I say something about every element in the periodic table

Here’s a post that’s unlike the content I usually put on this site. You see, when I was a kid, I had many different obsession phases, one of which was a periodic table phase. And I can’t blame my past self for being so fascinated by the periodic table! There’s just something incredibly fascinating about that table listing names for elements that constitute everything in existence—some substances known since ancient times like copper and gold, some names you hear a lot in science like hydrogen and oxygen, some you hear about in nutrition facts like sodium and calcium, some scary names like arsenic and plutonium, and some weird ones you’ve never heard of like thulium and rutherfordium.

One day a few weeks ago, I thought it would be fun to say something about each of the elements with a twist—each element will have a description with the same number of words as its atomic number, meaning hydrogen will get one word and oganesson (the current heaviest known element) will get 118 words—and that’s how this blog post was born. If you forget which element is which and where everything is on the periodic table, just look it up on Wikipedia or something. Without further ado, let’s begin with the list!

(Also, if you see anything wrong in this list, don’t hesitate to leave a comment correcting it!)

  1. Ubiquitous.
  2. Balloon gas.
  3. Lightweight battery metal.
  4. Gems and rocket material.
  5. Compounds in putty and detergents.
  6. Graphite and diamonds; backbone of life.
  7. Most of Earth’s atmosphere, inert but prevalent.
  8. Breathable gas that’s immediately vital to all life.
  9. Extremely reactive gas whose compounds are used in toothpaste
  10. Used in red-orange neon lights; has rather few uses otherwise.
  11. Explosive metal on its own; combined with chlorine, makes table salt.
  12. Flammable metal much tamer than sodium useful both as metal and compounds.
  13. Extremely versatile metal widely used in household appliances. Lightweight, recyclable, and easily worked.
  14. Every bit as essential to computers as carbon is to life. An excellent semiconductor.
  15. Prevalent in biology and comes in various pure forms, the red one used in matches.
  16. Yellow, brittle, and smelly rock on its own. In compounds, another element commonly seen in biology.
  17. Deadly green gas on its own; traces used in swimming pools. The other half of table salt.
  18. The most common noble gas, constituting about one percent of Earth’s atmosphere. Ideal gas for storing reactive materials.
  19. Potassium metal burns with purple flames in water, putting sodium to shame. It’s known for bananas and slight radioactivity.
  20. Calcium makes most people think of dairy products. It’s a fairly reactive metal on its own, surprisingly used in alloys.
  21. The transition metals start with the surprisingly obscure and notoriously expensive scandium. It’s sometimes used to strengthen aluminum in sports equipment.
  22. Titanium is light but very sturdy, with the highest strength to density ratio of any metal. It’s commonly used in industrial equipment.
  23. Vanadium is another industrial metal, typically used not on its own but to strengthen iron for the use of tools such as wrenches.
  24. Chromium is extremely shiny. It’s typically used not in bulk form but to plate other metals. The name comes from its many colorful compounds.
  25. Manganese begins a streak of six metals that show up in biology. Its name derives from “black magnesium” when the real magnesium was considered white.
  26. Iron wouldn’t be widely used if it weren’t so abundant. It has the major disadvantage of rusting, which is mitigated by alloying it with other metals.
  27. Cobalt on its own is very similar to iron, but it forms compounds with a deep shade of blue. That’s what “cobalt” makes most people think of.
  28. Nickel is best known for its widespread use in coins, but typically only the outer layer is made of nickel these days. It’s again commonly alloyed with iron.
  29. Everyone knows what copper is. It’s a reddish orange metal that’s incredibly useful and quite a marvel to look at. It’s especially used in electrical wires and in architecture.
  30. Zinc is one of the more reactive metals, corrosive but harmless to humans. Combined with copper, it creates bright yellow brass. Its compounds are used in sunscreen, deodorant, and shampoo.
  31. Gallium is famous as the metal that will melt in your hand. It’s not a metal you’d want to make coins or wires from, but it’s useful in thermometers and computers.
  32. Germanium is useful in computers and optics but surprisingly low-profile for a carbon group element. When Mendeleev devised his early periodic table, there was an empty spot where this element is now.
  33. Everyone knows that arsenic is extremely poisonous. It’s deadly enough as a pure element and much worse as compounds, but it is used sometimes in computers and to help produce safer metallic materials.
  34. Selenium is essential to life in trace quantities but deadly in excess. Like the other elements in the oxygen group, it isn’t pleasant to the nose, but its compounds are commonly used in shampoo.
