Sunday, September 15, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 16

After a night of Capitals hockey, we are down to 16 days to Opening Night, giving Fearless a chance to continue his jaunt through the rows and columns of the periodic table of the elements.  Next up…

“But the fearful, and unbelieving, and the abominable, and murderers, and whoremongers, and sorcerers, and idolaters, and all liars, shall have their part in the lake which burneth with fire and brimstone: which is the second death.”
We didn’t make that up. That comes from the Book of Revelation in the Holy Bible (Revelation 21:8, for those scoring at home).  Fire needs no explanation.  Brimstone?  That would be another name for sulfur.  You really, really don’t want a part of element number 16.

Sulfur has been known about for millennia, as its Biblical reference suggests.  In addition to its use in hellfire imagery, it found use as a fumigant and in Egypt to treat a peculiar case of conjunctivitis called “trachoma (granular eyelid).”  In Rome it was used for medicine and for bleaching cloth.  In ancient China it had medicinal uses and later was used in gunpowder.

Among scientists there was uncertainty over whether sulfur was a compound or an element.  It would be left to Antoine Lavoisier, considered by many to be the Father of Modern Chemistry, to settle the matter and identify sulfur as an element in 1777.

The name itself comes from the Latin, “sulphur,” which is derived from a word meaning “to burn.”  This has led to alternative spellings for the element, either “sulfur” or “sulphur” being acceptable.

Today, sulfur is used as a means to derive other chemicals that include it as a component.  Foremost among them is sulfuric acid, a highly corrosive mineral acid.  It is capable of corroding metals, human flesh, even stone.  Like an element from which it is derived, it has an alternative name – “Oil of Vitriol.” 

Sulfur is also used in the vulcanization process for rubber, making it more durable.  It is an important process in the manufacture of hockey pucks.  It is used in the manufacture of fungicides and pesticides, and in food preservation.  It is an essential component of all living cells, a part of amino acids produced or ingested by the body and contained in proteins and enzymes.  The bonds that sulfur forms in peptide chains (short amino acid chains as opposed to the longer amino acid chains that form proteins) lend durability and rigidity.  There are some organisms that use sulfur (via hydrogen sulfide) as an energy source.  Others “breathe” sulfur (via sulfates).  You might be familiar with the latter; some “sulfate-reducing” bacteria reside in the intestine and produce a foul smelling gas – flatulence.

To recap, we have the original “brimstone” visiting the horrors of hell upon the wicked.  Its name derives from words meaning “to burn.”  It is the business element in the highly corrosive sulfuric acid. It is also used to make things stronger, and more durable.  It can be used as an energy source.  It resembles a high-energy player who can be highly corrosive on the ice, a player who lends some strength and rigidity to his team, and who can serve something of a medicinal purpose through either his production or his physical style of play.

Sulfur… the “Tom Wilson” of the table of elements of the periodic table.

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