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…

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry”” series (#43, Tc)

You’re named from the Greek word for “artificial”,
because you were the first element man ever made…

We wanted to discover, we wanted to find you out —
we’d even create you if this was the only way.

We can only find you after your brethren
have been broken apart to reveal you. But the thing is,

your name is a bit misleading, though, since
you can be found naturally, albeit in trace amounts.

Though it’s funny, we searched for you for so long,
and now we discover that you’re a by-product

of our nuclear power stations. Then everyone thought
we wouldn’t know what to do with nuclear waste.

You’ve been put into the environment as
“low-level-waste” for nearly half a century,

but what I’ve learned is that doctors inject
small amounts of you into patients with tumors,

so they can see exactly where they need to heal people.
People wondered what we’d do with our nuclear waste,

but now you’re used in 20 million medical procedures
each year, because your short half-life makes you safe

and the way you decay helps doctors see
exactly what they need to do to save a life.

And yeah, you’re nuclear waste injected into a human,
but they need such a small amount that radiation is low.

It’s hard to believe that we searched for you for so long,
and now that you’re injected into 20 million patients —

in North America alone — every year,
it’s good that we finally found you out.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#111, Rg)

Being in just the right place
at just the right time
is what getting what you want
is all about.


Thirteen nuclear researchers
bombarded Bismuth two oh nine
with Nickel sixty four ions
to make the Nickel penetrate
the Bismuth nucleus,
so they’d come together
to make a bigger atom.

So the Nickel had to go fast enough
to penetrate the Bismuth nuclei
(not too fast, but not too slow),
and still, you’d lose a lot of atoms

Enough experiments,
enough times,
created more atoms
of element
one one one.

They looked for so long,
and no one knows for sure
what Roentgenium looks like,
so the researchers started
predicting it’s properties
because it has such a short
half life.


And on the anniversary
of when this all came together
in just the right way,
at just the right time,
that’s when John Hinckley,
after stalking the rock star
and watching his habits,
that’s when he walked
from the sidewalk
and shot John Lennon.

Because as I said,
you have to be
in just the right place
at just the right time
to make everything
come together,
don’t you.


But if we got enough
of one one one,
we’d love this precious metal —
even if only for a short while.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#084, Po)
including the poem “Eyes are Blurred to the Battlefield”

On the Indonesian island Jawa
large turtle skeletons
litter the plains,

because after the turtles
came in from the ocean
to lay their eggs,

swarms of wild dogs there
got together and

Those wild dogs flipped the turtles over,
and stripped them completely
from their shells

before they ate them alive.

Because we have to remember
that life is a constant
avoidance of death:

since later on, many of those wild dogs
who killed the turtles
were prey to the tiger,

who later pounced upon them.
This is the cycle of life,
because every birth

is a prelude to death.
Remember this.
Don’t forget.


Keep in mind that elemental Polonium
changes in a nuclear reactor
to form Polonium-210…

Because the former Russian agent
Alexander Litvinenko
was the first man

to be poisoned to death from lethal
acute radiation.

So yes, because life is a prelude to,
and a constant avoidance
of death,

this Polonium-210 poisoning marked
the beginning of an era
of nuclear terrorism.


I know, I know, this is only
a part of Polonium,
and they found

that Polonium’s electrical conductivity
changes with it’s temperature,
making it perfect

for eliminating static electricity.
And because of it’s
short half-life,

it’s decay generates heat, so it’s a
convenient and light source
to generate

thermo-electric power in space
satellites and lunar stations —
because it’s great

that for space no moving parts
are required for power
from Polonium.

Yes, I know it’s radioactive,
Marie Curie discovered

(named for her homeland Poland),
she even coined the phrase
“radioactivity” while

working. She even worked so diligently
that on her own wedding day
she wore a black dress —

because she could then wear it
for the work she later
had to do.


Marie Curie wore a black dress
to her own wedding;
maybe she knew

that life is a constant avoidance
of death. Life is just
a prelude to death,

because though Polonium otherwise
seems like a relatively
harmless element,

Polonium-210 can still be used
as just the right element
for nuclear terrorism.


With Polonium, there’s much to learn.
Because when alloyed,
it can be

a portable neutron source, Polonium
is even used in making
photographic plates.

But then again, Polonium’s
the only component
of cigarette smoke

found in lab rats to produce cancer.
Polonium was produced
in World War II’s

Manhattan Project — it was even
part of the design of the
Fat Man bomb

on Nagasaki. Yeah, Polonium
has many good qualities
to us humans,

but kep in mind that life is still
a constant avoidance
of death.

So despite what good we look for
in Polonium, this element
can also be

the instrument of death.
Remember this.
Don’t forget.