How much gold is in 400 tons of dirt?

DAVID POGUE: Okay, so here's a classic example. They would do a much better job marketing this table if the name and the symbol matched. Gold doesn't even have Au in it.

Watch out with the hammer. What are you…?

Copper has been prized for millennia for its unique properties: it conducts electricity better than any metal except silver; it's malleable and has a moderate melting temperature; it even scares away bacteria.


DAVID POGUE: We live in a world of incredible material variety.

LAWRENCE L. "LARRY" JONES (The Ames Laboratory): Oh yeah. Cerium, lanthanum, praseodymium.

DAVID MULLER: Those are acoustic blankets. They are meant to absorb and reflect sound, because the microscope itself is so sensitive that if you were to talk, just the pressure wave from your voice is going to, is going to give enough mechanical vibration to shake this thing around. We only have to shake things by an atom for the image to vanish.


DAVID POGUE: Boy, I hope I can talk my way out.

Changing the five-thousand-year-old recipe for glass has led to a new form they call Gorilla Glass, and you can probably guess why they named it that.

MIKE LASSITER: This area, here, has been backfilled.

The glassmakers have learned how to precisely place minute amounts of metal atoms like sodium, potassium and aluminum among the silicon atoms. The result is hard, yet flexible and scratch-resistant.

It is a gold mine! But where's the gold?

PETER BOCKO: What the scientists do is they can tailor the glass, by adding other things other than the sand, to engineer the properties they want to into, into the glass.

DAVID POGUE: The gold is microscopic?

PETER BOCKO (Chief Technology Officer, Corning, Incorporated): You know, David, this place looks and sounds like a blacksmith shop, but, actually, it's a scientific laboratory.

JOHN TAULE: Yes, you can't see it with the naked eye.

And now we're using those raw materials to shape our civilization, with elements like silicon—14 protons, 14 electrons—the second most abundant element in the earth's rocky crust; a member of the one of the smallest neighborhoods on the table: the semiconductors. When most people think of silicon, they think of computer chips and the information age, but its most familiar form is actually in this.

To get at the color, it has to be crushed,…

DAVID POGUE: Then he breaks the news that the Chinese government has been limiting the export of these strategically important elements.

Do you want ice cream with this?

In that intense flash, the supernova creates elements heavier than iron, launching them all into the cosmos, creating the raw materials of planets and of life.