Lanthanum, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #57, La) from the Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

(poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #57, La)

When I went to the after party
of a recent Chicago live play,
an actor from the play
asked me if I was an actor.
I said no, I write,
I run a poetry open mic,
occasionally do features,
and the actor told me,
then you are an actor.

And my story has not
been produced as a play,
and directors aren’t
knocking down my doors
to offer me a starring role.
At my open mic
I applaud other readers,
collect money for features,
and although I perform
in a show sometimes,
a day or two after my show
I am quickly forgotten,
and I still,
seem to slip into the woodwork.


You know, I was thinking about it:
if you look at the Periodic Table,
you know elements are grouped
by weight and therefore by properties,
but there’s this block of elements
sticking out at the bottom of the Table.
It’s like scientists didn’t know
what to do with some of these elements,
so called them Lanthanides,
from the Greek word “lanthano”
(meaning “to escape notice”),
and then moved them out of the way
on the Periodic Table.

And that first element in the series
has the name from the series, Lanthanum,
and maybe it is like an actor
who appears in film after film
always portraying different roles
but not often taking the lead. ..
Lanthanum’s joined with metal elements
to make them stronger, because
even when added to lenses
or the accuracy of radio carbon dating,
everything is sharper, stronger and more accurate —
Lanthanum’s supporting role
makes everything stand proudly
in the lime light.

Dubnium, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series by Chicgo poet Janet Kuypers

Dubnium, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series by Chicgo poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#105, Db)

Over the years, the U.S. and Russia
have fought over all sorts of things —
thermo-nuclear bombs,
inter-continental ballistic missiles
to carry those bombs,
even getting men into space,
or winning the most Olympic medals,
or even… Making new chemical elements.

You may think of the Cold War
when I mention the U.S. and Russia,
oh, I’m sorry, the Soviet Union,
but you could probably also think
of the Transfermium Wars
where both countries spilled a lot of


in an effort to come out the winner.

Because it was both Dubna in the USSR
and Berkeley California in the U.S.A.
that claimed the discovery of this element,
but after the Cold War, the IUPAC
(oh, don’t make me spell that out for you,
the International Union of Pure
and Applied Chemistry, the group
that decides the names for elements)
said that credit for this discovery
should be shared between the two.

But if the two countries no longer
battled over who discovered it first,
they could at least then argue
over the naming rights for the element…
The Soviets wanted to call it nielsbohrium
for the Danish nuclear physicist Niels Bohr.
The Americans wanted to call it hahnium
for the late German chemist Otto Hahn.
SO, American and Western Europeans
started calling the element hahnium,
while the Soviet Union and Eastern Bloc
countries went on calling it nielsbohrium.

So the IUPAC gave the name unnilpentium
(one zero five, Unp) as a temporary name.
Though the two countries still disagreed
over the naming of this new element,
The IUPAC then decided on Dubnium,
to honor the Russian discovery location.
I think the only reason it got to be named
after Dubna is because America had
so many elements already named for them
(like berkelium, californium, americium),
and if the elements AROUND one oh five
(rutherfordium and seaborgium) are U.S.,
Dubnium can offset the American discoveries.

So yeah, even after all these decades
of competition and mistrust,
a third party had to come in — repeatedly —
to try to settle our squabbles,
kind of like the UN…

But now that we’re got the name
figured out for element one oh five,
maybe now we can learn about Dubnium,
So I did a little research, and lo and behold,
scientists haven’t been able to figure
this element out either.
Melting point? Unknown.
Boiling point? Unknown.
Density? Unknown…
I guess that’s what we get
for battling with the Soviet Union
(well, okay, later Russia)
to try to create a highly radioactive metal
which doesn’t even occur in nature.
Only a few atoms have ever been made,
so I guess our “creation”
is for research interest only.

…But wait a minute, we just created
a radioactive element — should we worry
that if this spreads we’ll turn
into a radioactive planet?
Will our progenitors
be a radioactive species?

