinsed in an orange solution of mercuric nitrate (known as ‘carroting‘). This would allow the fur to be separated from the pelt. This however would release toxic fumes to the wearer, which coined the phrase “mad as a hatter”, which inspired the Mad Hatter character in Alice in Wonderland. Due note that the character does not exhibit symptoms of Mercury poisoning.

Mascara, like Vaccines, use Thiomersal as a preservative for its products. Thiomersal is a known antiseptic and antifungal agent. However, the use of Mercury is rather small that it doesn’t pose a health risk. It helps prevent the growth of bacteria. Even so, Minnesota in 2008 has ban the use of Mercury in Cosmetics.

Telescopes can make use of Mercury, such as Liquid Mirror Telescope, where Mercury acts as a reflective surface by constantly moving in a circular rotation, forming a parabolic shape.

Many light sources use Mercury in vapor form, such as Florescent lights and some Neon lights.

TOXICITY

Mercury is toxic. While otherwise a great substance, it is harmful to humans. It appears most of human history was unaware of this fact, though there is some suggestion of it being used as a means to kill someone. There were studies as far back at the 1800’s trying to measure the toxicity of Mercury, but it seems it fell on deaf ears, especially in concern of its use for medicine and dentistry.

Despite knowing how harmful it is to humans, ADA and AMA will defend its use, and the USDA stipulated how much Mercury we can digest on a daily basis.

Mercury can exist in several different states. It can exist as a vapor, liquid state, inorganic salts, or organomercury. The toxicity of each state varies. While it can take different amounts for each person, Mercury poison can result in damage to the brain, lungs, and kidneys. It can lead to one of several diseases, including: acrodynia, Hunter-Russell syndrome, and Minamata disease.

Some common symptoms of Mercury poisoning:

  • Numb to damaged nerve ending of your skin, resulting in a itching/burning sensation, or the feeling of bugs crawling under your skin
  • Skin discoloration
  • Skin shedding
  • May also exhibit profuse sweating, fast heatbeats, increased salvation, and hypertension
  • Skin peeling
  • Children may experience: redning of cheek, nose, and lips; loss of hair, teeth, or fingernails; muscle weakness, kidney disfunction, involuntary crying (or laughing), memory imparement, or insomnia.

In this case, we are talking about actual poisoning, and not just the ingestion of mercury itself. It is possible for one to ingest Mercury and have no ill-effects. The most common way to ingest Mercury is through the consumption of seafood, often in the form of methylmercury, which is a highly toxic organic compound. Species of fish that are long lived and high on the food chain are marlin, tuna, shark, swordfish, king mackerel, tilefish, and northern pike. These species have the highest concentrations of Mercury than any other.

In human-controlled ecosystems of fish, generally for the purpose of seafood, Mercury is seen rising from small plankton and sediment to various species for human consumption. As fish consume it, it grows in concentration, known as bioaccumulation. Fish absorb Mercury very easily, but are slow to excrete it. In this case, the older a fish is, the more Mercury it is likely to have.

This explains why species such as shark, swordfish, or various birds including eagles, have higher concentrations of Mercury in their system, as these animals can amass a concentration up to ten times higher than the species they consume.

Seafood gets exposed to Mercury from a variety of sources, including natural sources such as volcanoes and geothermal vents, which only account for 10% of exposure. 30% of exposure comes from Antropogenic sources. Antropogenic is basically human impact on the environment. The release of Mercury to fish by humans come in the forms of: coal burning, cement production, oil refinery, small-scale gold mining, waste from consumer products, dental amalgams, and the mining, smelting and production of metals. The majority of Antropogenic sources comes from:

  • 65% coal fired power plants and other coal combustion
  • 11% from Gold production
  • 7% from metal production and smelting
  • 6% from cement production
  • 3% from hazardous waste

Two major incidents come to mind when discussing Antropogenic: Oak Ridge and Minamata. In the 1950’s, Oak Ridge, Tennessee began to develop a lithium fuel for a host of nuclear weapons, which required the use of Mercury. President Eisenhower signed an Executive Order to have millions of the nations Mercury reserve shipped to Oak Ridge. Between 1956 – 1966, there were 5 major spills that resulted in the release of up to 500,000lbs of Mercury into the environment. News of these spills wouldn’t reach the population ears until 1983.

Minamata, Japan is another such example, when between 1932 to 1968, the Chisso Corporation release methylmercury into the Minamata Bay and Shiranui Sea. At first, this resulted in reduces catches for local fisheries, but soon became a problem of people and animals experiencing Mercury poisoning from eating fish. This pandemic became known as the Minamata Disease.

Symptoms of Minamata Disease: neurological dysfunction, numbness in hands and feet, muscle weakness, loss of peripheral vision, and inability to hear and speak.

In extreme cases: insanity, paralysis, coma, and death; within weeks on first reported symptoms.

It also had such a severe effect on cats, it became known as they having Dancing Cat Fever.

While what happened in Minamata was localized to that area of Japan, throughout the world, there have been similar effects of Minamata Disease.

