“Iridium” poem by Janet Kuypers


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series

I was looking for different pieces of jewelry
at the more expensive jewelry store;
I knew Christmas was coming
and I wanted to splurge on an expensive gift.
But I wanted something truly unique,
so more than thinking about the gemstones
I was looking for the most original setting.
Silver, 10k, 14k, 24k and White Gold, Platinum…
Then I thought I should look at the Periodic Table
to see what other elements there are in the
same Platinum group metals,
so I can find just the right metal
for the perfect setting.

Okay, on first glance at the Periodic Table,
before I even looked at the Platinum group metals,
I see Aluminum. But that’s right out,
when it can be as flexible as tin foil…
Tungsten’s used for environmentally-friendly
Bullet shell casings, but I don’t know…
Wait a minute, if I think aluminum’s
too malleable, then IN the Platinum group metals,
actually right next to Platinum in the
Periodic Table, what about Iridium?
It’s the 2nd densest element there is,
and it look silvery-white like Platinum,
but also has just a hint of a gold hue to it.
This sounds perfect.

Wait a minute, I think because Iridium
is so hard, it’s also brittle — I hope
it wouldn’t break apart. So actually,
because it’s so dense and resistant to heat
or corrosion, people probably can’t
work with it to actually make it
into anything… So I guess Iridium’s out.

But the fascinating thing about Iridium
is that when scientists studied the
Cretaceous period and Paleogene period
boundary from 65 million years ago,
they found a strong layer of Iridium-
rich clay… And although no one knows
for sure, scientist Luis Alvares
lead a team in 1980 who theorized
that a massive asteroid collision —
or a comet impact — which historically
drove the dinosaurs to extinction —
that these interstellar objects that
collided with the Earth — were rich
in Iridium, leaving Iridium in the clay
that separated these two geologic periods.

It’s just a theory, but it sounds
kind of cool, and it’s just one more way
to find Iridium so fascinating.

It’s a shame I can’t have it made
into the right jewelry setting…

And you know, Iridium is obtained
as a byproduct of copper and nickel
mining, and was even used in 1834
in fountain pen nibs mounted on gold,
so apparently they were able
to work with Iridium then…

Now that I think about it, there might be
something to this Alvarez hypothesis,
because right now there is
what they call the Iridium satellite
constellation, which literally is
a set of satellites covering voice
and data storage around the world
for everyone using cell phones
or mobile electronic devices…

So yeah, if Iridium can relate to
a change in geologic historic periods,
and if it can relate to satellites
orbiting the Earth now for our communication,
that’s all the more reason to admire
this dense, heavy element anywhere
we can find it.