“How It’s Made” in Smarty-Pants-Know-It-All Style:
This method should be applicable – perhaps with variation on technique at points – for explaining to someone the answer to questions like, “Where did this come from!?”, “How is it made!?”, or “Why are we here…?”. My only caveat is that the answer produced by this step-wise process will likely make the questioner annoyed to some degree. But that’s the price a Smarty-Pants-Know-It-All pays to be who they are, rather than be who others want them to stop being.
Let’s start from the beginning with the first step… number one:
1. Admit we don’t know. Then, admit we think we know. In the beginning, somehow hydrogen and helium appeared in the universe, perhaps in a “big bang” or a “let there be hydrogen, helium, and light” type scenario. Do note that the important thing is in the beginning there was mostly hydrogen. In case it’s not obvious, there was energy too. And just to be sure, note there were fundamental fields in which matter and energy interacted.
2. Now, explain how hydrogen and helium made other elements. Tell them there is a process called nucleosynthesis, aptly named for how protons and neutrons (atomic nucleons) are combined to make larger atoms. Let your questioner know there are a few ways this can happen: primarily, it’s through compaction within the dense cores of stars; and likewise even larger elements (i.e. with larger nuclei) can be made when the stars collapse violently in supernovae. Other elements can only be formed by cosmic ray spallation (nuclear fission by high-energy radiation from the cosmos) or in human laboratories under bizarre and fleeting conditions.
3. Next, you’ll need expand on number 2. Know you can combine these steps, switch their order, or alter them per attention span of the questioner. What you need to know is you should inform him or her that gravity started bringing stuff together a long time ago when there was just hydrogen and helium, as mentioned in 1. Once gravity made the first stars, some were too small to collapse and explode and just retained their newly made elements. Luckily, some of these small ones collided or just absorbed each other and grew huge. Unfortunately, some became black holes, forever hording their material. Other hydrogen and helium groups became super large stars. Either way, the elements in the cores of these stars would not be able to make stuff unless they exploded. Luckily, enough stars grew big enough to supernovae (super-explode) and launch elements into the cosmos in their relative abundance. Here is a handy reference periodic table specially labelled for elemental abundance.
4. From here you’ll have to remind them the cosmic abundance of elements are not the same ratios across all regions of the universe and so our planet Earth does not adhere to the ratios of the greater universe. This is best explained by our solar system formation. Whatever was going on when our solar system started, it’s safe to say a cloud of old supernovae star stuff from stars of varying elemental ratios started to recoalesce into the pre-solar system, the center of which became dense enough and full of hydrogen and helium enough to ignite into a nuclear fusion blob (a star). Around this dense core the remaining flying and orbiting stuff began to form planets, proto-planets, asteroids, and comets. In processes very complex and chaotic, the elements did not evenly and orderly separate out or disperse, giving us rocky and metallic planets, gaseous planets, and metallic or ice fragments. It is not so important to explain why or how (because it’s very hypothetical and controversial), but just that the result was our Earth as a rocky, watery orb with some gas sticking to it and the chance for pieces of debris to continue to run in to it, adding to it’s composition.
5. Alright! Now, you can finally get down to Earth with your origination explanation! For the most part Earth’s crust will be the origin of everything, but with a twist, as I mentioned. Some of the Earth’s crust and the stuff laying on it’s surface came from asteroids, comets, and debris knocked off other planets and our own moon (which came from Earth, from Supernovae, from Big Bang… ya know, ya-da-ya-da). Once you get that part squared away, you can look to the Earth’s crust as the most immediate source for most things. The nine most abundant elements in the Earth’s crust by mass are oxygen (46%), silicon (28%), aluminum (8.2%), iron (5.6%), calcium (4.2%), sodium (2.5%), magnesium (2.4%), potassium (2.0%), and titanium (0.61%) (You may want to remind your questioner
to wake up this differs from the greater universe due to the localized effects of gravity and the supernova dust cloud’s constituent parts). We also need to account for the atmosphere as a source, as it’s lying right on top of the crust. The atmosphere is primarily Nitrogen (78%), Oxygen (20.95%), and some other stuff. Do note, all the above elements – other than Helium and momentary free radicals – are bound up as molecules and compounds.
6. Now you can proceed to explain how the building blocks of your item are obtained, whether it be mined and refined, captured and isolated, synthesized chemically, or whatever else humans do to collect matter to make stuff.
7. With obtainment covered, you can
wonder where your questioner went, maybe to Starbucks? explain the manipulation processes involved to rearrange the matter into the materials desired.
8. From here, you have the prerogative to either wrap it up with a final step or continue on with fine details such as logistics of material handling, psychological processes involved in human behavior for merchandising and purchasing, neurological processes for making your hand pick it up, or whatever floats your “Where did it come from?” explanation.
This is not an exhaustive list of things you can do to answer your questioner. Actually, it is pretty exhaustive, that’s the point. I hope this helps you Smarty-Pants-Know-It-All types out there get the answers answered thoroughly and the questioners no longer questioning.