  35. In pure form, bromine is an element that you can’t mistake for any other. It’s a deadly reddish-brown liquid that easily evaporates into a bright red gas. Combined with sodium, you get hot tub salt.
  36. Krypton is an element completely unrelated to what it makes the average person think of, in this case Superman. It’s a heavy noble gas that’s hard to come by but is useful in lighting and photography.
  37. Rubidium is basically diet cesium. It’s violently reactive, has a low melting point, and is a charming sight when held in an ampoule, but cesium does all this more extremely. It’s used in relatively cheap atomic clocks.
  38. Strontium is calcium’s brother, sharing many of its properties and worming its way into human bones, which is harmless because the elements are so similar. It’s sometimes mistakenly thought of as radioactive because of one of its isotopes.
  39. Yttrium kicks off the second row of transition metals but feels like it would be right at home with the lanthanides with its obscurity, Swedish name, and use in television screens. It’s not an element you hear of everyday.
  40. Zirconium is best known for its occurrence in zirconia. Why are diamonds, which are made entirely of carbon, considered a precious commodity, whereas zirconia, a mineral with a cool exotic element, is considered a cheap knock-off? Humans are weird sometimes.
  41. Niobium is just another metal on its own, but when oxidized it can take on a variety of dazzling colors. The cool thing about niobium’s compounds is that coins made of it can be anodized to become colorful while staying metallic.
  42. While many second-row transition metals have a bizarre property or novelty about them, molybdenum is more like the first row of them. It’s commonly alloyed with iron if you want something especially resilient, making it useful for tools that encounter high temperatures.
  43. Technetium is an oddball because unlike anything else in its neighborhood, it’s radioactive! When the periodic table was first devised, this element was an empty spot for over fifty years. It must have been satisfying when scientists finally confirmed this anomalous element’s existence.
  44. I want to say more about technetium, but unfortunately, we’re back to normal elements with ruthenium. It falls right under iron, but aside from being a metal, it’s as different from iron as can be. It’s very nonreactive and shiny, commonly used in jewelry.
  45. Rhodium is even less reactive than ruthenium, even shinier, even more strongly associated with jewelry, and much more expensive. Both of those elements are part of a group sometimes known as the noble metals, which also includes palladium and the three elements directly below them.
  46. Compared to its two predecessors, palladium is more of a technological metal, even if it does share many of the same properties. It’s vertically sandwiched between two metals with contrasting connotations, nickel and platinum, and its connotation is something of a middle ground between those two.
  47. Silver has been known and heralded since ancient times because it occurs naturally in pure form. While many other long-known substances have been discovered to have a nasty side, silver has withstood the test of time as a pleasantly nonreactive metal and a superb conductor of electricity.
  48. It’s never fun when a versatile and useful element turns out to be poisonous, and cadmium is a perfect example of this. It has had to be replaced in many uses, but it survives as a component of paint pigments and is finding new use in solar panels.
  49. Indium is one of the weirdest metals out there. You can bend it with your hands, cut it with a knife, and dent it with your fingernails, or so I’ve heard. It’s way too squishy to be used like most metals, but it’s useful in computers much like gallium.
  50. Tin is a true old-timey metal. Many things that used to be made of tin are now tin in name only, often because aluminum has superseded it. Tin is still an invaluable tool for solder due to its low melting point and malleability. It’s also still useful in steel plating.
  51. Right under the deadly arsenic, antimony is back to sanity. It’s a regular old metalloid with a surprisingly long history. Ancient Egyptians somehow managed to shape this brittle material into smooth, round vases, which baffles historians and chemists. Today it’s commonly used in combination with, or substitution for, tin and lead.
  52. Going down the oxygen group of elements, the stench increases and the usefulness to human life decreases. This culminates in tellurium, which is no arsenic but still not something you want much of in your body. It shows up in computers and strangely has a higher atomic mass than the next element.
  53. Iodine takes the form of purplish black crystals at room temperature but easily sublimates into a stunning violet vapor; the halogens are undoubtedly the most colorful part of the periodic table. This one is the highest element that plays any role in the human body and is sometimes even used as a disinfectant.
  54. Xenon is a very expensive and heavy noble gas. Although noble gases normally refuse to react with anything, xenon can form compounds with other elements, usually fluorine (as can krypton, to a very limited extent). I’m not sure whether this says more about how reactive fluorine is or how nonreactive the noble gases are.
  55. If I had to choose one pure element to see in person, I’d pick cesium in a heartbeat. It seems so incredible to hold an ampoule of cesium and watch it melt into liquid gold—so long as the ampoule doesn’t explode. Cesium is used in expensive atomic clocks and the definition of a second.
