Sunday, November 13, 2016

Elemental Humor

Have you ever wondered where all of those funny names on the periodic table come from? I'm a big fan of the periodic table—it adorns my shower curtain, in fact—and one morning the thought came to me to that there are many mysterious names on the periodic table whose origins are obscure to the average layman. Thus, I took it upon myself to create the following list, detailing the origins of many of those inscrutable names:
…alright, alright, I can't keep this up any more.

In case it's not obvious, none of the preceding is true; this is what happens when I get bored while looking at a periodic table and letting my mind wander.

Let's go over the actual, correct origins of the names of the aforementioned elements:
  • 3 Lithium is actually named from the Greek word λιθος, lithos, meaning “stone.” This is a reference to it being discovered in a solid mineral, unlike its two fellow alkaline metals known at the time, sodium (known from high levels in animal blood) and potassium (discovered in plant ashes).
  • 18 Argon is named from the Greek word αργος, argos, meaning “inactive,” in reference to its chemical inactivity. It's the least reactive element that actually stills forms compounds, though only a few are known and the first compound, argon fluorohyudride (HArF) was only synthesized in 2000.
  • 24 Chromium, from the Greek word χρωμα, chrōma, meaning “color,” in reference to the intense colors of many of its salts.
  • 36 Krypton, named from the Greek word κρυπτος, kryptos, meaning “hidden” or “secret.” It (like all the other noble gasses except helium) was discovered by successively evaporating components of liquid air, and the name is a reference to it being hidden among all the other gasses that make up air.
  • 44 Ruthenium is named for the Latin name for the region that includes Russia, Ukraine and Belarus, Ruthenia in Latin.
  • 45 Rhodium is named from the Greek word ροδον, rhodon, meaning “rose,” in reference to the rose-red color of one of its chlorine compounds.
  • 52 Tellurium is actually named from the Latin tellus, meaning “earth.”
  • 62 Samarium is named after the mineral it was discovered in, samarskite, which in turn was named after Vasili Samarsky-Bykhovets, Chief of Staff of the Russian Corps of Mining Engineers, who helped procure access to the samples of the (at the time) rare mineral samarskite from the Urals.
  • 64 Gadolinium, similarly, is named for the mineral gadolinite, which in turn is named for the Finnish chemist Johan Gadolin, who discovered yttrium (and was knighted three times, apparently).
  • 67 Holmium is actually named from the Latin name for Stockholm, Holmia.
  • 71 Lutetium is similarly named from the Latin name for Paris, Lutetia.
  • 84 Polonium was actually named by one of its discoverers, Marie Curie, after her homeland of Poland.
  • 97 Berkelium is, of course, not named after any member of the Berke family, but after the city of Berkeley in California, where it was discovered in 1949 at the University of California Radiation Laboratory.
Hope you enjoyed my attempts at humor. A hui hou!

2 comments:

  1. Well, I wanted to believe your origins. They're certainly a lot more fun than the actual ones. Thanks for my morning smile. :)

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Ha ha, thanks! Two more I thought of but which came after berkelium which I figured was a good place to stop:

      • 103 Lawrencium, after Lawrence of Arabia (actually after Ernest Lawrence, inventor of the cyclotron, a device used to discover many artificial radioactive elements).
      • 108 Hassium, after the popular Hass avocado cultivar (actually after the Latin name Hassia for the German state of Hesse where it was discovered. Well, sort of…looking it up just now it turns out there was a bit of controversy surrounding element 108's discovery, and it even had its name temporarily changed by the IUPAC for a few years as recently as 1994).

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