Friday, September 06, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 24

With 24 days left, we are getting close.  So who does Fearless have up to pin to element number 24?


In 1974, farmers were digging a well in central China near the mausoleum of the first emperor of the Qin Dynasty. Expecting to find water, they found something quite different.  They found fragments of pottery figurines that upon more detailed excavation by Chinese archaeologists was revealed to be a huge field of statues.  Dubbed the “Terracotta Army,” comprised of figurines representing warriors and horses, the “army” also included weapons, many of them still with a protective coating to keep them sharp.  That coating was chromium oxide, and this – dating back more than 2,000 years – was the earliest discovered use of chromium. 

While chromium oxide was discovered in the dig in China, the element was not discovered and isolated until the late 18th century, by Louis-Nicolas Vauquelin, a French pharmacist and chemist.  It was Vauquelin who would produce the metal in in its pure form a year later, in 1798.

Since then, oh the uses to which it has been put.  It has been used in such diverse applications as: high-strength steel, stainless steel, and metal alloys; treatment of aluminum to make it suitable for use in aircraft; tanning leather; corrosion preventative; textile production; chrome plating; ruby-laser technologies; a wood preservative; applications where high-heat is critical such as firing bricks, making cement, and in blast furnaces; audio cassettes (remember those?); cleaning agents for laboratory glassware; surface coatings; and as a fixing agent in dye processes.

It is not thought to be essential for biological functions (and in fact is toxic in some circumstances), but with all its other uses, not having a biological role hardly diminishes versatility in wide and varied applications.

Chromium as a metal is lustrous and takes a high polish, while in compounds often reveals itself in intense colors.  In fact, the name itself comes from the Greek word, “chroma,” meaning “color.”  It is often found in green, red, and yellow pigments.

In the end, chromium is an element discovered in a place where it had been hidden away for centuries, that has found a wide variety of uses over time, and is often characterized by its presence in materials and compounds of intense colors.  It would be like finding a hockey player who toiled in obscurity but developed a wide repertoire of skills.  That player might have played in a jersey of intense colors (or at least ones that provoke intense reactions, like those for its “mustard” yellow color version) and traded it in for red when he was traded.

Chromium… the “Martin Erat” of elements of the periodic table.

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