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(This, in turn, is caused by variations in the magnetic fields of the earth and sun, for example.) Although the ratio of radiocarbon to stable carbon in the atmosphere has varied over time, it is quite uniform around the globe at any given time because the atmosphere mixes very quickly and constantly.Plants obtain all their carbon atoms from the atmosphere.Part of the result of these collisions is the production of radiocarbon (C, pronounced "c fourteen"), carbon atoms which are chemically the same as stable carbon, but have two extra neutrons.

They're the hidden ingredients of everything in our world, from the carbon in our bodies to the metals in our smartphones. The good news is that we haven't finished; there may be still gold hiding in the mix. And, today, it's one of the most widely bought and sold metals in the world. Copper is in wire, electronics and computer chips, plumbing and other building materials. These guys can trade their copper futures; I've got to unload my copper today. In pure metals, the atoms are arranged in orderly rows and columns.

Every day she receives hundreds of samples of earth taken from the mine. …then pulverized to the consistency of baby powder. But two rows above gold is another metal of antiquity that looms large in our lives: copper; symbol Cu; atomic number 29—29 protons, 29 electrons. Bronze helped to spur global trade, and, once forged into tools and weapons, it played a defining role in the empires of antiquity. I'm here because they're about to cast several bells.

This rock face is about a quarter mile below the surface, and, according to John Taule, it's loaded with gold, somewhere. That's where Gayle Fitzwater and the assay team come in. I think I've seen one of these machines at Starbucks. It is, perhaps, the most emotional of the elements. Tin added in small amounts to copper makes bronze, the first manmade metal alloy. This is The Verdin Company, a 170-year-old family-run business in Cincinnati, Ohio.

Carbon also occurs in a form, discovered only recently, known as fullerenes or buckyballs.

Buckyball carbon holds the promise for opening a whole new field of chemistry (see accompanying sidebar).

It occurs in more different forms than any other element in the periodic table.

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