Why the Periodic Table of Elements Is More Important Than Ever
September 1, 2019 9:52 PM   Subscribe

The August 28, 2019 issue of Bloomberg Businessweek is a bit unusual for the publication, both in content and presentation: it celebrates 150 years of the periodic table’s formulation by the Russian chemist Dmitri Mendeleev (previously), arguing that it’s more important than it’s ever been: why matter still matters, looking at how the elements are used today, with short summaries or links to longer articles, for helium, fluorine, sodium, sulfur, chromium, germanium, bromine, rare minerals in Greenland, lutetium and ytterbium, rarest elements around the globe, osmium, mercury, radium, and making new elements.
posted by filthy light thief (19 comments total) 27 users marked this as a favorite
Oh, nice. Here's my favorite online reference: https://ptable.com/ — for whatever reason, this one brought the table into focus for me, even though it's not a bells-and-whistles kinda site.

Also, one of the few podcasts I've listened to: The Royal Society of Chemistry's series of all of the elements, in six-minute bites. Some episodes are stultifyingly dull, but some really bring alive for me the discovery, history and importance of elements in general. (my feels also melt when hearing British scientists explaining stuff.)
posted by not_on_display at 10:00 PM on September 1, 2019 [6 favorites]

Of course there are people who think it should be sexier.
posted by rhizome at 10:15 PM on September 1, 2019 [4 favorites]

There's antimony, arsenic, aluminum, selenium,
And hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium,
And nickel, neodymium, neptunium, germanium,
And iron, americium, ruthenium, uranium
et cetera, et cetera, and now I will have that tune in my head for the rest of the evening!
posted by Harvey Kilobit at 10:59 PM on September 1, 2019 [7 favorites]

Everything is made of something. That's why the elements are important. 'Nuff said.
posted by hippybear at 11:29 PM on September 1, 2019

Of course there are people who think it should be sexier.

There was some point in college when I saw the Benfey spiral table and had an "Aha!" moment. I had always wondered why the periodic table was arranged with weird gaps and the lanthanides and actinides cut out and listed separately like the Alaska and Hawaii of chemistry. I knew the columns of the periodic table were arranged purposely, but the Benfey table makes it intuitively obvious that there are properties and similarities that follow a rough pattern.
posted by Avelwood at 1:23 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

If you'd like to watch videos: Periodic Videos. They've made a video about every element and much much more.
posted by zengargoyle at 3:27 AM on September 2, 2019 [5 favorites]

I still haven't gotten over the shock of finding out way back in high school that a single hydrogen atom could covalently bond to two different boron atoms in diborane, for example — had to reread that link to make sure I hadn't misinterpreted things somehow and it doesn't feel quite right even yet.
posted by jamjam at 5:45 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

The chemical periodic table in many ways works the same as scales do in music. Fundamental organizing principle, sure, but leads to important combinatorial ideas like modes and keys, as well as chords and progressions. There's the hexagonal and planar square ligand modes, the organic and various inorganic keys, and the classic functional group chords.
posted by bonehead at 6:58 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

The last article is really neat. What an interesting career Anthony Lippmann has built in rare metal trading.
posted by Popular Ethics at 8:27 AM on September 2, 2019

Missing your period can be messy, if not toxic.

Example: using sodium bromide in your salt shaker? ... sedative.
And even if your store carries sodium astatide, you might get it home, but it's gone the next day.
posted by Twang at 9:48 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

And even if your store carries sodium astatide, you might get it home, but it's gone the next day.

That tasty, is it?
posted by Greg_Ace at 10:16 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

And all along, I thought that missing your period meant you were pregnant.
posted by hippybear at 10:19 AM on September 2, 2019

I dimly remember Kim Stanley Robinson's alternate history novel Years of Rice and Salt having Indian culture generate the first periodic table (since Europe got wiped out). I think it was a mandala shape.
posted by doctornemo at 10:29 AM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

Some of the Business Week journalists get the science rather backward: Flourine is exquisitely unreactive indeed!
posted by monotreme at 10:54 AM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

As a chemist, I get pretty tired of the fetishization of the periodic table and the perception that it's what chemistry is all about. It's like celebrating a list of Lego blocks; there's some minor interest in studying the blocks themselves, but what's really cool is all the billions of wildly different things you can build with them.
posted by Dr.Enormous at 3:38 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

That sounds like The Lego Movie!
posted by rhizome at 3:46 PM on September 2, 2019 [1 favorite]

Everything Is Awesome!
posted by hippybear at 7:24 PM on September 2, 2019 [2 favorites]

As a girl I had this quirky, pure love for.the periodic table. The order of it, the types of elements grouped together, the noble gasses, I loved the order of things. The secret logic of creation.
posted by Oyéah at 6:05 PM on September 3, 2019 [1 favorite]

For a fun way to spell your name or any message with the periodic tiles (including optional "fictional elements" that allow all letters to be used) see http://www.lmntology.com.
posted by earlmetfit at 8:52 PM on September 4, 2019 [1 favorite]

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