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The Elemental Composition of the Human Body

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Elements that make up the human body infographic

The Elemental Composition of a Human Body

The human body is a miraculous, well-oiled, and exceptionally complex machine. It requires a multitude of functioning parts to come together for a person to live a healthy life—and every biological detail in our bodies, from the mundane to the most magical, is driven by just 21 chemical elements.

Of the 118 elements on Earth, just 21 of them are found in the human body. Together, they make up the medley of divergent molecules that combine to form our DNA, cells, tissues, and organs.

Based on data presented by the International Commission on Radiological Protection (ICRP), in the above infographic, we have broken down a human body to its elemental composition and the percentages in which they exist.

These 21 elements can be categorized into three major blocks depending on the amount found in a human body, the main building block (4 elements), essential minerals (8 elements), and trace elements (9 elements).

The Elemental Four: Ingredients for Life

Four elements, namely, oxygen, carbon, hydrogen, and nitrogen, are considered the most essential elements found in our body.

Oxygen is the most abundant element in the human body, accounting for approximately 61% of a person’s mass. Given that around 60-70% of the body is water, it is no surprise that oxygen and hydrogen are two of the body’s most abundantly found chemical elements. Along with carbon and nitrogen, these elements combine for 96% of the body’s mass.

Here is a look at the composition of the four elements of life:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (kg)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Oxygen43 kg61.4%
Carbon16 kg22.9%
Hydrogen7.0 kg10.0%
Nitrogen1.8 kg2.6%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Let’s take a look at how each of these four chemical elements contributes to the thriving functionality of our body:

Oxygen

Oxygen plays a critical role in the body’s metabolism, respiration, and cellular oxygenation. Oxygen is also found in every significant organic molecule in the body, including proteins, carbohydrates, fats, and nucleic acids. It is a substantial component of everything from our cells and blood to our cerebral and spinal fluid.

Carbon

Carbon is the most crucial structural element and the reason we are known as carbon-based life forms. It is the basic building block required to form proteins, carbohydrates, and fats. Breaking carbon bonds in carbohydrates and proteins is our primary energy source.

Hydrogen

Hydrogen, the most abundantly found chemical element in the universe, is present in all bodily fluids, allowing the toxins and waste to be transported and eliminated. With the help of hydrogen, joints in our body remain lubricated and able to perform their functions. Hydrogen is also said to have anti-inflammatory and antioxidant properties, helping improve muscle function.

Nitrogen

An essential component of amino acids used to build peptides and proteins is nitrogen. It is also an integral component of the nucleic acids DNA and RNA, the chemical backbone of our genetic information and genealogy.

Essential and Supplemental Minerals

Essential minerals are important for your body to stay healthy. Your body uses minerals for several processes, including keeping your bones, muscles, heart, and brain working properly. Minerals also control beneficial enzyme and hormone production.

Minerals like calcium are a significant component of our bones and are required for bone growth and development, along with muscle contractions. Phosphorus contributes to bone and tooth strength and is vital to metabolizing energy.

Here is a look at the elemental composition of essential minerals:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (g)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Calcium1000 g1.43%
Phosphorus780 g 1.11%
Potassium140 g0.20%
Sulphur140 g0.20%
Chlorine100 g0.14%
Sodium95 g0.14%
Magnesium19 g0.03%
Iron4.2 g0.01%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Other macro-minerals like magnesium, potassium, iron, and sodium are essential for cell-to-cell communications, like electric transmissions that generate nerve impulses or heart rhythms, and are necessary for maintaining thyroid and bone health.

Excessive deficiency of any of these minerals can cause various disorders in your body. Most humans receive these minerals as a part of their daily diet, including vegetables, meat, legumes, and fruits. In case of deficiencies, though, these minerals are also prescribed as supplements.

Biological Composition of Trace Elements

Trace elements or trace metals are small amounts of minerals found in living tissues. Some of them are known to be nutritionally essential, while others may be considered to be nonessential. They are usually in minimal quantities in our body and make up only 1% of our mass.

Paramount among these are trace elements such as zinc, copper, manganese, and fluorine. Zinc works as a first responder against infections and thereby improves infection resistance, while balancing the immune response.

Here is the distribution of trace elements in our body:

ElementWeight of Body Mass (mg)Percentage of Body Mass (%)
Fluorine2600 mg0.00371%
Zinc2300 mg0.00328%
Copper72 mg0.00010%
Iodine13 mg0.00002%
Manganese12 mg0.00002%
Molybdenum9.5 mg0.00001%
Selenium8 mg0.00001%
Chromium6.6 mg0.00001%
Cobalt1.5 mg0.000002%

Values are for an average human body weighing 70 kg.

Even though only it’s found in trace quantities, copper is instrumental in forming red blood cells and keeping nerve cells healthy. It also helps form collagen, a crucial part of bones and connective tissue.