  56. The alkaline earth metals get more reactive as you go down, but at a sluggish pace compared to the alkali metals. While cesium will absolutely explode on contact with air, barium merely oxidizes in seconds like lithium. Aside from coloring fireworks green, barium is typically associated with enemas because of the x-ray properties of barium sulfate.
  57. Lanthanum starts the most boring part of the periodic table: the lanthanides. They’re a bunch of obscure metals typically placed below the table to prevent it from being extremely wide, and they’re generally similar to each other and interchangeable. They’re also more reactive than you might think—this one is mildly flammable and sometimes used in lighters.
  58. Cerium readily generates sparks when struck, a fair bit more so than lanthanum. I guess if you’re dumped into a Lord of the Flies scenario and arrive on an island with little more than a block of cerium, you can probably survive a good while? This certainly isn’t behavior you’d expect out of a transition metal, at least.
  59. Aside from having an annoyingly long name, praseodymium isn’t much to write home about. It turns green when oxidized, or rather gains a tint of green, because that’s how lanthanides roll. It’s so similar to its neighbor neodymium that for a while people thought they were one element. When combined, the two elements are used in glass blowing goggles.
  60. If there’s any lanthanide the average person might possibly have heard of, it’s neodymium. This metal is a key material in the extremely powerful neodymium magnets, making it vital in computers. Those magnets are made of an alloy of neodymium with iron, plus a pinch of boron, of all elements. People don’t give boron quite the credit that it deserves!
  61. Time for another radioactive oddball! Promethium is much more radioactive than technetium, with a half-life of only 17 years, compared to technetium’s four million. While technetium has a decent amount of use in medicine, promethium has a distinctly obscure and elusive aura to it. It’s been used for paint that glows in the dark and only a few other exotic applications.
  62. Samarium is used in magnets that are like neodymium magnets except weaker, and using cobalt instead of iron, and no boron. Apparently those magnets have been used in electric guitar pickups for some reason? A bizarre use of a lanthanide, but sure, I’ll take it. It’s not like there’s a whole lot of interesting things I can say about these weird elements.
  63. Europium takes the cake as the most reactive lanthanide. It’s about as reactive as an alkaline earth metal and becomes colorful when oxidized, with a vibrant mix of gray, green, and teal… at least according to a picture I’ve seen of it. It’s difficult to store europium as a pure, shiny metal, but frankly I think it’s more interesting to let it oxidize.
  64. You should know the drill by now. Magnet metal! Computer screens! Flashy lights! Somewhat reactive! Computers in general! Most of these probably describe gadolinium… at least, I can guarantee the magnet part does. It might be worth noting that this element was indirectly named after a person—gadolinium is named after the mineral gadolinite, which was itself named after the Finnish chemist Johan Gadolin.
  65. While europium makes screens glow red and blue, terbium handles the green. Oh yeah, samarium was also indirectly named after a person, just putting that in here because I can’t say much interesting about the lanthanides. Meanwhile, the village of Ytterby, Sweden somehow got four elements to its name, one of which is terbium. I guess the people naming the lanthanides were low on ideas?
  66. Dysprosium’s name means “hard to say anything about”. Just kidding, its name actually means “hard to get at”. In any case, it’s like the chemists naming these elements knew that they’re all boring as hell! I never realized how boring these elements are until I tried writing about them myself. Lasers, lighting, magnets, computers… yep, reading the Wikipedia article on this element, that’s a lanthanide alright.
  67. Holmium is a somewhat refreshing record setter, having the highest magnetic permeability of the elements. Still not too exciting, because neodymium and gadolinium are also magnet-related record setters. Magnetic properties are one of the few things the lanthanides have going for them. The lanthanides are SO BORING, I’m telling you. Oh yeah, yttrium is the first element named after Ytterby. The third is called… wait for it…
  68. ERBIUM! I guess those weird random elements had to be discovered somewhere, and that random Swedish village is actually a perfect fit for those because they’re so weird and obscure. As for erbium itself, it’s probably most notable for having pink compounds, which I think is a somewhat neat distinction from other lanthanides. Those compounds are used in lasers, optics, and cheap jewelry, but not much in computers.
  69. Thulium is the Benjamin Harrison of elements. Just as Benjamin Harrison is (probably) the most forgettable American president, thulium is (probably) the most forgettable element. It’s oddly fascinating how obscure and forgettable this element is! Thulium does have anti-counterfeit usage in euro bills going for it, but so does europium, which makes for a pun that was just begging to be made. This poor element can’t catch a break!
