I’ve recently been spending a fair bit of my free time watching the Periodic Table of Videos produced by Brady Haran. I heard about these from a good friend, and was immediately intrigued – videos about all the elements sounded like fun. As I started diving into them, not only were they fun, they had a lot of very good information.
For me, I think I learned the most about the Transition Metals and Rare Earth Metals (aka the Lanthanides, which is how I always knew them). In my high school and undergraduate chemistry classes, we always spent a lot of time on the Alkali Metals, Halogens, Noble Gasses, and a few other “important” elements, at the expense of the metals which we only talked about in the most basic terms. I had always (falsely) assumed that these things must be rare/unimportant which is why we didn’t talk about them. Learning that, on the contrary, many of the transition metals and Lanthanides as well as their salts show up all over the place and in many varied applications was really interesting. If I were to pull one gem, it would be learning that four Lanthanides – Yttrium, Terbium, Erbium, and Ytterbium – all originated from a mine in Ytterby, and that you could find their ore just laying around.
If you are interested in the chemistry or properties of individual elements on the periodic table, I’d recommend taking a look. Alternately, if you’re just in it for the explosions, Hydrogen and the alkali metals are a good start.