Thorium, from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#90. Th) by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#90. Th)

Think of how many times
you’ve heard scientists say
(or maybe you’ve heard it
from people on daredevil tv)
“do not try this at home” —
knowing that someone,
won’t heed this advice
and end up
with an unintended explosion
instead of a fantastic discovery
from their radical experiment…

Well, good thing one Swedish chemist
didn’t decide to “not try this at home”,
doing groundbreaking experiments
in his kitchen flat.
Though Jöns Jacob Berzelius < !—(yens yoke-ub bear-zeal-ee-us)—>
discovered a few elements,
he seemed so psyched
to name one new element
for the Scandinavian god of thunder, Thor.

And it’s kind of funny
that with his affinity for Thorium,
he never understood
Thorium’s radioactivity
(because, well,
when he discovered Thorium,
radioactivity hadn’t
even been discovered yet).

But after Thorium was discovered,
Thorium was used
for powering gas lamps
back in the day
when the world’s light
disappeared at nightfall.
But wait, Thorium’s radioactive,
and back in the day
they didn’t know this,
so did people get cancer
from radiation poisoning?

Well, maybe if
there was enough Thorium
in those gas lamps,
and maybe if that Thorium
wasn’t stopped from
getting to humans
by the glass surrounding the lamps…
Because only if you’d
eat Thorium (and maybe
only the supernatural God Thor
would eat Thorium)
maybe only if you ate it
only then might it make you sick.
        I mean, they still sell it
        today in camping lamps,
        unless you actually look for a lamp
        that’s Thorium-free…

But even when it came
to eating Thorium,
some people would do it
back in the ‘30s with x-rays
for detecting their cancer,
because at the time Thorium
was perfect for saving lives
thanks to those x-rays.
So with Thorium for cancer x-rays,
the new cancer risk
seemed like a fair trade-off
before they could find
a safer x-ray detection agent.

So yeah, there’s no way
a Swedish chemist
could have guessed it
when he discovered
the element Thorium
and wanted to name it
after the God of Thunder,
but Thorium can bring
some light into our world,
as long as we use Thorium
in just the right way.

Rutherfordium, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#104, Rf) from the Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#104, Rf)

And when I get that engagement ring…
I don’t want Zirconium, I want a diamond!
I want something stronger!
Even the band,
everyone wants Gold,
but Platinum is stronger,
even Tungsten
(which has a cool goth sound to it)…
What’s the strongest element out there – Iridium?
Hey, that’s the stuff that was in the asteroid
that killed all the dinosaurs!
‘Cuz that stuff’s so strong that it’s brittle
and can’t even be bent into a wedding band…
But I want the biggest, strongest ring on my finger
because I want EVERYONE to know
that I’m gonna be the bride!

Because I’ve really had my heart set
on this one amazing man, Ernest.
(Isn’t that the coolest name, Ernest?
I mean, I’m being earnest with you,
that’s his name, and it sounds so cool!)
You see, he’s from the Rutherford family
and I’m so taken with him.
Oh, and get this, he was born in New Zealand
and now lives in the U.K. — this man
must know the world,
and I think I’m gonna melt!
But the things is, whenever he’s around
he’s only around for fleeting moments,
he mixes with friends
and his isotopes are around for as long as an hour,
but sometimes only for ten minutes,
and sometimes just for a minute or two…
So I ever get the chance to be with him
long enough to tell him how I feel.

My friends tell me not to bother,
because his radioactive personality
(that I’m so drawn to)
means that if I get too close
he might be trouble for me.

Well, I may not be the smartest girl
if he is such a strong and intelligent man,
but I’ve been doing all the research I can
about him. When it comes to researh,
I want to work with him,
and I want to learn.
I only hope he’ll let me.

Protactinium, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, (#91, Pa) from the Chicago poet Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#91, Pa)

Wanted to talk about P A,
element ninety one,
but gotta keep this brief,
because the first people
who discovered an isotope
of element ninety one
found it had had an
insanely short half life,
so they wanted
to name it “brevium”.

Than again,
after a German scientist
found another isotope
with a much longer
half life,
they figured that maybe
they’d try “protoactinium”,
because this element
is the progenitor of element 89,
Actinium, because
when element ninety one decays
and loses and alpha particle,
Actinium (element 89) is created.

But proto-actinium?
That still sounds
a little long,
maybe we can remember
that brevity
of the one isotope’s
short half life
and call it

But really,
this stuff’s radioactive
and highly toxic,
and no one has found
a single use for this element
besides maybe scientific research.
But right now they’ve discovered
when measuring the ratios
of Protactinium and Thorium isotopes
in ocean sediments, they can
reconstruct the movements
of bodies of North Atlantic water
during the melting of the last ice age.

Kind of cool.
But an ice age can take
millions of years.
Hardly brief,
like the first isotope
discovered of Protactinium.

But who knows,
maybe if Protactinium
is only good to us humans
for scientific research,
maybe we will
start to learn some cool stuff
about Earth’s past —
and maybe Earth’s future —
thanks to a brief little element
we otherwise have no use for…

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.