  70. Ytterbium is the last element named after Ytterby, and the only element that uses the village’s full name. This one has a radioactive isotope used for gamma rays, and it’s apparently used in extremely accurate atomic clocks too? Hey, that’s actually pretty interesting. Looks like cesium and rubidium might have competition. Also, I guess the late lanthanides aren’t as reactive as the early ones, which probably helps make them forgettable.
  71. The lanthanides end with the incredibly forgettable lutetium—the only thing preventing it from being the most forgettable element is that it ends the lanthanides. I’m sure there’s someone out there who will vigilantly defend lutetium like a white knight, but I don’t feel like doing so. I guess I’ve been hard on the lanthanides, but still, they were so boring to go through. Now, finally back to the good stuff!
  72. Hafnium is a testament to the beauty of mathematics. Its flexible nucleus makes it very useful as a neutron absorber for nuclear reactors. It also gives up electrons easily, making it useful in plasma cutting for splitting big chunks of steel. This element’s uses seem to relate to its atomic number—72 is a composite number divisible in numerous ways. Its most common isotope has a satisfyingly round mass number of 180!
  73. Tantalum is an element that anyone living in the age of computers owes a lot to. The name is practically synonymous with electronic capacitors, which are notably used in cell phones but also in basically all other modern electronics. This element is so prevalent in computers that makes protesting against the element’s usage a catch-22: you can’t meaningfully spread the word about overusing tantalum without, well, overusing tantalum. This element has us cornered.
  74. If you need a metal that can keep its cool in the fiercest of temperatures, look no further than tungsten. This power player of an element has the highest melting point of any metal and is famed for its resilience; the flip side is that it’s difficult to deliberately melt and cast into shapes. If you still doubt tungsten is a rad element, it’s the heaviest one known to be useful in any organism.
  75. Rhenium is the baby of the stable elements, which is to say it was the very last one discovered. It took until 1925 to be discovered—not even a century ago as of this writing! Almost as tough as its neighbors, rhenium finds a use in airplane parts and in predicting the properties of the medically enticing technetium. Rhenium foil and wires are very stiff and heavily contrast against the likes of aluminum or copper.
  76. Osmium is another record-setter of a metal, this time in density—at least in theoretical terms. For practical purposes, its neighbor iridium is equally dense due to natural variance. Still, though, osmium is a pretty awesome metal. It’s got a faint tinge of blue to distinguish itself from other metals, but not in a flamboyant way like gold. It’s typically alloyed with its neighbors if you need something exceptionally resilient, like the tips of fountain pens.
  77. Iridium is the other half of the inseparable duo of extremely dense metals—it and osmium are far more useful when combined than alone. It may not have osmium’s hint of blue, but the wildly varied colors of its salts make up for it. Even more wildly varying than iridium’s salts is its price, which fluctuates enormously based on what I can only presume are intricate economic factors. Iridium is never a cheap metal, that’s for sure.
  78. Platinum has fanciness written all over it. It’s extremely nonreactive, extremely shiny, and extremely expensive. Although the metal makes most people think of fame and jewelry, its inertness makes it incredibly useful for practical purposes. If you need a metal that refuses to melt, pick tungsten; if you need a metal that’s extremely heavy, pick osmium (or iridium); if you need a metal that won’t react, pick platinum. These metals are very refreshing compared to the boring lanthanides.
  79. Gold needs no introduction. It’s a coveted and beautiful yellow metal that’s inspired awe in humanity for millennia, long predating recorded history. Many elements have had their relationships with humanity rise and fall over the years, but gold has been with us since the beginning as a symbol of wealth, beauty, and romance. As a cool bonus, gold is nonreactive and finds a hefty amount of use in electronics. It even serves as a viable shield against harmful reactions.
  80. Thousands of years ago, mercury was thought to be a divine metal of alchemy, the liquid metal which all other substances are formed from, and a symbol of eternal life and healing. Today, it’s the total opposite—we’re acutely aware of how poisonous mercury truly is. While mercury is being phased out from most uses, it’s finding increasing use in fluorescent lamps as a vapor, but mercury is so much cooler as a thick, bouncy liquid! Science is unbelievably cruel.
  81. Thallium is a metal straight from the depths of hell. It’s somehow extremely poisonous, far more than its neighbors mercury and lead, and especially more than the oddballs above it, gallium and indium. After being discovered, it spent a century being used as rat poison until everyone decided it wasn’t ethical; now it’s used here and there in computers, I guess. At least thallium has the decency not to conceal its devilish nature; you can’t say this nasty element isn’t honest.
