Sunday, August 25, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 37

Fearless is down to 37 in his trek across the periodic table of elements and its relationship to the Washington Capitals (really, has the summer come to this??)…


Rubidium is the element in search of a role.  Pity that.  As an alkali metal it oxidizes rapidly in air, is easily vaporized, and is highly reactive.  In nature, it occurs as two isotopes.  One, the stable one, comprises about three-quarters of the substance found on the planet.  The other, the radioactive one, has a half-life of 49 billion years.  To put that in context, the European Space Agency’s “Planck” mission found that the age of the universe is only 13.82 billion years.  It is about as common in nature as Zinc.

But, poor Rubidium.  There is no known necessity for its use by any living organisms, even though it resembles potassium – a critical element in the function of all living cells.  Not that it does not have some uses, but they are generally of the infrequent type, such as laser cooling, vapor turbines, or in atomic clocks.

The name “Rubidium” comes from the Latin word “rubidus,” which means “dark red.”  But, as if to throw its meaning just a bit off kilter, its application in fireworks is to give the sparkle a purple color.  That suggests a certain unpredictability, and it in fact it is usually kept sealed in glass in an inert atmosphere or shielded with mineral oil to prevent its spontaneous, even concussive reaction with air.

OK… As common as Zinc, behaves like Potassium, but it is an element in search of a role.  The more energetic isotope has a half-life longer than the age of the universe…sort of the iron man of elements, but the rarer instance of it.  Its name means “dark red.”  It suggests a player in search of a role, who, if in his less common “iron man” state could be quite energetic.  For now, though, there are not a lot of uses for it.

A defenseman comes to mind here.  One who might be a productive one on offense, but the Caps have Mike Green and John Carlson to fill those roles.  One who can be a timely defensive player (hip checks being his signature, if infrequent, signature).  He has spent a lot of time recently hermetically sealed on the shelf with injuries.  And, since “Rubidium” starts with the letters, “Ru”…

Rubidium… the Russian defenseman “Dmitry Orlov” of the periodic table.

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