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February 1, 2004

All the elements we’ve heard of here at Harvard
Posted by Teresa at 02:11 AM *

Two new transuranics! Or so they think; the new elements haven’t been entirely confirmed. They’re superheavies; no surprise there. The discovery belongs jointly to Livermore Labs (which is no surprise either) and the Joint Institute for Nuclear Resesarch in Russia. By convention, until the discoveries have been confirmed, element 113 will be given the temporary name Unutrium [Uut], and 115 will be Ununpentium [Uup].


Comments on All the elements we've heard of here at Harvard:
#1 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 02:55 AM:

Has anyone let Tom know? There may be enough now for a complete extra verse.

#2 ::: Teresa Nielsen Hayden ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 08:36 AM:

Too soon. He can write the new verse when their existence is confirmed and they're given their proper names.

#3 ::: Elric ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 09:07 AM:

Especially after the little "Oopsie" relating to the last reported discovery of new transuranics.

"I was thinking of trying to get help from Einsteinium and Californium."
"That's absurd! You can't depend on the Transuranics--they're unstable!"
(paraphrased from Sapphire and Steel, episode 1)

#4 ::: Jon Meltzer ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 11:54 AM:

Two new members of the Metal Men ...

#5 ::: Jordin Kare ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 12:43 PM:

Actually, LLNL's involvement is a bit of a surprise. Lawrence Berkeley Lab was always the "new elements" lab.

But anyway -- 1.2 second half life! Cool!

#6 ::: Martey ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 01:41 PM:

I am a bit confused. Are the subject and Virge's entry referencing some kind of poem on the periodic table? Can anyone spare a link?

#7 ::: Dan Blum ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 01:49 PM:

As it happens, I have a spare link today.

#8 ::: Andrew Willett ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 01:50 PM:

They're referencing Tom Lehrer's immortal song "The Elements," written in 1959, in which said elements are catalogued at great speed to the tune (more or less) of "I Am the Very Model of a Modern Major-General."

#9 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 04:02 PM:

I HATE that song. My dad (a physics professor) made us kids learn it when we were 9 or 10 and then we'd have to sing it for visiting graduate students and other dignitaries.

However, Teresa might get a kick out of the image of 3 blond kids singing "Along the trail you'll find me lopin', where the spaces are wide open, in the land of the old A.E.C." for a Los Alamos Ward Talent Show. We did that too.

#10 ::: Andy ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 05:42 PM:


I sympathize. We had to learn the 50-states-in-alphabetical-order song ("Alabama and Alaska, Arizona, Arkansas...") around third grade and I've never quite gotten it out of my head.

...for visiting graduate students and other dignitaries.

Grad students were considered dignitaries? Which university did you say that was again?

#11 ::: Kristine ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 07:50 PM:

Thanks a lot, Andy--now I've got that one alternating in my head with the other! Not to mention being reminded of the mistake I made on the 5th grade capitals test--forgot Little Rock.

Grad students as dignitaries--yeah, it probably explains a few things about me that I grew up thinking physics grad students were waaaay cool.

#12 ::: PiscusFiche ::: (view all by) ::: February 01, 2004, 11:27 PM:

I heart the Elements. (Dad had a Tom Lehrer disc.)

BTW, dunno if you saw this but they also announced a sixth form of matter after gases, solids, liquids, plasma, and Bose-Einstein condensates. Now we have fermionic condensates. (Now with Fermions!)

#13 ::: BSD ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:50 AM:

Doesn't Professor Lehrer get exceedingly cross when anybody suggest that he sing? (And more importantly, for the actual physicsfolk, are we getting up to the suspected next island of stability, or has that theory been tossed out?)

#14 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 09:58 AM:

PiscusFiche: Bose-Einstein! Yeah!

So did they give permanent names to 110, 111, and 112?

#15 ::: Virge ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 10:13 AM:

I know it's off-topic and being 2am here I'm a bit insomniklutzed, but I had to celebrate the sixth form of matter:

When Greiner, Regal & Jin
have a field the right strength they begin
to block the romance
of a bosonic dance
pairing fermions to integer spin.

#16 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 11:45 AM:

I love Tom Lehrer, too. Maybe I'm biased by being a Math professor and songwriter. But the song I sang most often to my baby boy was designed NOT to be so clever, but to get the sequence in useful form: "Hydrogen Helium, Lithium, Beryllium...", set to a lullaby melody of my own.

