Elemental: Hydrogen

Our element-by-element guide to the periodic table starts with 'the best element of them all'

By Richard Luck, 6 December 2011

Hydrogen symbol

Symbol: H (for hydrogen)

Atomic number: 1, and as such is the best element in the universe

Discovered: 1766 by Henry Cavendish, although Robert Boyle all but defined it in 1671. Just goes to show what happens if you don't show your working...

What it looks like: An invisible gas. So, like God, then

What it's used for: Keeping airships afloat until the point when their fabric covering catches fire so causing the incredibly flammable element to go up in flames

You might not know, but it's also in: Primitive vacuum flasks where it was used in its liquid form as a cooling agent

What it does: Not an awful lot on its own but when it's mixed with oxygen it can be used to power an internal combustion engine. It is also the most abundant element in the universe. Indeed, 75 per cent of the universe's elemental mass is hydrogen, so you could even argue that almost everything is hydrogen.

In addition: James Dewar produced solid hydrogen in 1898. What a shame it didn't catch on.

Hindenburg balloon burns

Hydrogen. You see it now?


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