Thursday, August 22, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 40

Fearless is bored, and a mind as fecund and nimble as Fearless’ should never have to suffer boredom.  So, he’s going to take over some of the blogging duties as we drag our way slowly toward opening night of the 2013-2014 season.  Take it away, cuz…

Thank you, cousin.  Hockey is an elemental sport, a combination of strength, speed, power, and grace.  While we are taking our long, slow walk to opening night, I thought I might explore the relationship of this elemental sport with, well, the Periodic Table of the Elements.

It is 40 days to opening night.  Number 40 in the periodic table is…


Zirconium is a lustrous, grey-white, strong transition metal that resembles titanium.  It is found in abundance in S-type stars, which as you know, are cool giants the display evidence of zirconium oxide in their spectral signature.  Zirconium also has been identified in the sun and meteorites, and analyses of lunar rock samples obtained during the various Apollo missions to the moon show a significant zirconium oxide content, at least when compared with rocks of this earth. So, much of what can be called “zirconium” is not of this place.

Zirconium also takes many forms.  Naturally occurring zirconium contains five isotopes, while 26 other radioactive isotopes and isomers are known to exist.  It is a quite diverse element.

It is a grayish-white lustrous metal. When finely divided, the metal may ignite spontaneously in air, especially at elevated temperatures. However, the solid metal is much more difficult to ignite. The inherent toxicity of zirconium compounds is low.  So, it is capable of being ignited, but is generally inoffensive to we humans.

There are many uses for it.  It can be found in surgical appliances, light filaments and watch cases.  It can be used as an alloying agent in steel, in photoflash bulbs, in explosive primers, in lamp filaments, and many other items.  It is used in poison ivy lotions.  With niobium, zirconium is superconductive at low temperatures and is used to make superconductive magnets.  It is quite the versatile element.

So there we have it… strong, ignitable (but agreeable), versatile, and often not of this place.  Zirconium is the “Brooks Laich” – Saskatchewan’s finest – of chemical elements. 

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