I object to the phrase "sixth form of matter."
Three or four different groups have made such a claim within the past couple of months: the pentaquark, the Fermionic Condensate, and the Supersolid. And maybe the "color glass condensate." {I'm too lazy to give links here, but any show up Google).

There are MANY other forms of matter, such as Plasma, matter-antimatter ambiplasma, quarkonium, glueball, neutron star, quark star, 2-dimensional gas, 2-dimensional liquid, 1-dimensional whichever, quantum dot, strange matter, the possible tetraquark, photonic crystal, the list goes on.

It's all VERY cool, and each deserves several Hard SF stories. Step up to the plate, authors!

I resist, also, putting in a link to my "Periodic Table of the Mystery Authors." But do expect web pages from me, later, with my Analog Periodic Table of the Aliments", my Periodic Table of the Ailments", and more. It is a great template, Mr. Mendeleeyev!

And Murray Gell-Mann was trying to do the same for elementary particles. As were all his competitors...

Shouldn't Element 111 be named Bilboium?

#17 ::: Claude Muncey ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 12:17 PM:

Jordin, my understanding (I used to work in Berkeley next to an LLBL overflow facility) is that the Berkeley Lab still has some great physicists (as well as a lot of other disciplines now) but the big guns moved out to Lawrence Livermore with the nucelar weapons people some decades ago. The only heavy phsicis facility left there is the Advanced Light Source, which would not be used for this. They even moved the original Lawrence Cyclotron to UC Davis, where it was refurbished and is used for medical research.

Of course it still has the best view in the world, but you already knew that . . .

#18 ::: novalis ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 05:22 PM:

Hm, I wonder if they'll bring Michael Swanwick back for two more stories.

#19 ::: Xopher ::: (view all by) ::: February 02, 2004, 06:02 PM:

...for the actual physicsfolk, are we getting up to the suspected next island of stability, or has that theory been tossed out?

That certainly would help to explain where Naquadah could possibly fit. Hollywood is always inventing "new elements" that are actually just Magic Plot Devices. Naquadah is a superpowerful MPD that can be used to power a suitcase reactor that can produce [large amount] of power. But people can work a lifetime digging it in the bowels of the earth (well, not Earth, since there's none here) without dying except in accidents.

Now what little I know about nuclear physics would indicate that those properties aren't a very likely set for one element to have; besides, now that we know the properties of all the elements well up into the ones that have been detected but are too unstable to ever be visible to the eye, where the heck could "Naquadah" possibly fit?

Just one example, of course.

#20 ::: David Goldfarb ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 12:50 AM:

If we're going to talk about things like a "Periodic Table of Mystery Authors" then we cannot omit Andrew Plotkin (with some input from rasseff) 's Periodic Table of Dessert. Someone's even filked Tom Lehrer using it.

#21 ::: Adam Lipkin ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 09:45 AM:

The periodic table of comic books. Found through my company's intranet's useless links section, even though it's been extraordinarily useful, just not they way they expected.

#22 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 03, 2004, 10:28 AM:

David Goldfarb: you are correct in writing
"If we're going to talk about things like a 'Periodic Table of Mystery Authors' then we cannot omit Andrew Plotkin (with some input from rasseff)'s Periodic Table of Dessert."

I am responsible for over-reacting and mishandling things when Andrew Plotkin's page appeared. I accept, now, that he was ignorant of "The Periodic Table of the Aliments" that my wife and I had in Analog. Thanks to Teresa in particular, that has been solved. Plotkin writes that he'll acknowledge my earlier publication, and (as I really like his) I'll link to him. What perturbed me was the number of specific entries that he and I both had. Of course the format goes back to Mendeleev and it is totally public domain by now. I'll chalk that up to independent development. And (as I've stated earlier) Plotkin's presentation is visually superior to mine by far, and goes further (with crystal structure and melting point and the like).

Let a hundred periodic tables bloom!

#23 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 04, 2004, 01:24 AM:

The Periodic Table of Comic Books is a very carefully researched and composed web site, useful for educational purposes, as well as entertaining.

It uses the actual layout of the periodic table of the elements, with the correct one- and two-letter abbreviations, and then links to surprising but fun information that does relate to those elements.

The Periodic Table of Dessert [closeup]

Is also clever and fun, and, at first glance, appears to copy the layout of Mendeleev. In a deeper sense, it does respect that rows and columns are meaningful. It does not use the correct one- and two-letter abbreviations of elements. What is "J" for instance? No such element. Okay, what does it stand for here? "Sprinkles." Which has what to do with J? Or any element? Or "Bs" which is not an element abbreviation, for "Brown Sugar." That moves the sweet plot, but does not relate to the real periodic table. And why does "Dr" stand for "Little Silver Balls"?

