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The 80th element is named after the planet Mercury, but its symbol Hg comes from the Latin "hydragyrum" meaning liquid silver. Also known as "quick silver," mercury is a liquid at room temperature, making it useful for barometers and thermometers.
This liquid metal also has applications in the electronics industry due to its stability, electrical conductivity, and high density. These properties are extremely important for the optimal functioning of electrical equipment and control devices.
Interestingly, mercurous chloride is one of the oldest antiseptics known to treat infections. However, mercury is believed to pose a serious health hazard to humans and has been associated with nervousness and irritability. Consequently, it has been phased out of commercial use in North America where only industrial applications of mercury remain.
The National Research Council Canada (NRC) Institute for National Measurement Standards has recently developed technology for identification of organometallic compounds, including mercury. This technology will streamline detection of these pollutants in contaminated air, soil and water and improve the reliability of the chemical analyses.