The other 60% of Mercury pollution come from Re-emission. Basically, sources that contain Mercury are spread or released in the environment. Such as soil containing Mercury are spread via floods, or plants release Mercury into the atmosphere due to forest fire. Whether going into the air, or into rivers, both can lead to being absorbed by the ocean.

It is believed that nearly 4000 metric tons is deposited in the Ocean every year, with about 2500 metric tons coming from rivers. Now only 13% make it into the food chain, but that is still about 40 metric tons. Both Natural and Antropogenic can be explanations as to why Re-emission occur.

Despite Mercury found within seafood, experts still suggest consumption of fish, as the benefits of Omega-3 found in fish outweigh the risk of Mercury.  It is generally recommended that one should only consume about 6oz, which is about 170 grams, of seafood known to be high in Mercury. One can of tuna is about 5oz.

You can consume other seafood low in Mercury, such as shrimp, canned light tuna, salmon, pollock, and catfish, up to 12oz, or two meals a week.

As scary as it might sound, the idea of getting Mercury poisoning through fish is uncommon. There are notable exceptions of course, but for the most part, eating of fish in a controlled amount won’t adversely affect you, unless you suffer some other medical problems. If one does get Mercury poisoning, it is more likely it was inhaled than ingested. That being said, doing research for yourself is not a bad idea. Try to find out where the fish came from before eating it. Luckily, removing the source of Mercury, your symptoms should improve.

HISTORY

Prehistory (2.5 million years ago to 3600BC)

There is no evidence that Mercury was known about during this time. It is likely that it was, as it would have been an easy metal to extract from ores. There is evidence that cinnabar was used in cave paintings, likely used as a red colouring, as far back as 30,000 years ago.

Ancient Age (3600BC to 800BC)

Mercury was known to ancient Chinese and Hindus before 2000 BC.

Evidence of Mercury found in Egypt tomb, in Kurna, dating back to 1500 BC.

Civilization in the Andes were mining Mercury as far back as 1400 BC.

Age of Antiquity (800BC to 500AD)

It was used to forma amalgams of other metals around 500 BC. The Greeks used mercury in ointments and the Romans used it, unfortunately for those using it, in cosmetics.

Greek philosopher Theophrastus (372-287 B.C. ), for example, described a method for preparing mercury. Cinnabar was rubbed together with vinegar in a clay dish.

Theophrastus wrote that the cinnabar had been found in silver mines. When the metal was first made, he wrote that people thought it might contain gold. They were misled by the metal’s shiny appearance. They soon realized, however, that it was quite different from gold.

Ko-Hung, a prominent Chinese alchemist who lived in the fourth century, tried smearing mercury on people’s feet as he believed that doing so would enable them to walk on water. He also placed it over a doorstep to keep thieves away and even tried combining it with raspberry juice, hoping that it would help elderly men beget children

Qín Shǐ Huáng Dì not only ingested Mercury for the purpose of long life in 2nd or 3rd Century BC, but there is rumor that his burial chamber had a model of his kingdom with the rivers made of Mercury.

Middle Ages (500AD – 1500AD)

Quantities of liquid mercury ranging from 90 to 600 grams (3.2 to 21.2 oz) have been recovered from elite Maya tombs (100-700AD) or ritual caches at six sites. This mercury may have been used in bowls as mirrors for divinatory purposes. Five of these date to the Classic Period of Maya civilization (c. 250–900) but one example predated this.

Renaissance (1400 – 1700)

Beginning in 1558, with the invention of the patio process to extract silver from ore using mercury, mercury became an essential resource in the economy of Spain and its American colonies. Mercury was used to extract silver from the lucrative mines in New Spain and Peru. The patio process and later pan amalgamation process continued to create great demand for mercury to treat silver ores until the late 19th century.

In 1643, the barometer was invented by Evangelista Torricelli, which used Mercury to measure atmospheric pressure.

Industrial Revolution (1700 – 1900)

Starting during this time, given the big machines used, coal burning was done on a massive scale. This caused Mercury to be released in the atmosphere. This continued well into the 20th century. Mercury also began to find itself into other products as well, and then the waste was dumped either in the soil or rivers/oceans.

During this time period, there were some studies that Mercury caused illness, but these studies were largely ignored.

The first mercury-in-glass themometer was invented in 1714 by Gabriel Fahrenheit.

James Watt patent the Mercury Steam Wheel in 1769. It would be later worked on by Matthew Boulton and Dr William Small in 1772, but the project wasn’t able to be complete. The basic mechanism is that steam would push the wheel up, and mercury would act as a counter balance to weight the wheel to turn down. Mercury was ideal for it’s liquid state and having a higher boiling point than water, so the steam wouldn’t affect the Mercury.

In 1772, Swedish scientist Carl W. Scheele and English chemist Joseph Priestley heated mercury oxide and found it yielded a gas that made a candle burn five times faster than normal – they had discovered Oxygen.

