Hafnium, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Hafnium

Janet Kuypers

(poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #72, Hf)
6/27/14

I heard that the element Hafnium
is named after the literal Latin word hafnium,
which is Latin for Copenhagen,
the capital of Denmark.

And you know, I’ve been to Copenhagen,
and the one touristy thing we had to do
was go to the waterfront
to see the legendary statue
of the Mermaid on the rock,
and photograph it like every foreigner
before we left town.
So we walked to the water,
looked at the statue.
Not really sure
what’s so amazing about it;
it’s not that big,
I don’t even know the story behind it.
But everyone new to Copenhagen
should, for some reason,
check it out.

And the more I thought about it,
the more I realized that the element Hafnium
(named after the city where it was first isolated)
had a lot in common with that mermaid.
Because at first impression
(and when it was first discovered),
the element doesn’t seem to serve much of a purpose.
    Good thing, I suppose,
    since it seems so rare
    on this planet…
But as scientists looked at Hafnium more,
they realized it can form super-alloys,
which withstand very high temperatures
(which is great for parts for space vehicles),
Hafnium carbide has the highest melting point
of just two elements (and a Tungsten carbide
with Hafnium has the highest melting point).
But it’s scarcity makes Hafnium expensive –
because I heard that nuclear power plants
can pay a million dollars
just for the neutron absorbing Hafnium rods

So I guess it would make sense
why scientists consider Hafnium
as special as that little mermaid
at Copenhagen’s water’s edge.
Because things may seen benign at first,
but only when you search deeply
do you find their true value and beauty.

Erbium, poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series by Chicago poet Janet Kuypers

Erbium

Janet Kuypers

(poem from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #68, Er)
6/27/14

On the east coast,
shopping once
with a gay friend of mine,
we walked past a guard
at the empty clothing store
to browse for clothes.
My friend held up
a pink shirt,
asked my opinion.
I looked at it,
then at him
and said,
“I’m not a pink person,”
and we both turned
to the clothing racks.
I walked to a farther rack
and pulled out
this goth girls’ color of choice,
held up the black shirt
for his opinion.
Since he was farther away,
he responded loud enough
to confuse the large
African-American guard
when he said,
“I’m not a black person…”

And I don’t care if “PINK”
is the largest ad campaign
of a national lingerie company.
And okay, the pink ribbon
is an honor to my mom
and breast cancer research.
But I’ve never had
a love of the color
until I heard of metals
glowing in a brilliant
pink luminescence.
Because in the science of spectroscopy
(analyzing light from chemicals
through a prism), scientists discovered
stunning pink crystals that glinted alluringly
that would glow even more brilliantly
under fluorescent lights.
That has to be the element Erbium…
And any Erbium compounds
are invariably a faint pink, and —
wait a minute,
why am I going on
about Erbium
and it’s very distinct pinkness?
Well, there were spectroscopic bands
in the infrared part of the spectrum
of Erbium, and these allow Erbium
to not scatter light (or data)
in optical fibres
(the kind for all phone calls
or all Internet data transfer).
Optical fibres are gossamer thin
threads of glass, and they are
a rare optical perfection
that needs just the right element
to carry our voices,
or carry all data
without losing it to the atmosphere.

And if that element has to be pink,
then I guess Erbium
can give me another reason
to like the color pink too.

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

G Block

Janet Kuypers

(from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series, #119-184)
8/31/14

While researching cold fusion
to learn about my latest periodic table element,
I see a sentence to a link for
“Approaches to element 120 (Ubn, unbinilium)”,
and I think,
‘oh no,
this can’t be,
the periodic table only goes to element 118,’
so with dread
I follow the link
and realize
that scientists can’t be happy
with the elements they’ve discovered,
of course not,
so even though there’s no place
in the periodic table
for any new elements…

Well, wait a minute,
if they’re talking about element 120,
there has to be talk about element 119,
so I looked it up, and of course, Uue,
ununennium has a wiki web page too,
so I look at their supposed location
in the periodic table,
and they’re off to the left of the table
in two separate additional rows.
119 is in period 8, the s block,
just like its neighbor, 120.

Whatever that means.
(I mean really, haven’t I
done enough research
on these elements already?)

Oh but wait, they’re just to the left
of Hydrogen, which is also in that s block.

So the periodic table contains four blocks,
the s, p, d and f blocks, giving you
details about the atoms therein.
But then I see a link there
for the “extended periodic table”.

Of course. An extended periodic table.

So I look, and because all of these
are super-heavy elements, the theoreticians
(including Seaborg, who theorized about
many of these now postulated elements)
dropped this new set of twelve
121 and up elements
into the “g block.”

Yes, the g block.
Ask any prisoner in the g block,
and they’ll swear
the prosecution made everything up
to put them behind bars.

I wonder, if all of these elements
are still undiscovered,
how much of these g block elements
are these chemists really making up?

But as far as they can hypothesize, this g block
in the periodic table contains eighteen elements
with partially filled g-orbitals in each period…

I’ve read documents postulating
the first g block element’s at 121
that claim the hypothesized element
126 would be within an island of stability,
resistant to fission but not to alpha decay.
They’ve tried to create 119, 120, 121, 124, 126 and 127,
and some scientists once claimed
discovering an isotope of 122 occurring naturally…

But wait a minute, let me think about this:
if the g block is made of twelve elements,
that would mean the edge of the g block
is element one thirty two, and still
I’ve seen that “extended periodic table”
has Superactinides and Eka-superactinides
listed all the way up to one hundred eighty four.

Razzin frazzin.
Mumble grumble.
Can elements even exist with that heavy a weight?
Isotopes of some synthetic elements
last only milliseconds, and as far as I know,
the only way these super-heavy synthetic elements
can be created is by smashing an atom
with a ton of neutrons into an atom
of a synthetic element (you know, like one
with a half life of only milliseconds).
Can scientists even be able to try
to create these only predicted
super-heavy synthetic elements?
Because it’s really unknown
how far the periodic table extends
beyond the discovered element 118.
But some predict that it ends at 128.
Some predict that it ends at 155.
Some first guessed
that the table couldn’t go past 137,
then later calculated the end was 173.

Oh, razzin frazzin,
with all these guesses
I can’t hear myself a-speechin’…
But I’m not quite sure any of these chemists
are sayin’ the right answers, either,
when everyone can only guess
if any more elements can even be created.

Okay, fine, I’m just a poet
trying to learn a thing or two,
to refresh my memory
on the periodic table
and keep my science know-how up to par.
Maybe I’ll just have to wait
until they actually discover
new elements,
and be content
when they discuss elements
in astronomy and science shows,
when I can actually understand
what they’re saying and think,
“wait, I think I knew that…”

Because okay, I’m only a poet,
but I’ll keep my scientific mind open
and welcom every new discovery as it comes
with open arms.

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