Well, that might sound like a thrill
for comic book guy, but Dubnium
is so unstable that it would decompose
so quickly that it’ll never affect humans.
And because of Dubnium’s half life
of half a minute (that’s short, by the way),
there’s no point in even worrying
about it’s affects on the environment either.
So as I said, sorry comic book guy,
but this won’t turn us
into radioactive people
or kill us by radiation…
Hmmm, maybe the United States
and Russia once worked
on trying to blow each other up
with nuclear bombs and missiles,
but when it came to the Dubnium battles
in the Transfermium Wars, maybe for once
we were both working at the same time
on something for science
that will only help us learn.

Thulium, “Periodic Table” poem by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry”” series (#69, Tm)

Scroll to Medieval times,
and see a classical map.

Look over the Carta Marina,
because there you can find
what some theorized
as an island of antiquity —
through for those who traveled
by boat around Britain,
the Thule was the most northerly
of the Britannic Islands.
In ancient literature, however,
the Ultima Thule
was the symbol for
a far-off land,
something unattainable.

And when Thulium was discovered
in the late eighteen hundreds
(named after Thule,
as a mythical region
in Scandinavia),
the element was so rare that
it’s qualities were unattainable…

But even though this is
the rarest of the rare,
and despite the high cost,
it’s in the YAG laser, used
for laser surgery, for work
unattainable by the human hand.
It’s even bombarded
in a nuclear reactor
for it’s use in portable
x-ray devices,
so we can see
what was otherwise
unattainable to the naked eye.

I mean, because of
Thulium’s fluorescence,
it’s even inside euro banknotes,
to prevent counterfeiting.

Because Thulium fluoresces
with a deep blue hue,
we’ll sail the oceans
to learn, we’ll go to
the farthest places we know,
just to see trace glimpses,
because we want to go beyond
what we see…

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#65, Tb)

Looking for better sound
remains at the top of the list.

Having better stereo speakers
at all group parties, meetings or settings,

having a portable sound system
anyone could take with them,

even using sound while in the car
to reduce traffic noise, hear better music,

or talk hands-free on your smart phone.

The possibilities seem endless,
but stereo speakers take up space —

so we need to use science and technology
to even help us meet our audio needs.

Companies create better and better
sound systems, earbuds for iPods

have grown smaller and smaller,
even with noise-canceling technology…

There has to be a way to use the world
around us to get us exactly what we have

decided we need.

So, after just a little research,
I discovered an element twice as common

as silver on this planet, and when it is mixed
into a compound, Terbium can help create

a “Soundbug” speaker that can turn
any flat surface into a flat panel speaker.

(Any flat surface, like an office window,
or your dining room table at home.)

You see, the Terbium-filled Soundbug
can be plugged into a headphone socket

and then suction to any flat surface —
literally turning that surface into a speaker.

Now, this Terbium-rich Soundbug
is only the size of a computer mouse,

and retailing at less than fifty bucks,
they’re targeting this to the youth market;

but a wide-range of technology users
are going to love this little gadget

that can re-purpose everyday flat surfaces
into speakers for all sorts of sound needs.

The thicker the flat material surface, the
better the sound quality of the Terbium-laced

Soundbug speaker, and yeah, the resonance
of the speaker material (wood, glass, metal)

can effect the final sound quality,
but in theory you could daisy-chain

a few of these Terbium Soundbugs together
to excite multiple electrical currents of the music

players, to excite the mock speakers,
to bring every party to life in richer stereo.

Now, I know Terbium is like a
“Swiss Army knife” for cancer diagnosis,

and I know it’s green luminescence
gives color enrichment to tee tees

and is even used in fluorescent lamps,
or lasers, or semiconductor devices…

But this whole “using what we have
to multi-purpose what we have” idea

is really beginning to stick with me.
This audio technology can work with

magnetostriction, like, in a car instead
of in a business meeting or a party:

in a car, the Terbium Soundbug
could create noise-insulating windows,

blocking out the excessive sounds of traffic
(and you know how I hate the sound of traffic…).

But to business workers in a car,
the mobile phone version of the Terbium

Soundbug could be stuck to a car windshield,
to allow hands-free, headset-free talking.

(Well, that may cost a little more
than the indoors Terbium Soundbug,

but no price is too high to stop people
from staring at their phones while driving,


So yeah, although it is more common
on earth than silver, Terbium may still be

hard to get sometimes — but if we can find
this many uses for this element,

I’m sure it’s demand will increase, because
pretty soon, Terbium will be desired

more than anything.