It may be small but it packs a punch.
August 29, 2014 8:49 AM   Subscribe

I was doing some reading about plutonium and realized that I have a desire to own a thing that's surprisingly heavy when picked up. Deceivingly so. Heavy enough to make people exclaim at the weight of my small object. Bonus points if it's not (too) poisonous or (very) radioactive. I know Au and Pb are pretty heavy, but can I beat that? What's the very densest thing I can (legally) afford to acquire in sufficient volume to keep on my desk and fidget with?
posted by TheNewWazoo to Grab Bag (31 answers total) 30 users marked this as a favorite
Tungsten. Buy a sphere or cube of it, sized according to your budget. Or get a small portable torus to denote your marriage status.
posted by Diddly at 8:54 AM on August 29 [5 favorites]

Tungsten carbide has a pretty nice density at 15.3 grams per cubic centimeter, exceeding that of mercury (on which lead will float), but if you need the ultimate, you're looking at iridium or osmium, with osmium being rather dense for a stable element. The last two would probably be rather pricey.
posted by adipocere at 8:54 AM on August 29

Osmium is the densest element, as far as I know.
posted by flabdablet at 8:55 AM on August 29

Iridium is 22.56 g·cm−3, denser than gold (19.30 g·cm−3) and lead (11.34 g·cm−3), and very close to osmium. Its value is on par with gold, though, at somewhere north of $500 per oz.
posted by pullayup at 8:56 AM on August 29

Tungsten hits the balance between density and price. For comparison's sake, tungsten is just shy of being twice as dense as silver.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 8:56 AM on August 29 [2 favorites]

Are pure elemental metals necessarily going to be the answer here? That's a bit surprising.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 8:57 AM on August 29

Sure, because you're effectively averaging weights/densities. A compound (mixture of elements) is never going to be heavier than its heaviest component could be on its own.
posted by Nonsteroidal Anti-Inflammatory Drug at 9:00 AM on August 29 [9 favorites]

Depending on the definition of "afford", the answer will be Lead, Tungsten or Osmium (if you can afford Gold, you might as well get Osmium) - at least based on the table linked by NSAID.
posted by vacapinta at 9:04 AM on August 29

A compound (mixture of elements) is never going to be heavier than its heaviest component could be on its own.

Depends on the crystal structure, probably. Water is certainly denser than hydrogen and oxygen (at room temperature).
posted by empath at 9:04 AM on August 29 [6 favorites]

That said, i doubt you'll get denser than a pure crystal of the densest element, barring some really weird behavior of said element that would prevent a tight packing.
posted by empath at 9:06 AM on August 29

Water is certainly denser than hydrogen and oxygen.

Liquid oxygen is denser than the liquid compound of hydrogen and oxygen.
posted by JackFlash at 9:11 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

Psst, buddy-- wanna buy some tungsten?
posted by Faint of Butt at 9:13 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Who knew there'd be a web shop for tungsten balls? You might also want to google tungsten bucking bars, which are basically blocks of tungsten (they're used to set rivets).
posted by ryanrs at 9:14 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

The physics teachers at my school had a pair of tungsten bricks - about 3 inches by 3 inches by 6 inches, originally obtained for an experiment involving radiation of some sort. (Neutron shielding?)

A quick Wolfram Alpha calculation with those numbers puts them at around 37 pounds each.

They used them as paperweights.
posted by NMcCoy at 9:14 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

Chengdeite is iridium iron. It has a specific gravity of 19.3. But it's pricey, >1000 per ounce.

If tungsten isn't your thing for whatever reason, here are 2 others:

For something affordable, easily gettable, AND handable - large enough for someone to pick up and exclaim at the weight - you might try galena. It's PbS, so it's definitely not as heavy compared to the other metals here, but you can get a really large sample for affordable prices and it is "exclamation heavy" when you pick it up. Here's a sample for $60. You're also more apt to find it at a mineral and gem show so you can look at it and feel its heft.

Banded iron formation samples are very heavy. They're also easy to find to buy large samples of it. And they're beautiful to boot.

I'm also suggesting galena and BIF because YOU could go out and find them yourself with a little travel, which could be cooler than buying them.