Priestley discovered several gases, such as Nitrous Oxide (laughing gas) because he collected them over a bath of mercury instead of the more usual water. Unlike water, the mercury did not dissolve the gases, leaving them available for discovery.

In 1759, Adam Braun and Mikhail Lomonosov working in St. Petersburg, Russia obtained solid mercury by freezing a mercury thermometer in a mixture of snow and concentrated nitric acid. This provided strong evidence that mercury had properties similar to other metals.

Around 1800, Edward Charles Howard created Mercury Fulminate, which is an explosive. First used to ignite gunpowder, replacing flints in muzzle-loading firearms. François Prélat would used Mercury Fulminate and create the first self contained bullet.

In 1833, two natives of England, Edward Crawcour and his nephew Moses Crawcour (incorrectly referred to as “the Crawcour brothers”), brought amalgam to the United States.

The American Dental Association (ADA) was founded in its place in 1859, which has since then strongly defended dental amalgam from allegations of being too risky from the health standpoint.

By 1863, Alfred Nobel used Mercury Fulminate as a basting cap for dynamite. This was used up to 1920’s

Post-Industrial (1900 – 1945)

Mercury was still used as a treatment for syphilis during this period, as well as used in explosives. Also during this time period, Mercury was used in turbine engines to generate electricity. This was due to Mercury having a higher boiling point than water. It was discontinued in 1950’s.

1928 saw the first mercury vapor turbines for generating electricity in Harford, Connecticut designed by The Hartford Electric Light Company (HELCO).

From 1932 to 1968,  Chisso Corporation’s chemical factory begun dumping Mercury into Minimata Bay. In 1956, Mercury poisoning was discovered at severe levels, which was called Minimata disease.

Due to problems with the carbon-zinc batteries of the time, scientists in 1944 invented a mercury battery, which had longer life and was better suited to higher temperatures and higher humidity.

1945 –  U-864 on its voyage to Japan was carrying 61 tons of Mercury, sank. It was later discovered in 2003, where it was found to be leaking Mercury into the ocean.

Atomic Age (1945 – 1980)

The use of Mercury found its way into one of the first computers. J. Presper Eckert used Mercury in improving radar systems in 1945 as a signal delay, to make the system work more efficently. This same technique was applied to EDVAC (1949), the second computer ever made (after ENIAC (1946)) and later the UNIVAC (1951) for commercial use.

Because of it’s preservative/antifouling nature, Sweden in the 1940’s began to add mercury to paints, paper pulp, seeds, and plants. Other countries did the similar treatment. However, in the 1950’s, this began killing animals, and Sweden stopped its use of this for paper pulp in 1967, paints (used for boats) in 1973, and agriculture in 1988.

In the 1950’s through 1960’s, Oak Ridge, TN experienced a series of Mercury spills up to about 500k tons. It wouldn’t be until the 80’s that this would be know to the public.

1970’s, 10,000 died and 100,000 suffered brain damage in Iraq for having grains that were sprayed with Mercury.

Information Age (1990 – Present)

During this time period, many first world countries began to restrict the use of Mercury. There are many outliers, including cosmetics, dentistry, and vaccinations. It is still used in many other parts of the world for a variety of reasons. It is not yet a banned substance, so it is still possible to get a hold of it, but there are restrictions of its sale and transport.

Future Age

It’s hard to picture what may come of Mercury in the future. It is dangerous for humans, yet provides great benefits for humans. Likely any purpose it has will be in great abundance as it will stop being used in commercial products.

The likely thing to happen with Mercury, sometime in the future, is to reduce or remove it toxicity. If Mercury wasn’t so dangerous for us, we might see it in a wide range of applications. There is some discussion that Mercury would be used in some way for space flight, possibly a part of a cooling system.

FINAL THOUGHTS

I feel as this may very well be the largest resource of Mercury on the internet. There is a lot of information here, and there is quite a bit to think about. As far as metal goes, specifically the Metals of Antiquity, Mercury is by far the most useless. Not saying Mercury is useless, but when compared to the other metals, it is.

Is this an important metal for Worldbuilding? Yes, but it would be way down on the list of priorities. Likely in the 1000s range. Fantasy writers you might consider it, if there is magic that emanates from metals, or alchemy is a practice. It was once believed that all metals started as Mercury, and it is possible to turn Mercury into Gold. Furthermore, many believed that Mercury had mystical properties.

Anyone writing a story that takes place after the 1500’s that deal with getting gold, might consider it as well. 1700’s is when we started to see widespread use, but most of it was guessing, but it was a building block to help us understand other things.

Steampunk writers may want to consider how Mercury fits in their world as well, since it will likely be used in generating electricity and gauging temperature. For most other fiction, including Science Fiction, it is likely not something for you to think about in any way.

Just remember with Mercury, that human kind has known of Mercury since the rise of civilization, but it wasn’t until the 1800s that anyone figured out it might be bad, 1900s when we really saw how bad it could be, and the 2000s when we tried to stop its use. There is a good chance that characters before this time period are unaware of its ill effects.

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