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Why did Chuck Norris destroy the periodic table? ... because he only believes in the element of Suprise!
August 1, 2010 11:52 AM   Subscribe

Blogging the Periodic Table: Wild, weird, wonderful stories about the elements that make up our universe. All month at slate, Sam Kean has been blogging about the periodic table, in conjunction with his new book, The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World From the Periodic Table of the Elements. Elements covered so far include: Antimony: It might have killed mozart. Hydrogen: Where it all started. Selenium: Is It To Blame for Custer's Defeat at Little Bighorn? Vanadium: Sperm, beware. Copernicium: How elements get their names. Nitrogen and Phosphorus: The Future of Toilet Design Hangs in the Balance. Lithium: Why It Makes Such Great Batteries. Rare Earths: They're Neither Rare nor Earths. But They Could Save the Planet. Ytterby: The Tiny Swedish Island That Gave the Periodic Table Four Different Elements. Strontium: Element Tourists, Sodium Partiers, and Other Periodic Table Eccentrics. Gallium: It Proved That Dmitri Mendeleev, Father of the Periodic Table, Wasn't a Crackpot. The Noble Gases: What a Bunch of Snobs. Promethium: Uranium Stole Its Fire. Thorium: The Nuclear Fuel of the Future? Palladium: The Cold Fusion Fanatics Can't Get Enough of the Stuff. Cobalt: It Makes the Dirtiest of Dirty Bombs. Hafnium: Building the Doomsday Device of Tomorrow. Radium: Cures Gout! (Warning: Also Causes Cancer.). Aluminum: It Used To Be More Precious Than Gold.
posted by Fizz (33 comments total) 86 users marked this as a favorite

I realize I could have posted a single link, but just in case people wanted to look at a specific element, just in case they had a favourite. I linked each element that Mr. Kean has blogged about.
posted by Fizz at 11:53 AM on August 1, 2010

That's appreciated, Fizz; I might have browsed past the post otherwise. Great post.
posted by Toby Dammit X at 11:57 AM on August 1, 2010

Suggested musical accompaniment while reading: Occasional Songs For The Periodic Table, by George Hrab: a separate tune for every element from hydrogen to ununoctium. (Reviewed at astroengine).
posted by Bora Horza Gobuchul at 12:10 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Nice link Bora Horza Gobuchul.
posted by Fizz at 12:12 PM on August 1, 2010

And, of course...
posted by CheeseDigestsAll at 12:15 PM on August 1, 2010

Suggested fictional accompaniment: Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction. 118 very short stories inspired by the elements.
posted by fings at 12:16 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Vanadium: Sperm, beware. Apparently I screwed up the one link. My apologies.
posted by Fizz at 12:25 PM on August 1, 2010

So relevant. Thanks for a very interesting post.
posted by effluvia at 12:27 PM on August 1, 2010

love this, thanks Fizz.
posted by dash_slot- at 12:28 PM on August 1, 2010

I wanted to post this a while back but I was too lazy. I'm at work today and I had the time. I'm glad I waited, more content was available for sharing.

I think we often forget how important this table truly is.
posted by Fizz at 12:29 PM on August 1, 2010

Yep, good post. Thanks.
posted by Gator at 12:29 PM on August 1, 2010

And don't forget One for each element.
posted by Obscure Reference at 12:32 PM on August 1, 2010 [3 favorites]

Right up my alley. Thanks, Fizz.
posted by weapons-grade pandemonium at 12:39 PM on August 1, 2010

Excellent post. Many thanks.
posted by Splunge at 12:43 PM on August 1, 2010

I must confess that I thought this was going to be boring before I clicked it, but I'm halfway through the antimony article and just about losing my shit at how cool this is. Thank you!

Kean's note about how alchemists anthropomorphized their metals -- with bismuth as the "bastard" metal and antimony as the essence of female -- got me to thinking about how people in all professions tend to do this in different ways with the materials they're familiar with. That got me to imagining an alchemist's trade conference, complete with keynote speakers, a detox booth, and maybe an ISO standard or two in the works.
posted by invitapriore at 12:59 PM on August 1, 2010

Yeah, I've been following this on Slate; I'll probably end up buying his book when I finish my current backlog, I've been consistently impressed and "neated out". Great post!
posted by Lemurrhea at 1:11 PM on August 1, 2010

Now this is good popular science writing! It's not dry, but it doesn't pander either. Why are there entire magazines filled with bad science writing, and only occasional glimpses of the good stuff?
posted by JHarris at 2:08 PM on August 1, 2010

They either combine to make a chemical compound or stand alone as they are.
posted by benzenedream at 2:25 PM on August 1, 2010

The one on Radium should be broadcast far and wide, to demonstrate just why chasing health fads is stupid and dangerous.
posted by JHarris at 2:30 PM on August 1, 2010

It's funny how I always groaned when I was in a Chemistry or Science related course growing up. And now I find stuff like this to be fascinating. Did not appreciate chemistry back in my youth; I know better now.
posted by Fizz at 3:16 PM on August 1, 2010

If you enjoy this sort of thing, the book you must have is Nature's Building Blocks - I've read it front to back to front and over and over again.
posted by Wolfdog at 3:45 PM on August 1, 2010

Some more musical accompaniment.
posted by pxe2000 at 3:47 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

I'd read a few of these along the way but never put 2 and 2 together to see that he was blogging about them regularly. The one about Ytterby, Sweden is worth a post all by itself. Brilliant!
posted by briank at 4:43 PM on August 1, 2010

The Aluminum article should really be subtitled, "The Consequences When Americans Can't Spell Words Properly."
posted by stannate at 4:45 PM on August 1, 2010

It's funny because American English and British English sometimes use different spellings for the same word, or even different words for the same concept!

For the curious, Al was originally spelled both as aluminium, following many other elements, or aluminum following a few other elements such as platinum or molybdenum. One spelling became more common in Britain, the other in the US.
posted by ROU_Xenophobe at 4:58 PM on August 1, 2010

[this is good]
posted by killdevil at 5:01 PM on August 1, 2010

...maybe he didn't?
posted by nathancaswell at 5:21 PM on August 1, 2010 [1 favorite]

Dont forget the Wooden Periodic Table Table.
posted by Ranucci at 7:55 PM on August 1, 2010

Thanks Fizz! Can't wait to look through.

Glad you have come around to the central science :)
posted by Cheminatrix at 8:17 PM on August 1, 2010

Radium gives me nightmares. Horrifyingly, U.S. Radium Corp. knew about the dangers of exposure but nevertheless continued unsafe operations.
posted by Enki at 2:13 AM on August 2, 2010

I was just thinking. The one link that failed in this post was the one having to do with sperm. How very emasculating.
posted by Fizz at 9:26 AM on August 2, 2010

Chemistry in Its Element podcast.
posted by neuron at 7:27 AM on August 3, 2010

When I was in high school chemistry, about 30 years ago, we watched a bunch of awesome 16mm films about various elements. They showed how an element was dug out of the ground as an ore, how that ore was converted into a pure elemental form and then used in various ways. Complete with the chemical equations and everything. I think the films were 10 to 20 minutes long. Would love to see them again now.
posted by neuron at 7:31 AM on August 3, 2010

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