Then mix it up by getting some pumice, which floats, and put it in a little bowl of water next to your dense rock.
posted by barchan at 9:19 AM on August 29 [3 favorites]

Apparently gold-plated tungsten bars is a thing that happened in the precious metals market? This is amazing and now I want one.
posted by TheNewWazoo at 9:19 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

McMaster-Carr will sell you rods of tungsten alloy (90% tungsten, rest copper/nickel) for double-digit dollars. 8" long, though. (Scroll past the tungsten-carbide; it's not as dense.)
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:21 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

By the way, maybe be wary of purchasing a heavy round object that might, for example, roll off your desk and onto your foot.
posted by Huffy Puffy at 9:24 AM on August 29 [7 favorites]

Stony-iron meteorite is deceptively dense not because iron is dense-- clearly there are more dense metals -- but because people expect the density of stone when you tell them it's a meteorite. They also often contain some iridium, FWIW, which is common in interplanetary rocks but not common in Earth's crust, for a reason I can't remember.
posted by Sunburnt at 10:21 AM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Apparently gold-plated tungsten bars is a thing that happened in the precious metals market? This is amazing and now I want one.

It is. Tungsten and gold weigh almost the same, but tungsten is considerably less expensive. Since gold is easy to machine, and melts at a relatively low temperature, you can see the opportunity for mayhem. One form of this scam uses tungsten-plated gold bars. Another form involves drilling holes into gold bars, putting tungsten rods in the holes, and then covering the end of the hole with molten gold. The scam is very difficult to detect without using hard Xrays, or machining into the gold.
posted by Multicellular Exothermic at 10:37 AM on August 29

You know what else would work? A really strong rare-earth magnet. I have a couple at my desk and folks are amazed at how hard they stick to stuff.
posted by MrMoonPie at 12:16 PM on August 29

Seconding iron meteorite. I have one on my desk which I bought off of ebay. It looks like any old rock, approx 3" across at its widest dimension, and is deceptively heavy as most people assume it be be a run-of-the mill rock. Also, as it is not a sphere there is no chance of it rolling off the desk, and it functions wonderfully as something to pick up and fiddle with while focusing on something else.

However tungsten is pretty rad too, I believe the clock of the long now uses tungsten balls as pendulums for their 10,000 year clock. I remember a lecture where they passed around an example of one of them and it was a shockingly dense hunk of metal. That tungsten ball webshop is pretty rad...
posted by garethspor at 12:50 PM on August 29 [1 favorite]

Maybe you don't need heavy metals at all-- what if you set something up with magnets?
posted by The White Hat at 5:34 PM on August 29

Another vote for tungsten.
posted by InsertNiftyNameHere at 6:43 PM on August 29

On the subject of density, you might also be interested in this Comparative Density Desk Set. "You get perfect cubes of aluminum, steel, brass, copper, acrylic, oak, nylon, pine, poplar, and PVC," all for $29.50.

You could add tungsten on your own, as the outlier.
posted by alms at 9:00 PM on August 29 [3 favorites]

FWIW, Tungsten metal ingot - one troy ounce on eBay

Do note, however, that one troy ounce of tungsten is 1.6 mL, or about 2.5 times the volume of a plain M&M candy. Perhaps not the best for keeping on your desk to show to people. On the other hand, adding a 1" tungsten cube to that Comparative Density Desk Set sounds like a fantastic idea. (Again, as a comparative mental reference, the tungsten cube would weigh over twice as much as the copper one.)
posted by NMcCoy at 4:16 AM on August 30

Apparently a 1" cube of tungston will weigh almost 3/4 of a pound. Anyone have a source for cubes? I saw balls and lots if rods, but no cubes.
posted by alms at 9:23 AM on August 30

A while back there was a kickstarter for dice made out of various metals. The creator has an Etsy store and she has some dice listed (but no tungsten). Maybe she has or can get some tungsten cubes. Looks like her dice are all 5/8 or 1/2 inch though.
posted by bjrn at 9:26 AM on August 31

Heavy enough to make people exclaim at the weight of my small object

It's not as fancy or heavy as all these other things, but I instantly thought of my tiny BOSSE elephant. She's about an inch tall, made from brass and bronze, and I think every single person who has picked it up said ohmygodit'ssoheavy!
posted by Room 641-A at 1:49 PM on August 31

alms, it looks like the Tungsten Spheres shop linked by ryanrs above has cubes too
posted by msbubbaclees at 12:23 PM on September 5

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