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How is mercury used today?Mercury is used in a variety of applications, but is being phased out of some of them due to health issues. Due to its high density and thermal expansion characteristics, it is used in measuring instruments such as thermometers and barometers. A major application today is fluorescent lamps and mercury vapor lamps.Other applications for mercury include dental fillings, telescopes, cosmetics, and vaccines.How was it discovered?Mercury has been known about since ancient times and was used by civilizations such as Ancient Egypt and Ancient China. The first emperor of China, Qin Shi Huang, believed that mercury was part of the Elixir of Life that would help him to live forever. Unfortunately, mercury is toxic and consuming mercury is likely what killed him.For many years, alchemists thought that mercury was the "prima materia" and that all other metals could be made from mercury. They thought they could use mercury to make gold.Where did mercury get its name?Mercury gets is name from the planet Mercury which was named after the swift messenger of the Roman gods, Mercury. It was given this name because it flowed swiftly in its liquid form. The symbol Hg comes from the Latin word "hydragyrum" meaning "liquid silver."IsotopesMercury has seven stable isotopes. The most abundant in nature is Mercury-202 which comprises around 30% of all mercury.Interesting Facts about MercuryDespite being the only metal that is liquid at room temperature, mercury has the smallest liquid range of any metal. It becomes a solid at -38.83°C and a gas at 356.7°C.Some fish, such as swordfish and shark, can contain high levels of mercury.The use of mercury in manufacturing has been banned in several countries including Norway, Sweden, and Denmark.The term "mad as a hatter" comes from hat makers who went crazy breathing in mercury vapors from chemicals they used in making hats.Never hold mercury in your bare hands as it can seep through the skin and poison you. Mercury should not be left out in the open as it will evaporate into the air and can poison you through breathing it.
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