Wednesday, September 11, 2013

Countdown to Opening Night by the Elements: Number 19

Less than three weeks to Opening Night, and Fearless is now in the teens in the periodic table of the elements.  Which Cap will he find to match to…


Potassium is one of those elements you really do not want to leave lying around in the open.  Oh, it looks harmless enough, a soft silver-white metal.  But leave it out in air, and you are going to have a world of problems.  It is extremely reactive with water (even water vapor in air), generating both extreme heat and intense light.

It is really impressive on the ooh-ahh scale.  In addition to its reactivity with water, there is the demonstration most any high school chemistry student has seen – potassium permanganate is placed in a bowl, and glycerin is added to it.  After five or ten tense seconds, the mixture will ignite with a bright purple-hued flame.  One would get similarly violent results mixing potassium permanganate with hydrogen peroxide (warning: DO NOT…REPEAT, DO NOT TRY ANY OF THIS AT HOME! GO WATCH IT ON A YOUTUBE VIDEO)

It makes sense, in a cosmic sort of way.  Potassium, you see, is created in a rather violent manner in supernovas as a product of nuclear fusion.  Here on Planet Earth, it has been in use in a variety of forms dating back to the Roman Empire.  Salts of potassium were known as such and distinguished from salts of sodium (which resembles potassium chemically) as far back as the early 18th century.  However, it took another century for potassium as a metal to be discovered.  Sir Humphrey Davy (who we just saw in our look at calcium) is credited with the discovery.

While potassium has some violent and intense reactivity characteristics, its applications are rather common – fertilizer, industrial cleaners, gunpowder, and a process called “saponification (production of soaps from fats and lye, produced from carbonates of potassium -- potash).” Of course, there is also potassium nitrate or “salt peter,” a substance thought to induce impotence (pure legend).

It is, however, an essential nutrient.  As potassium chloride it can serve as a substitute for table salt.  It is found in baking powder and in food preservatives.  It is critical to efficient brain and nerve function, in regulating fluid and electrolyte balance in the body, and preventing muscle contraction, for example.

Potassium… an element with a robust ooh-ahh factor, and has its place in biological applications but one with less brilliant uses in the physical world.  It sounds like a limited-use forward to can provide some life to a moribund team from time to time with his “reactive” style of play, making life difficult for opponents in a physical way.

Potassium…the “Aaron Volpatti” of the elements of the periodic table.


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