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Gold is not the most expensive substance in this world. Sorry, it ain’t platinum either. Nor diamonds. If you cared to look beyond the test tubes in your chemistry lab, you’d know by now that it’s Californium. The element number 98 apparently costs $27 million per gram. But those who dug out this figure perhaps didn’t know that our planet produces just half a gram of the substance in a whole year. That’s why it costs a bomb.
Talking of elements, you must have read by now that we have four new entrants in the periodic table: Nihonium (Nihon translates to Japan), Moscovium (a nod to Moscow), Tennessine (after Tennessee), and Oganassian (homage to scientist Yuri Ogansasian). If you’re wondering when we’ll have a Delhium or Bangalorium, I’ll make your day by revealing that at least two chemical elements owe their names to Sanskrit. They are ‘Beryllium’ (from the green gem Vaidurya) and Sulphur (from Sanskrit word shulbari meaning ‘copper’s enemy’). Bet you didn’t know that.

Actually, there’s a lot they didn’t teach us in the classroom. For example, I never knew that copper is the only element that’s naturally anti-bacterial. Maybe that’s why our forefathers stored water in copper jars. Another thing I didn’t know is, J and Q are the only letters missing from the periodic table.

Had our teachers got to the root of element names, we’d have probably shown as much interest as Dmitri Mendeleev and remembered the entire thing. Anyways, it’s never too late to make a start.

To my knowledge, there are 10 elements named after places of origin. Copper,  for example, is derived from Cyprus, and Scandium from Scandinavia. Nine are odes to heavenly bodies—Helium (Sun), Selenium (Moon), Mercury. Tellurium (Earth), Uranium (Uranus), Neptunium (Neptune), Plutonium (Pluto), Palladium (Pallas) and Cerium (Ceres). Eight get their appellations from scientists—Einsteinium, Bohrium, Fermium, Roentgenium, Copernicium Curium, Rutherfordium, and Nobelium.

Mythical characters had their share:  Tantalum (Tantalus), Vanadium (Vanadis, Norse goddess of beauty), Thorium (Thor) and Titanium (Titans). Colours also had their say: Indicum (Indigo), Iodine (Violet), Rhodium (Rose) and Zirconium (Gold). Among the quirkiest ones is Gallium. It’s a pun on the surname of the discoverer Paul Emil Lecoq. Le Coq is French for the ‘Rooster’ which happens to be ‘Gallus’ in Latin. Also, his homeland was France (referred to as ‘Gallia’ by the Romans). Hope that passed your litmus test of news you can use!

Anantha Narayan

Got anything explosive to say? Mail your chemical reactions to anantha@albertdali.com

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