Even with constant research and studies performed to thoroughly understand these trace elements’ uses and benefits, scientists and researchers are constantly making new discoveries.

For example, recent research shows that some of these trace elements could be used to cure and fight chronic and debilitating diseases ranging from ischemia to cancer, cardiovascular disease, and hypertension.

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Misc

How Is Aluminum Made?

Aluminum is one of the world’s most widely used metals, but producing it is a complex process. Here’s a look at where it comes from.

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how is aluminum made?

How is Aluminum Made?

Aluminum is one of our most widely-used metals, found in everything from beer cans to airplane parts.

However, the lightweight metal doesn’t occur naturally, and producing it is a complex process.

The above infographics use data from the USGS, Aluminium Leader, and other sources to break down the three stages of aluminum production.

The Three Stages of Aluminum Production

Each year, the world produces around 390 million tonnes of bauxite rock, and 85% of it is used to make aluminum.

Bauxites are rocks composed of aluminum oxides along with other minerals and are the world’s primary source of aluminum. After mining, bauxite is refined into alumina, which is then converted into aluminum.

Therefore, aluminum typically goes from ore to metal in three stages.

Stage 1: Mining Bauxite

Bauxite is typically extracted from the ground in open-pit mines, with just three countries—Australia, China, and Guinea—accounting for 72% of global mine production.

Country2021 Mine Production of Bauxite (tonnes)% of Total
Australia 🇦🇺110,000,00028.2%
China 🇨🇳86,000,00022.1%
Guinea 🇬🇳85,000,00021.8%
Brazil 🇧🇷32,000,0008.2%
India 🇮🇳22,000,0005.6%
Indonesia 🇮🇩18,000,0004.6%
Russia 🇷🇺6,200,0001.6%
Jamaica 🇯🇲5,800,0001.5%
Kazakhstan 🇰🇿5,200,0001.3%
Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦4,300,0001.1%
Rest of the World 🌍15,500,0004.0%
Total390,000,000100.0%

Australia is by far the largest bauxite producer, and it’s also home to the Weipa Mine, the biggest bauxite mining operation globally.

Guinea, the third-largest producer, is endowed with more than seven billion tonnes of bauxite reserves, more than any other country. Additionally, Guinea is the top exporter of bauxite globally, with 76% of its bauxite exports going to China.

After bauxite is out of the ground, it is sent to refineries across the globe to make alumina, marking the second stage of the production process.

Stage 2: Alumina Production

In the 1890s, Austrian chemist Carl Josef Bayer invented a revolutionary process for extracting alumina from bauxite. Today—over 100 years later—some 90% of alumina refineries still use the Bayer process to refine bauxite.

Here are the four key steps in the Bayer process:

  1. Digestion:
    Bauxite is mixed with sodium hydroxide and heated under pressure. At this stage, the sodium hydroxide selectively dissolves aluminum oxide from the bauxite, leaving behind other minerals as impurities.
  2. Filtration:
    Impurities are separated and filtered from the solution, forming a residue known as red mud. After discarding the mud, aluminum oxide is converted into sodium aluminate.
  3. Precipitation:
    The sodium aluminate solution is cooled and precipitated into a solid, crystallized form of aluminum hydroxide.
  4. Calcination:
    The aluminum hydroxide crystals are washed and heated in calciners to form pure aluminum oxide—a sandy white material known as alumina.

The impurities or red mud left behind in the alumina production process is a major environmental concern. In fact, for every tonne of alumina, refineries produce 1.2 tonnes of red mud, and there are over three billion tonnes of it stored in the world today.

China, the second-largest producer and largest importer of bauxite, supplies more than half of the world’s alumina.

Country2021 alumina production (tonnes)% of total
China 🇨🇳74,000,00053%
Australia 🇦🇺21,000,00015%
Brazil 🇧🇷11,000,0008%
India 🇮🇳6,800,0005%
Russia 🇷🇺3,100,0002%
Germany 🇩🇪1,900,0001%
Ireland 🇮🇪1,900,0001%
Saudi Arabia 🇸🇦1,800,0001%
Ukraine 🇺🇦1,700,0001%
Spain 🇪🇸1,600,0001%
Rest of the World 🌍15,100,00011%
Total139,900,000100%

Several major producers of bauxite, including Australia, Brazil, and India, are among the largest alumina producers, although none come close to China.

Alumina has applications in multiple industries, including plastics, cosmetics, and chemical production. But of course, the majority of it is shipped to smelters to make aluminum.

Stage 3: Aluminum Production

Alumina is converted into aluminum through electrolytic reduction. Besides alumina itself, another mineral called cryolite is key to the process, along with loads of electricity. Here’s a simplified overview of how aluminum smelting works:

  1. In aluminum smelter facilities, hundreds of electrolytic reduction cells are filled up with molten cryolite.
  2. Alumina (composed of two aluminum atoms and three oxygen atoms) is then dumped into these cells, and a strong electric current breaks the chemical bond between aluminum and oxygen atoms.
  3. The electrolysis results in pure liquid aluminum settling at the bottom of the cell, which is then purified and cast into its various shapes and sizes.

