Tuesday, September 03, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 27

Another day, another element ticked off Fearless’ walk through the periodic table…


Cobalt derives its name from the German, “kobold,” which means “goblin.”  It is another of those elements that was “known” before it was “discovered.”  In ancient civilizations of Egypt and Mesopotamia minerals that contained cobalt were used to give glass a deep blue color.  As time went by there were those who thought the element giving glass that blue color was bismuth.

Georg Brandt, a Swedish chemist (we seem to have come across a number of Swedish chemists in this review), had other ideas.  Brandt would become the first to be attributed with the discovery of a new metal, all the ones known to that point in time (the mid-1730’s) having been long ago used by humans, their discoverers lost to history.

Cobalt in its free and most stable form is an element formed in the furnaces of supernova creation.  It is not native to earth, being deposited on the planet by meteor strikes.  In addition to its stable form, it has 22 radioisotopes.  One of them – Cobalt-60 – is a gamma-ray radiation source that has been used in a variety of medical and health applications: radiotherapy, sterilization of medical supplies and medical waste, cold pasteurization. 

Cobalt is also essential to healthy bodily function.  It is the central metal ion in vitamin B-12, which is vital in the normal function of the brain and central nervous system.  It is also a substance involved in DNA synthesis and a variety of metabolic processes. 

Among its other uses, cobalt can be found in lithium and nickel-cadmium batteries, metal alloys that need to stand up to stress (gas turbine and jet aircraft turbine blades, orthopedic implants, high-speed drill bits), and in steel-belted radial tires to improve their gripping performance.  And, there is still its long time use as a pigment – cobalt blue and cobalt green – often in glass or with porcelain.

What you have is an element that is uncommon, even unnatural (given its production in stars), but one that is essential for good health.  In some forms in is a high-energy substance owing to its radioactivity.  And, in its more stable form has applications in which it responds reliably to stressful situations.  It might be like a hockey player coming from another organization who might be characterized as something of a goblin (an evil or mischievous creature of legend), who is strong and energetic (perhaps even colorful), and who stands up for teammates when things get stressful on the ice.

Cobalt…the “Michael Latta” of the periodic table of the elements.

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