I am not hotlinking to either the Periodic Table of the Aliments here, from Analog. But it is, in my biased opinion, a very carefully researched and composed web site, useful for educational purposes, as well as entertaining.

It uses the actual layout of the periodic table of the elements, with the correct one- and two-letter abbreviations.

The same applies to my Periodic Table of the Mystery Authors, also not linked here.

To find plausible or punning anythings to fill about 110 slots with given correct one- and two-letter abbreviations, requires examining roughly 1,000 candidate names, and selecting very carefully.

That takes patience and judgment.

Just stuffing things into the apparent layout of the Periodic Table, as with the out-of-print poster of Desserts, is cute to look at, but unilluminating.

The Periodic Table of the Mathematicians meets my criteria, and is useful for teaching BOTH Chemistry and Mathematical Biography/History. Though some of the names are strained in their fit to abbreviations, that is okay with me.

I would have a hard time making a Periodic Table of the Westerns, although my web domain is fairly detailed on Westerns, and is listed about #17 on Google for keyword "Westerns." Why? Because I can't find 1,000 Westerns authors, and can't fit all the abbreviations. There are fewer Western Writers of America than there are Mystery Writers of America, or Science Fiction Writers of America, or notable mathematicians.

There are, however, 8,300+ Romance Writers of America. So there are many choices for each abbreviation in a Periodic Table of the Romance Authors. But are they as notable as the Mathematicians? Or the Mystery Authors? Or as edible as the Aliments?

I don't know. Each author/artist/content creator has her or his own criteria. I am so biased as to have been proven obnoxious towards the innocent Plotkin.

There was also a Periodic Table of the Yuppies, or something of that kind, in the New York Times Op Ed page over a decade ago. It did not follow the abbreviations at all, but was just a random collection of things on youthful minds. But it was in print in a Big Name publication, as was the one I did with my wife in Analog. Which is as big as The Times to Science Fiction people, anyway.

I do wish Plotkin success. I do hope that the pretty Desserts poster made a profit, and graces many walls.

And I shall keep creating according to my self-imposed sense of limits.

Robert Frost said (I paraphrase) that writing poetry without rhyme and meter is like playing tennis with the net down.

It is my education and inclination that compels me to keep the net up. Sonnets must have 14 lines. Sestinas have a fixed rhyme scheme. Period Tables have a layout and a set of abbreviations, which one ignores at one's peril.

It's a Hard SF versus Fantasy kind of difference, which makes no difference to most people, and makes fans, well, fanatic.

I am willing to be corrected. I am often wrong.

#24 ::: CHip ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:20 AM:

Jonathan: the author of the periodic table of desserts is obviously from New England, where chocolate sprinkles are called jimmies. (A local HoJo clone claims it was because the inventor made a special treat for birthday-boy James; this is about as likely as the folklore about Thomas Crapper.)

Or they may simply know about New England customs (e.g., if you want a milkshake, order a frappe) and used them to riff on tungsten being abbreviated W (IIRC the only abbreviation that does \not/ come from either the English or Latin names for the element).

#25 ::: elusis ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 12:53 AM:

Jonathan, "little silver balls" are more properly called "dragees."

#26 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 02:04 AM:

CHip, elusis: Thank you. I'm appreciating Plotkin's cleverness more now! As he puts it:
"Thinking up a hundred-ish desserts with appropriate letters in their names is tricky, but not subtle." So my Periodic Tables are tricky but not subtle. As I say, "Each author/artist/content creator has her or his own criteria." I'm cool with that.

#27 ::: Ray Radlein ::: (view all by) ::: February 05, 2004, 03:14 AM:

After Unutrium and Ununpentium, it is only a matter of time (or a time of matter) before we successfully synthesize Unobtanium.

#28 ::: Jonathan Vos Post ::: (view all by) ::: February 09, 2004, 08:28 PM:

Heinlein predicts use of heavier transuranics, as does Herman Kahn in his bible of Futurology: "The Year 2000."

Remember, we expect some of them to be stable, such as 126...

#29 ::: Graydon finds comment spam in ::: (view all by) ::: June 27, 2004, 10:01 PM:

Exhibiting a total lack of white space.

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