Sunday, September 29, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 3

We are almost done… well, Fearless is.  Just three more elements of the periodic table to go.  Number 3 is…


Lithium is the lightest and least dense of all the metals.  That does not make it unreactive.  It is quite reactive, in fact.  So much so that it is often stored in mineral oil to keep it from oxidizing in air.  It is so reactive that it does not occur freely in nature, only in compounds.  It possesses a high conductivity character at very low temperatures.

It has a modest history in terms of its discovery.  That is, if your starting point is a mine in island in fact (sounds a bit like the beginning of “Jurassic Park”).  But there it is, a Brazilian chemist, José Bonifácio de Andrada e Silva by name, discovered a grayish, yellowish crystalline substance on the island of Utö, southeast of Stockholm (I won’t hazard a guess as to how it came to be that a Brazilian chemist was excavating on an island in an archipelago in Sweden in the year 1800).

Seventeen years later, a Swedish chemist (Johan August Arfwedson) working for another Swedish chemist (Jöns Jakob Berzelius...geez, all these Swedes!) took a sample of this crystalline substance – named “petalite” – and discovered that it contained a new element.  The boss – Berzelius – took it upon himself to name it, calling it “lithion,” for the Greek word “lithos,” meaning “stone” (imaginative, eh?).

Now that it was discovered and given a name, it had to be put to use.  And it has quite a variety of uses: ceramics and glass production, batteries, lubricants, welding and soldering processes, fireworks (where it contributes a red color), air purification, polymers, rocket propellants, as a neutron absorber in nuclear fusion (which has military applications), and as a coolant in nuclear reactors.  It might be most widely known as an element used in compounds to treat bipolar disorders.

What you have is an element that is unstable in air, yet reactive.  It was discovered “southeast” of a major city in Scandinavia (you’re pushing it, Fearless…).  It has a wide range of uses, but most of them in common applications or industrial processes.  It is quite conductive at low temperatures.  Sounds something like a player who has had “stability” issues physically, say, with his shoulders.  A player who played with two teams in the Southeast Division, including twice with the Caps.  A player who spent the NHL lockout playing in Scandinavia.  It occasionally can have some pop.

Lithium… the “Eric Fehr” of elements of the periodic table.

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