Well, a few basic facts about the metal that makes up pencils, and more specific facts about the composition and properties of a pencil’s lead – the lead used by many of you here today.
Let’s begin by talking a bit about metals:
Metal has two groups of electrons that are arranged in alternating pairs and called protons. Each pair of protons has a specific charge. The group that electrons belong to is called the atomic number. The smaller the number, the faster electrons travel.
(For information on how to calculate the elements in a chemical formula, please see The Elements of the Chemical Formula.)
The electrons travel in a direction, which is called the electrical current. Since they have a charge, we know that when they come together they get accelerated. They also have mass, so we can describe their motion by measuring a quantity called the acceleration of gravity, and this is very important… and very boring:
But what does it mean? How do we know how fast the electrons move? Well, the only way to figure this out is to measure the gravitational acceleration. For this we need a measuring device called the electrometer which measures exactly the rate at which an electron is accelerated. That is, we have to know exactly how fast the electrons are traveling to make a good prediction. Fortunately, a small device called a gravimeter can measure how fast the electrons are traveling. It is very sensitive to small fluctuations in electrical power, and its measurements are very important because they allow us to calculate the rate at which an electron is accelerating. For more info, please see The Gravimeter.
What is a pencil made of? Well, it all comes down to the composition:
For an ordinary pencil made of lead and metal it will have a few basic components. You may have already figured out what the lead and metal are, but we will make sure you know how they work too.
Lead: What does this do? This is the “base” that the atoms rest on, and it holds the lead together and makes the pencil stick together as you write.
Metal: What does this do? It is a metallic lead with a metal oxide coating so that the lead and metal stick together.
Platinum: This has been used to make the only pencil lead of gold so that you can take your pencil straight to work in your office when you are ready to go home. But what does it really do? It is a very light metal that has a very
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