  82. A metal known since ancient times, lead straddles the line between being an ally and an enemy of humanity. It’s well-known to be toxic, but nowhere near as bad as the last two, and its weight, malleability, and low melting point make it undeniably versatile—it’s just that lead is best used when it doesn’t directly contact humans. Lead-acid car batteries are a recent prominent application of lead, where the element gets to be useful without touching the person who uses it.
  83. The stable (at least for practical purposes) elements conclude with bismuth, a metal that may well have come from the reaches of heaven. You most often hear of bismuth in Pepto-Bismol, but that doesn’t do this metal justice. If handled properly, bismuth will form gorgeous geometric rainbow crystals that miraculously aren’t poisonous in the slightest! I don’t know how arsenic can be so dangerous and bismuth two spots below can be so… not that. It’s a lovely conclusion to the stable elements regardless.
  84. With polonium, we can say goodbye to stability and enter a realm of chaos. Polonium’s longest-lived isotope has a respectable half-life of 125 years, and its second longest-lived one is almost three years, but the only isotope that occurs naturally or is of any practical use is polonium-210 at merely 138 days. Polonium-210 has had uses ranging from antistatic camera brushes to space probes to (unfortunately) children’s toys, but it needs to be regularly replaced because it’s short-lived, so it’s not a convenient choice.
  85. Astatine is the least common naturally occurring element in Earth’s crust, with less than a gram of it any given moment. It only shows up through decay of minerals containing uranium and thorium, and its highest half-life is a measly eight hours. Astatine has been considered for medical use, but honestly that seems like a desperate attempt to make this element useful. Astatine is not useful, it’s just an element that doesn’t want to exist, so just let it not exist aside from fleeting moments.
  86. Radon is the one gaseous element you can’t photograph. Chlorine is visible, fluorine is visible under the right conditions, nitrogen and oxygen can be liquified, hydrogen and the other noble gases can be run through discharge tubes to glow, but photographing radon is a lost cause. It may technically be a noble gas, but it has a half-life of three days and is thus extremely toxic and an active problem in basements that have minerals like granite. Radon isn’t very useful aside from measuring its presence.
  87. Francium is a lost cause among lost causes; an inaccessible element that you can do little more than speculate about. Its half-life is only 22 minutes, though it’s more common on Earth than the longer-lived astatine, which I’m guessing is because it’s more prevalent in radioactive decay chains. What’s interesting about francium is that if it weren’t radioactive, it would be less reactive than cesium, unlike what its position below cesium may imply, because the lone outer electron is slightly harder to remove due to its speed.
  88. Radium had a stint of widespread use early in the 20th century—it was a trending and fashionable novelty for a few decades, then everyone realized all that widespread use was dangerous and it ceased. The element is making a resurgence in medical usage, but radium’s glory days are long gone. There are a lot of nasty stories related to radium from those days, and today the world has a better understanding how to properly use radioactive elements. Also, the curie is a unit defined by radium-226 decay.
  89. Actinium starts the actinides, a series of radioactive elements that is much more interesting and varied than the lanthanides. Some actinides find household use, some have very strictly regulated uses, some decay too quickly to be of any use, and some like actinium fall into an elusive gray area. Actinium has been suggested to be good for medicine but is yet to find a definitive home. It does have the cool feature of glowing blue in the dark, but that’s sadly not something just anyone can be treated to.
  90. Thorium is one of two radioactive elements that occurs naturally in significant quantities; the other is uranium. Thorium is the more abundant of the two, but it’s also the more obscure. In fact, pure thorium metal is famously difficult to obtain, largely because many of thorium’s uses have been or are being phased out. If we can put aside its radioactivity, thorium and tungsten make for a powerful duo, and those are the contexts in which thorium is most difficult to replace. Sometimes, radioactive elements are simply the best choices.
  91. Protactinium has a half-life of about 32,000 years, but it has never had a time window of widespread use like radium or even polonium; given what happened with those two elements, this is fortunate to everyone except element collectors. Much like actinium, protactinium lies in a gray area of possibly having potential uses, but this time in geological research instead of medicine. It’s worth noting that astatine, francium, actinium, and protactinium all have traces in minerals containing uranium or thorium, which is probably the best way to visually represent those elements.
  92. Uranium comes in two main forms, mixed together in nature but not in human usage. Uranium-235 is a small portion of natural uranium and is extracted from the element to be useful in nuclear power plants. The rest of it is uranium-238, or depleted uranium, which receives most of uranium’s other uses and is a strong, resilient metal reminiscent of tungsten. The most interesting use of uranium is perhaps as storage for other, more dangerous radioactive materials, which may be counterintuitive, but the element is great at blocking other forms of radiation.
