Rhenium poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#75, Re) from the Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#75, Re)
(started 8/7/14, written 8/8/14, finished 8/9/14)

Okay, so I’ve been researching
these elements in the Periodic Table,
and when I got to Rhenium
(named for the Rhine river, by the way),
I was kind of stumped.
What comes to your head
when you hear the word “Rhenium”?
Other than the fact that
“Rhenium” was an LP from Parliment
released in nineteen seventy,
I was stumped.

But hey, this element was named after the Rhine river
stretching through Europe,
but in ancient Greek Times,
they thought of the Rhine
as the outermost border
of civilization and reason,
beyond which were mythical creatures.
No lie.

But I don’t know if that mythical nature
of the unknown is what drove scientists
to search for this element,
and to learn everything they could
about what was otherwise unknown to them…

I mean, Mendeleev, the “creator”
as we know it of the Periodic Table,
postulated this element’s existence,
but it wasn’t found in his lifetime…
and it was later predicted
by an English physicist in 1913,
but it still hadn’t been discovered.

But people in different countries
claimed the discovery
through X-ray analysis,
but after a ton of dispute
this elusive element was finally found,
and as all scientists like to think,
this discovery has to mean something,
I mean, we have to use this discovery
for ssomething, so people
will appreciate our precious work!

Well they found out that Rhenium
(now that airplanes were being used more and more
by both vacationers and business travelers)
can be used with super alloys
to make jet engine parts
(well, I guess that’s cool
for the jet-setters out there…)
but, after people figured out
that putting lead in high-performance fuel
might not be good for the environment
(okay, or for people),
they found that Rhenium
could be a catalyst
for making lead-free
high-octane gasoline.

Since we now have means to travel faster and farther
(thanks to Rhenium in part, by the way),
we might not think of the Rhine as the edge of our existence
with anything beyond it being so mysterious.
But when it comes to Rhenium,
it’s one of the rarest elements in Earth’s crust
(I wonder if that’s why it took so long to discover it.)
Because of it’s radioactivity,
it’s used in the treatment of liver cancer
(and maybe pancreatic cancer too),
but with the skyrocketing price of this rare element,
scientists still worry about the potential toxicity of Rhenium.
So, maybe like the mythical creatures
beyond the Rhine the Greeks foretold,
maybe, after discovering Rhenium,
maybe we should be looking
at both the bad — and the good —
that can come out of the rare,
but radical,
and remarkable Rhenium.

Rhodium, “Periodic Table of Poetry” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#45, Rh)

When you say the word “menthol,”
images probably crop up in your head
of women holding a cigarette stick
like she’s using her smoke
as an orchestra wand,
tracing the line of smoke
like she’s conducting a symphony
with her mint-tasting cancer stick.

But menthol’s also used in lip balms
(I really like that stuff, too,
I like the minty flavor on my lips) —
it’s even used in cough medications.
It can be used in those Icy Hot patches,
menthol’s in decongestants
like Vicks VapoRub, it’s in
aftershaves to relieve razor burn.
Yeah, and speaking of the taste
in cigarettes or lip balm, menthol
is in mouthwashes, toothpastes,
even chewing gum.

So really, now that you know how
widely it’s used now, you can see
how menthol’s demand is now so huge
compared to the natural supply.
So in Japan, one man even won in 2001
the Nobel Prize for Chemistry for
a process to meet the demand
for more menthol worldwide.
This Japanese team used Rhodium
based catalysts for menthol synthesis.

And yeah, Rhodium is used in catalysts
for anything from automobile
catalytic converters, or making
certain silicone rubbers. And sure,
Rhodium is used for jewelry,
coating sterling silver to stop tarnishing
or electroplating white gold and platinum,
making it white and reflective.

I mean, the Guinness Book of World Records
gave Paul McCartney a Rhodium-plated disc
in 1979 for being history’s all-time best-selling
songwriter and recording artist.

Not gold. Not titanium. But Rhodium.

(And because Rhodium’s so expensive,
that World Records award disc given to
Paul McCartney isn’t even solid Rhodium.)

So I guess it’s kind of interesting that
this expensive decorative jewelry addition
is also used to give our chewing gum
that excellent minty flavor. So yeah,
when you’re worrying about how money
can seem tight sometimes,
don’t worry about the jewelry.
Just pop a stick of mint chewing gum
in your mouth, thanks to Rhodium,
and realize that we all probably
don’t have it that bad after all.