‘Old Star, New elemental Tricks’, bonus “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Old Star, New elemental Tricks

Janet Kuypers

bonus poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, with Arsenic (#033, As) and Selenium (#034, Se)

When the Big Bang first exploded,
the only elements it could muster
were hydrogen and helium
and a smidgen of lithium and boron.

Higher elements were only created
after the creation of stars.

But scientists have now discovered
that in an ancient star
in the faint stellar halo
surrounding the Milky Way,
astronomers have detected
the presence of Arsenic and Selenium.

Now, I’ve only known Arsenic
as highly toxic, and scientists
pulling phosphorus from the sextet
of life while down at the Arsenic-rich
Mono Lake to fill DNA with Arsenic.

And Selenium is used for horses,
but can kill a person if ingested
regularly (even leaving a garlic
taste when given to victims).
Hmmm, and I like garlic so much…

But these two elements,
sitting right next to each other
in the Periodic Table, transition
from light to heavy elements,
and have never been found
in old stars — until now.

You see, stars like our sun
usually make the lighter elements
(like, up to oxygen),
and heavier stars can make
elements as high in the Periodic Table
as iron. Any elements
heavier than that
(like Arsenic and Selenium)
have to be made by
neutron-capture nucleosynthesis.
So, thanks to the nuclear reaction
from inside the heaviest of stars,
scientists found Arsenic and Selenium
in a 12 billion year-old halo star.

And they say the universe
is like 13.77 billion years old,
so when I’m talking old star remanants,
I’m talking infancy of the universe stars.

(And we thought we were the only ones
who know how to utilize these
poisonous elements here on earth,
and now we see that stars
from the ancient history of this universe
have been creating this stuff for eons…)

So they’ve discovered
quite a new trick
from this old star,
which means we now know how to look
for elements in other stars,
and maybe explain why
some elements appear on earth.
Cause, it’s all science,
and we can explain away
the mysteries of what’s good
and bad here on planet earth,
and trace it all the way back
to the toddler years of
this entire universe too…

Arsenic poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Just the name sounds poisonous.
I know it’s an element
in the Periodic Table,
but this odorless, tasteless demon
can work its way into our water
and eventually kill us
from the inside out.

And the thing is, Arsenic
occurs naturally everywhere,
and we even use this poison
as a wood preservative,
it’s even used in paints, dyes, metals,
drugs, soaps. And even more frightening
for all you meat eaters,
high arsenic levels are in
animal feeding operations.

We seem to hunt down ways
to kill ourselves,
don’t we.

I read about Arsenic poisoning
and Napoleon’s death.
Breathing it in or ingesting it,
Dukes to Kings were poisoned…
Even impressionist painters
used the pigment Emerald Green
which contained Arsenic, causing
diabetes, blindness, neurological disorders.

Scary stuff, this Arsenic.

So then I heard NASA announce
that Arsenic-based life forms
were discovered on Earth.

Strange stuff, this Arsenic.

I mean, how could something that kills
actually help produce life?
How could this happen?

Okay, go back to my science book:
in order for life to exist,
we need these six elements:
and sulfur.
So, where does Arsenic
fit into the picture?

Well, it looks like NASA scientists
were trying to see if any bacterium
could ever live
in an Arsenic-flooded environment.
So they went to
Mono Lake, California,
to see if anything could thrive
with a surplus of salts
and excesses of Arsenic.

So, in that elemental sextet of life,
they pulled out phosphorus,
to see what any bacteria species
might do.
Lo and behold,
the extremophilic species GFAJ-1
just decided to use Arsenic
instead of phosphorus,
and with all the Arsenic around them,
the bacteria thrived quite well.

And the name “GFAJ-1”
actually stands for
“Give Felisa a Job”.
So I guess it’s not hard to believe
that in their search
they we able to find
even more bizarre life in California
than we were used to.

And Mono Lake has always had
a productive ecosystem.
And many bacteria can tolerate
the high levels of arsenic,
or even take it in their cells.
But they just now proved,
that when starved of phosphorus,
some species could even grow
with Arsenic.

Perplexing stuff, this Arsenic.

I don’t know if we want to create
Arsenic life forms here on Earth,
but knowing this is possible
increases the probability
of finding life elsewhere in the universe.

Spooky stuff, this Arsenic.

And who knows,
Arsenic in place of phosphorus on Earth
may date back to the origin of life,
where it may have occurred
in arsenic-rich hydrothermal vents.

this speculating
about Arsenic.

And Darwinism may show
that species can adapt to survive —
I mean, we have found that bacteria
can adapt to artificially stringent
environmental conditions.

And who knows, maybe the NASA claim
that arsenic had been incorporated
into the backbone of DNA is not
ultimately true, I mean, Arsenic
just stepped in for the missing phosphorous,
so there may be no Arsenic in the DNA at all.
So give NASA a break,
they’re trying…
Because scientifically supported
statements or not,
it’s nice to know
that we’re looking at all possibilities
when looking for what is ultimately
good for life in this universe.

Germanium poem by Janet Kuypers


by Janet Kuypers

of Scars Publications
from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series

Because the planet Neptune
was recently discovered,
Winkler in the late 1800s
decided to name the element
he discovered “Neptunium,”
but another element already
tried to lay claim to that name
(and still a different element
got the name “Neptunium”)…
So Winkler decided to name
his newfound element Germanium,
from Latin Germania,
in honor of his homeland.

Germania is known for
its high refraction (along with
its low optical dispersion),
making it perfect for things like
wide-angle camera lenses,
but is also used for microscopy
and the core part of optical fibers.
And yeah, I could go on
about silicon-Germanium alloys
used for semiconductors
in new circuitry, fiber optics,
infrared optics, electronics,
metallurgy and chemotherapy,
But when I heard chemotherapy
I started looking into it, because
when it comes to chemotherapy,
Germanium’s role in cancer
treatments has been widely debated —
the American Cancer Society
found no evidence that Germanium
Helps fight cancer, and the
U.S. Food and Drug Administration
found that when Germanium
was a nutritional supplement,
Germanium even actually “presents
potential human health hazard”.


And I’m sorry, when I hear “Germanium”,
I think “Germania”, and I know that
Germania was the Greek and Roman
geographic term for the region,
but it still makes me think
of the “World Capital Germania”, with
Adolf Hitler’s vision for the future
of Germany, with the projected renewal
of the German capital Berlin
during the Nazi reign. And Albert Speer,
the “first architect of the Third Reich”
(and probably the only architect)
produced many of the plans
for the rebuilt city, but only a fraction
was realized. The Berlin Olympic Stadium
for the 1936 Summer Olympics was built.
Speer also designed a new Chancellery,
with a hall twice as long as the Hall
of Mirrors in the Palace of Versailles,
but the second Chancellery
was destroyed by the Soviet army
in 1945, and almost no other buildings
planned for Berlin (and Hitler’s
“Germania”) were ever built.


Some compounds of Germanium
are highly reactive and very dangerous
to humans even on exposure.
I mean, Germanium had similarities
with the elements arsenic (used for
chemical weapons) and antimony
(another toxic chemical element),
so maybe it makes sense that I can’t help
but equate it with Hitler’s plans
that followed mass genocide.
So I have to keep reminding myself
of the uses for Germanium in electronics,
and remind myself that the most notable
physical characteristics of Germania
make it perfect for optics, and things
like wide-angle camera lenses (which the
photographer in me can’t help but love).
Because although Germanium can have
some very bad connections,
it can also do things to help us out
so much in our lives as well.