  93. I guess no one wants to use the odd numbered radioactive elements much, huh? Neptunium has a half-life of two million years but is yet another element in the weird gray area in usefulness, joining the club with actinium and protactinium. Maybe its scarcity has to do with difficulty in production, or its extreme rarity? Neptunium occasionally occurs in uranium minerals’ decay chains, and though much is known about its chemistry, it has no significant applications. Poor neptunium is sandwiched between two power players: the good radioactive metal and the evil radioactive metal.
  94. Plutonium is the largest element that occurs naturally even in traces, but that’s not what the element is known for. How about nuclear bombs in World War II? Or unethical radiation experiments performed on humans? Or the few remaining plutonium pacemaker batteries? Or how even ignoring its radioactivity, plutonium forms many dangerous compounds? This might be the scariest element in the periodic table! And to think its name was considered for the much more benign barium… let’s just say there’s a good reason it’s one of the most highly regulated substances in the world.
  95. In extremely sharp contrast to the previous element, americium is a synthetic radioactive element that’s found a safe household use, making an exception to the odd-numbered radioactive elements’ obscurity. A trace of americium is put inside most smoke detectors so that when smoke appears, the element’s alpha particles are absorbed, causing an alarm to go off. I find it pretty amazing that a radioactive element created by humans is used today in household appliances; this was an application once held by the old-timey radium. Americium has a few other uses like spectrometers and thermoelectric generators.
  96. Named for Marie and Pierre Curie, who discovered radium and polonium, curium is one of the last useful elements, and no, they didn’t discover curium. Curium has been used in several space probes and brought for planetary analysis on Mars and the moon, which means this element has been quite a few places! Not its longest-lived isotope though; rather, one with a half-life of 18 years, and one with only 160 days. Curium has isotopes with half-lives up to 15 million years, so don’t be misled; this could be one of the most versatile radioactive elements.
  97. Berkelium isn’t useful by itself, but it has proven to be a handy tool in helping understand the chemistry of radioactive elements, since it’s one of the easier artificial elements to prepare, and one of the safer ones to handle (at least its isotope berkelium-249, which only emits electrons). It’s been quite a help in synthesizing the very highest elements on the periodic table. But other than that, there isn’t much to say about berkelium besides how it came to be. It was synthesized in 1949 in Berkeley, California, which is how the element got its name.
  98. Californium is the last currently useful element, and it’s unsurprisingly named after the U.S. state of California. It’s a strong emitter of neutrons, allowing it to be used to scan fuel rods and detect metals and corrosion you wouldn’t notice with your eyes, kind of like x-ray vision in a cheesy spy movie. It’s even found some medical use, which is very impressive for such a high-numbered element. As with many other radioactive elements, the most useful isotope of californium is not the longest-lived—compare two and a half years (californium-252, the neutron emitter) against 898 years (californium-251).
  99. Take a wild guess who einsteinium was named after. This element was discovered in nuclear fallout, making it a rare synthetic element that was discovered from reckless human actions rather than deliberate synthesis. There is evidence that at one point over a billion years ago, einsteinium and other normally synthetic elements naturally occurred in what is now a uranium mine in Gabon, through sustainable nuclear fission reactions. This evidence lies in unusual concentrations of neodymium and ruthenium isotopes—a subtle footprint of einsteinium existing before it was cool. It’s also the last element that’s been synthesized in visible quantities.
  100. Imagine how cool it must be to have the 100th element named after you—that’s what it’s like for Enrico Fermi, if there’s such a thing as an afterlife. It’s probably unremarkable for aliens who have eight or twelve fingers, but since we have ten fingers, reaching number 100 naturally feels like a cool accomplishment. Fermium was discovered in the same place as einsteinium and has the same evidence of existing over a billion years ago, so I can’t add much there. Though fermium hasn’t been produced in visible quantities, it’s the last element where that is presently a possibility.
  101. We’re almost done with the actinides, but at this point we won’t return to cool record setters, rather just increasingly short-lived and mysterious elements whose namesakes are far more interesting than the elements themselves. Dmitri Mendeleev invented the periodic table and obviously deserves an element to his name. His old version of the periodic table is quite a bit different from the one we know today, but he was on to something when he noticed periodically recurring properties of elements and gaping empty spots yet to be filled. I wonder if Mendeleev ever expected the periodic table to reach triple-digit elements?