China dominates global aluminum production and is also the largest consumer. Its neighbor India is the second-largest producer, making only a tenth of China’s output.

Country2021 Aluminum Smelter Production (tonnes)% of total
China 🇨🇳39,000,00059%
India 🇮🇳3,900,0006%
Russia 🇷🇺3,700,0006%
Canada 🇨🇦3,100,0005%
United Arab Emirates 🇦🇪2,600,0004%
Australia 🇦🇺1,600,0002%
Bahrain 🇧🇭1,500,0002%
Iceland 🇮🇸880,0001%
U.S. 🇺🇸880,0001%
Rest of the World 🌍9,400,00014%
Total66,560,000100%

As is the case for alumina production, some of the countries that produce bauxite and alumina also produce aluminum, such as India, Australia, and Russia.

Roughly a quarter of annually produced aluminum is used by the construction industry. Another 23% goes into vehicle frames, wires, wheels, and other parts of the transportation industry. Aluminum foil, cans, and packaging also make up another major end-use with a 17% consumption share.

Aluminum’s widespread applications have made it one of the most valuable metal markets. In 2021, the global aluminum market was valued at around $245.7 billion, and as consumption grows, it’s projected to nearly double in size to $498.5 billion by 2030.

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What Are Birthstones?

In this graphic, we look deep into 12 popular birthstones.

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What are Birthstones?

What Are Birthstones?

Many cultures throughout history have revered gemstones.

Gemstones are minerals, rocks, or organic matter that have been chosen for their beauty, durability, and rarity, and then cut or faceted, and polished to make jewelry or other human adornments. There are over 300 gemstones currently documented.

A birthstone is a gemstone that represents a person’s period of birth—usually corresponding to the month or zodiac sign.

In this graphic based on data from the American Gem Trade Association, we look deep into 12 popular birthstones.

What do Birthstones Mean?

Different ancient cultures revered gemstones and connected them to their calendar systems, so there are different lists of birthstones and months that can have more than one gemstone. In Hinduism, for example, there are nine gemstones associated with the Navagraha (celestial forces including the planets, the Sun, and the Moon), known in Sanskrit as Navaratna (nine gems).

Another origin of birthstones traces back to the book of Exodus in the Bible. In Exodus 28, Moses sets forth directions for making special garments for Aaron, the Hebrews’ High Priest and Moses’ elder brother. Specifically, the breastplate was to contain 12 precious gemstones, representing the 12 tribes of Israel.

Given the historical age and numerous translations of the Bible through the ages, there’s been a lot of debate around the identification of the 12 gemstones and no agreement on what the gems actually were.

About 1,500 years after Aaron’s time, in the first centuries of the Christian era, scholars started associating the breastplate gems with the signs of the zodiac. During the 18th century AD, gem traders began to sell gemstones based on a person’s birth month.

BirthstoneBirth MonthHardness
(1-10)
Price
(USD per 1 carat size)
Producing Country
GarnetJanuary 6.5-7.5$175Namibia, Sri Lanka, Russia
Amethyst February 7.0$90Brazil, Zambia
Aquamarine March 7.5-8.0$900Brazil, Tanzania, Kenya
DiamondApril 10.0$11,200Botswana, Congo, Russia
EmeraldMay8.0$7,000Colombia, Brazil
AlexandriteJune 8.5$23,500Brazil, Russia, India
RubyJuly 9.0$10,000Myanmar, U.S., Thailand
Peridot August 6.5-7.0$650U.S., Pakistan, Myanmar
SapphireSeptember9.0$3,500India, Australia, Madagascar
OpalOctober7.0-7.5$350Australia, Mexico, U.S.
CitrineNovember 7.0$70Brazil, Zambia
ZirconDecember6.5-7.5$400Cambodia, Sri Lanka, Vietnam

In some cultures, it is generally agreed that wearing a gemstone during the month when it is the birthstone heightens its healing powers.

The Birthstones Market

The majority of colored gemstones are extracted by artisanal mining communities around the world, in a very decentralized market.

Gemstone prices can vary from $68 per carat for citrine (November) up to $23,500 per carat for Alexandrite (June). The United States is the leading global market, buying roughly $24 billion in gemstones per year.

Besides different colors and prices, birthstones are also measured according to their hardness. The hardness is evaluated using a scale of 1-10 created by Friedrich Mohs that considers the ability to resist scratching. Diamonds (April) rank 10, being 58 times harder than any other mineral on Earth.

To this day, jewelers continue to add options to birthstone lists. Citrine and spinel (August), for example, are modern additions. Likewise, Tanzanite (December)—the second fastest-selling colored gemstone after Sapphire (September)—was only discovered in 1967 by herders in Tanzania.

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