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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#108, Hs)

Hassium is a Periodic Table element
that was discovered in nineteen eighty-four.
Apple launched it’s first Macintosh
computer in nineteen eighty-four.
That’s also the same year
the first planet outside of our solar
system was discovered.
Nineteen eighty-four is the year
Nelson Mandela saw his wife
for the first time in twenty-two years.
It’s the same year Walter Payton
achieved the most rushing yards,
and the year Michael Jackson’s hair
was set on fire taping a Pepsi commercial.
It was the year McDonald’s sold
it’s fifty billionth hamburger.
Then again, it’s also the same year
vegetarian Fred Rogers (you know,
From Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood)
it was the same year he donated
his red sweater to the Smithsonian.

Although it had existed for decades,
nineteen eighty-four is the year
the AIDS virus was technically identified.

Don’t get Orwellian on me, but
it was a busy year, nineteen eighty-four.

Named for the German state of Hesse,
this radioactive synthetic element
(that’s an element that can be created
in a lab but is not found in nature)
seems to have a half life – the time
it takes for something to fall
to half its value because of radioactive
decay – it has a half life of only seconds…
But give the scientists some credit,
there have only been a little over
one hundred atoms of  the transactinide
element Hassium synthesized to date.
I know that Russian scientists in Dubna
tried to synthesize this element in 1978,
but Darmstadt scientists in Germany
got it together in nineteen eighty-four.

“So… another radioactive synthetic
element, so what?” is probably
what you’re thinking right now,
and yeah, when it comes to it’s apparent
only value for scientific research
you’re probably right, but check out
this one cool sounding point
for element one oh eight…
According to calculations,
one oh eight is a proton magic number
(which means it is the number
of protons that will arrange into
complete shells in the atomic nucleus) —
and it’s the proton magic number
for deformed nuclei (that means
nuclei that are far from spherical).
This means the nucleus of Hassium 270
may be a deformed doubly magic nucleus.
Okay, it’s more science stuff,
but it’s cool to think
that an isotope of Hassium
can still have a perfectly arranged
nuclear shell in it’s atom,
while still remaining deformed
and look completely out of synch.
Makes sense for a radioactive
element that we created;
makes sense it’s a little off-base,
but still somehow together.
So I guess it’s kind of cool that
we were able to create an element
on the earth-shaking year
of nineteen eighty-four, and
that we’d make something so off-kilter,
but somehow still perfectly in balance,
considering everything it can
potentially do
if we ever made enough
to this radioactive stuff.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#100, Fm)
including the poem “Each Half is the Enemy”

When the bulldog ant of Australia
is cut in half,
the halves see each other as enemies.

The head attempts to devour the tail.
And the tail,
in an effort to defend itself,

battles for up to thirty minutes
to sting the head.
And this battle happens everywhere

in the world, because life is always
that battle
between the two halves of the whole.


Because everything contains that twin,
one part good,
and one part you’ve construed into something

so horribly wrong. And you want to tear it apart,
that other half,
you despise everything about it —

everything that somehow is a part
of you.
So you, in life, always possess that battle.


This even applies on a molecular level.
Consider hydrogen:
it’s in our water we drink and bathe in,

and atomically, we’re sixty-seven percent
But on November first nineteen fifty two,

“Ivy Mike” was the code name
for the first
successful test of the hydrogen bomb.

It’s funny how we can take something
so needed for our life
and, like our sun, turn it into something

to destroy everything we know.
Because as I said,
one side gives life, the other kills.


And thanks to “Ivy Mike” and that
hydrogen bomb,
two elements were discovered —

one of them was named after physicist
Enrico Fermi.
You see, Fermi worked on “Chicago Pile-1,”

the first nuclear reactor. Fermi worked
in a space
under Chicago University’s then unused

football stadium bleachers. That’s because
the school
had not used the football stadium

for three years, because the school
thought sports
were a distraction from academics.

Fermi, “the father of the atomic bomb”.
also worked
on the Manhattan project, and Fermilab

outside of Chicago was named after him.
And here’s the kick:
the hydrogen device that produced

Fermium was designed by Richard Garwin,
Enrico Fermi’s student.
So for all that Enrico Fermi had done,

it seems fitting that Fermium is
the heaviest
element formed by the nuclear

bombardment of lighter elements
(like hydrogen).
And this highly radioactive element

was initially kept secret due to the
cold war.
But it’s amazing what we can discover

while taking something we so need
for life,
and turning it into an instrument of death.


Because Fermium was classified
in the cold war,
Swiss scientists bombarding oxygen,

discovering an isotope if it, and wanted
to name it
centurium (to honor element one hundred).

Good thing Fermi’s nuclear work got
declassified, so they
could honor Enrico Fermi with “Fermium”.

But wait, Fermium is bad, it’s radioactive,
there can’t be
any good applications for it…

Well, consider the two sides of any twin:
Fermium’s the only
element that can use it’s alpha particles

in radio therapy for cancer. And yes,
it’s radioactive,
but it’s short half life means it decays

quickly. Because as I said, it’s amazing
how two sides
can be both bad, and also so good.

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


Janet Kuypers

from the “ Periodic Table of Poetry” series (#115, Uup)*

A month before you died,
on the day that she was born,
that was very possibly the last day
I talked to you.
I know you loved me,
but in the grand scheme of things,
you had to know
this relationship couldn’t last.

When you first asked me out,
My answer was quick:
I think it was
a hundred milliseconds
before I said no.
You had to know
that with a half-life so short,
we didn’t stand a chance.

And on that day, February second,
I sat on the other side of the country
at a bar with a man
who introduced me to philosophy.
It was good to see him,
to remind myself
of how I wanted to live.
Remembering how chemical reactions
were supposed to last,
I then realized
the ununtended consequences
of this pent up friction
between us.

Try to smash the right
ions from us together,
see what happens.
See if anything survives
long enough to even measure.

You know you had an uphill battle with me.


A hundred and fifteen days
after February 2nd,
three months after you died,
that was when I almost died too.
Because even though you bombarded me
with your high excitation energy,
this hot fusion would never work.

And look at what was left of me.

I didn’t want you to die.
I didn’t want you to be destroyed.
Did you seal your fate
by trying to bond with a part of me,
or should I have trusted my first instincts
so that your destruction would hurt me less.

I wish I could have told you
that this systematic elemental
bombardment of us,
this radioactive reaction,
was only temporary,
this doesn’t occur in nature,
we had to work so hard
to merely try to make something of us.
And as much as I hate to admit it,
I wonder
if this
was never meant to be.

* A Russian and American scientist team bombarded americium-243 with calcium-48 ions to produce ununpentium, historically known as eka-bismuth. Ununpentium is a temporary IUPAC systematic element name derived from the digits 115, where “un” is from the Latin “unum-” for one, and “Pent-” is from the Greek word for 5. Scientists usually just say element 115. Discovered February 2nd, 2004, it has a half life of 200 milliseconds, with decay at 100 milliseconds. (“Hot” fusion reactions deal with the synthesis of nuclei of ununpentium at high excitation energy.)