  102. Nobelium is the first of several elements whose name went through lots of disagreement. While everyone agreed to name element 101 mendelevium after the man who brought us the periodic table, number 102 was variously proposed to be named joliotium (after the Curies’ daughter), nobelium, and flerovium (which is now the name of element 114). The name nobelium wasn’t permanently established worldwide until 1997, but it was the most common name for decades already. Oh yeah, nobelium is named after Alfred Nobel, the inventor of dynamite for whom the Nobel Prize is named. It shares Swedish naming with ytterbium directly above it.
  103. The actinides conclude with lawrencium, whose name was already used by most everyone before the 1997 final naming decision. Ernest Lawrence is indisputably one of the biggest names behind the field of radioactivity, since he invented the cyclotron—a valuable tool in synthesizing radioactive materials, both for medicine and for the fierce race to synthesize higher and higher elements. Although back in the 1960s and 70s it was a rivalrous competition between America and Russia to synthesize radioactive elements, eventually countries around the world embraced the spirit of collaboration, which is undoubtedly to thank for the very highest elements we presently know of.
  104. Rutherfordium was variously considered for the name of element 103, 104, and 106; element 104 is a slot that has been variously taken by the current names for elements 104, 105, 109, and the unused name “kurchatovium”. Hailing from New Zealand, Ernest Rutherford discovered a large portion of the current common knowledge about atoms and radioactivity, and he discovered radon—in that sense, naming elements after discoverers of other elements feels like returning the favor. Igor Kurchatov spearheaded nuclear research on the Soviet side, and although he didn’t get an element to his name, his apprentice and his apprentice’s apprentice did (114 and 118).
  105. Most names considered for dubnium I’ve already mentioned before; I’ll discuss hahnium when I get to meitnerium, and nielsbohrium when I get to bohrium. Dubnium breaks the pattern of elements named after people; it’s instead named after the city of Dubna, Russia, the birthplace of many radioactive elements. This apparently aggravated American scientists even though they did the same thing with two elements in a row, berkelium and californium. Notice that I haven’t been talking about the elements’ properties lately, because there’s nothing to say about them aside from half-lives. Dubnium’s highest half-life is 28 hours, which is still better than astatine twenty elements earlier!
  106. Somehow I’ve gone through this whole list without mentioning Glenn T. Seaborg, a pioneer in element discovery on the American side. He is at least partly to thank for the discovery of every element from plutonium to nobelium, plus the one to his name: seaborgium. He even was alive (though rather elderly) to see the day his element was named! Seaborgium is one of those elements that if it were stable would no doubt be truly wondrous stuff because it sits right under a noteworthy metal—in this case, tungsten. Considering Seaborg’s tenacity and dedication to his work, that’s a fitting place to put his element.
  107. There are two elements whose names may imply that they are boring. One of them is boron, which is extremely useful in flexible but firm materials like fiberglass and silly putty, as well as a vital plant nutrient—it may keep a low profile, but boron is not boring at all! However, bohrium is as boring as it gets—just another extremely radioactive metal well beyond any practical use. The cumbersome name nielsbohrium was variously proposed for several radioactive elements, and I’m thankful it wasn’t kept… oh yeah. Niels Bohr built off Rutherford’s work in explaining atoms and devised something closer to how we know atoms today.
  108. Hassium begins a storm of elements with German names, because in the 1980s Germany started taking a shot at creating elements—a very successful shot, given the sequence of six German-named and German-created elements in a row (the first is bohrium, named by Germans for a Danish physicist). Named for Hassia, the Latin name of the German state of Hesse, hassium is to Germany as californium is to America. Hassium is under osmium, which I guess means it would probably be extremely heavy if it were stable? Or maybe not, because the periodic table loves throwing curveballs. Only time will tell what we learn about these superheavy elements.
  109. Among the radioactive elements named after people, meitnerium is easily the most interesting—the story behind its name, not the element itself of course. Lise Meitner and Otto Hahn co-discovered nuclear fission, but only Hahn won a Nobel Prize for it, which sparked great controversy and was widely considered sexist. While hahnium was a name considered for several radioactive elements, Hahn didn’t get an element to his name in the end, and now it would cause great confusion if he did. But Meitner got her name immortalized in the periodic table, which makes a Nobel Prize seem like nothing in comparison—the best possible payback if you ask me.
  110. Darmstadtium is the German equivalent of berkelium, at least in terms of name; Darmstadt is a city in Hesse that birthed many elements. German scientists discovered elements at the perfect time to snag spots right underneath some power player metals—this one is right under platinum, making its potential properties an enticing mystery. This element is also at a point where if you look at its list of isotopes, there are a bunch of blank spots that suggest it may have some longer-lived isotopes than those we’re currently aware of. We’re truly approaching a frontier of elements here—each element from here on wasn’t even named until the 21st century!
