To unlock their secrets, David Pogue, technology columnist and lively host of NOVA's popular "Making Stuff" series, spins viewers through the world of weird, extreme chemistry: the strongest acids, the deadliest poisons, the universe's most abundant elements, and the rarest of the rare—substances cooked up in atom smashers that flicker into existence for only fractions of a second. Yet everything we know, the stars, the planets and life, itself, comes from about 90 basic building blocks,… …all right here, on this remarkable chart: the periodic table of the elements. And we're made, almost entirely, of just a handful of ingredients, including one that burns with secret fire inside us all. The sample, mixed with a lead oxide powder, goes into a furnace heated to 2,000 degrees. Using extreme heat, gold atoms are gradually coaxed away from the powdered rock. Turns out that an ounce per ton is pretty much optimal for the underground mine. The New York Mercantile Exchange is a vital hub in the global metals market, which is pretty good news for me. (Commodities Trader): Oh, this is an old, old business. It's so important that the rise and fall of copper prices provide a snapshot of the health of the entire world economy. Each atom gives up some of its electrons to create a kind of sea of these randomly moving charged particles.

Muller's lab has successfully captured many other images of atoms in gold and computer chips, oxygen, powerful magnets and even glass.

But, even so, they've barely scratched the surface, because they can discern only the outermost boundaries around atoms. If the outer boundary of a hydrogen atom, where the electron is found, were enlarged to be two miles wide, about the size of a city, the single proton in its nucleus would be the size of a golf ball.

Can we crack the code to build the world of the future? By digging, these guys are hoping to strike it rich. I'm on a quest to understand the basic building blocks of everyday matter. These symbols represent the atoms that make up every single thing in our universe: 118 unique substances arranged on an amazing chart that reveals their hidden secrets to anyone who knows how to read it.

It turns out that nature has concealed thousands of pounds of the stuff under billions of cubic feet of earth.

About three quarters of the elements are metals, and gold is one of the most standoffish. In copper, they can slide past each other easily, which makes it relatively soft and easy to dent, not right for a bell. Ralph places the form into a circular steel sleeve, then fills the space around it with a mixture of sand and epoxy, to withstand the searing heat of the hot metal. Adding tin to copper during melting changes the properties of the metal.

How an atom reacts chemically depends on how willing it is to share electrons with others, and gold is not very social. So do other so-called "noble" metals: silver, platinum, palladium, osmium and iridium, all located in the same quiet neighborhood of the periodic table. The golden mud goes into a 2,000-degree induction furnace, along with a white powder called flux, chemicals that prevent the molten gold from reacting with or sticking to anything. When this company started, they used a mixture of horsehair, manure and just about anything else that would hold a shape without burning, but the goal was the same: to create a hollow shape that follows the inner and outer perimeter of the bell. The larger tin atoms restrict the movement of the copper atoms, making the material harder.

Out of every hundred bells they pour, 20 or 30 will fail. Our bell resonates with a beautiful tone, and it takes many seconds for the note to die out, thanks to the interplay between copper and tin.

Even the best bell makers can't know whether their bronze will be too stiff or too soft, until they pour a bell and strike it.

If David's microscope is powerful enough, we should see regular rows of copper atoms with tin atoms packed in between. Well, thanks for my tour into the, to the unseen and to what used to be the pure, purely theoretical.