  111. Among the various disappointments in the periodic table, perhaps the most upsetting is that roentgenium, the element named after the discoverer of x-rays, does not emit x-rays when it decays. Most scientists who got elements to their name didn’t have anything specific to do with their elements, but with roentgenium, people like to represent the element with a picture of an x-ray, which is off-putting because some radioactive elements actually are used in x-ray imaging. This element is in the same column as copper, silver, and gold! You can speculate all sorts of wacky fanciful things about roentgenium, but nope, people just decided they have to associate it solely with x-rays.
  112. I don’t understand why Nicholas Copernicus has an element named after him. I’m sure whoever came up with its name is a decent human being, but Copernicus was not a chemist or physicist! He was an astronomer from several centuries before anything was known about chemical elements. I guess the name could be taken as a move of subtlety because yes, he was a revolutionary scientist who chemists indirectly owe a lot to, but it’s still such a weird name. I don’t even have much space to say copernicium is predicted to be a volatile liquid at room temperature and may well be in a whole new league of freakiness from mercury.
  113. Unlike the last element, nihonium is very fittingly named after the country of Japan—not just that, but the Japanese name for Japan. It’s the first time an Asian country took the reins on researching and cementing the existence of a radioactive element, and if elements beyond the seventh row start being synthesized, it probably won’t be the last. Nihonium’s discovery was technically a collaboration between Russian and Japanese scientists, but the periodic table is so skewed towards North America and Europe that some Asian representation is a refreshing change—a symbol of the ever-increasing collaboration and teamwork between people from all around the world, in science or just about any other field.
  114. Is flerovium named after a place or a person? Depends on who you ask. Its name is blatantly meant to honor Georgy Flyorov, a physicist who had lots to do with chemistry and elements, but it’s officially named after a Russian laboratory that was named after him. This dispute doesn’t make sense to me, but know what REALLY doesn’t make sense to me? The prediction that flerovium may be as inert as a noble gas. It’s thought to be a liquid or gas at room temperature, unlike anything else in the carbon group. I can see it though, elements that are further and further out of reach from humans ceasing to make logical sense.
  115. Moscovium’s name feels to me like scientists were like, wait, we should’ve named an element after the subdivision Dubna is in, like hassium to darmstadtium and californium to berkelium, good thing it’s not too late now! It’s not named just after Moscow, but specifically the Moscow Oblast, which houses Dubna. Moscovium is right under bismuth in the periodic table… what if the element secretly had a relatively stable isotope that forms crystals resembling Saint Basil’s Cathedral and other Russian monuments? Or crystals that nest into each other like babushka dolls? What if moscovium turned out useful for a medication called Pepto-Moscol? I’m just fantasizing here, but for real, moscovium could turn out to be anything.
  116. Livermorium is officially named after a laboratory like flerovium, except in this case it makes sense for it to be named specifically after a laboratory. The Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory is named after Ernest Lawrence (who already has an element to his name) and the city of Livermore, California, which is itself named after a rancher named Robert Livermore who had even less to do with chemistry than Copernicus. Livermorium is an element of collaboration through and through—American and Russian scientists worked together to discover the third last element in the periodic table as we know it today, and it paid off superbly. Even the element’s name has a complex and intertwined story behind it.
  117. Tennessine is the baby of the periodic table as we know it today. It wasn’t synthesized until 2010, leaving the placeholder name ununseptium in many prints of the periodic table as a hollow spot marked with dotted lines—not anymore though. Something tells me tennessine isn’t going to be one of those elements that secretly turns out to be fascinating or useful, but maybe that’s me being pessimistic because the table has so many wondrous and enthralling elements already. Tennessee is the second American state to get an element to its name, but the element is by no means purely American—its discovery probably wouldn’t have been possible without lots of international cooperation, very much like livermorium.
  118. The current grand finale of the periodic table is oganesson, named in 2016 after a man who unquestionably deserves this honor, Yuri Oganessian. He led the discovery of the table’s final stretch, not afraid one bit to explore the unknown. I will quote him directly about what it’s like having the so-called “final element” to his name, since I think it’s very humble: Not like much! You see, not like much. It is customary in science to name something new after its discoverer. It’s just that there are few elements, and this happens rarely. But look at how many equations and theorems in mathematics are named after somebody. And in medicine? Alzheimer, Parkinson. There’s nothing special about it.

And that’s the end! I must say, I enjoy writing science-related posts once in a blue moon.

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