There’s antimony, arsenic, aluminium, selenium, and hydrogen and oxygen and nitrogen and rhenium…

In ancient Greece, it was believed that there were four elements – earth, air, fire, and water – that made up all matter in the world. This classification evolved as a result of these being the ‘elements’ which people saw on a daily basis – they didn’t realize that they breathed oxygen, because they didn’t see oxygen. Plato associated each element with a regular solid; earth was supposed to be made from cubes, air from octahedrons, fire with tetrahedrons, and water with icosahedrons. As for dodecahedrons, “the god used [them] for arranging the constellations on the whole heaven.” Who knows what he meant by that?

On a side note, I wonder how they could look at their food and say “This must be made up of 20% air, 70% water and 10% fire.”

Several elements were known to ancient man, such as copper, gold and silver. However, cobalt was the first discovered element that was previously unknown. Following its discovery in 1735, many other elements were discovered; as many as forty in the next hundred years. The method of naming these elements is as interesting as the elements themselves. Take cobalt as an example – German miners had come across ores of cobalt, which often gave off poisonous fumes containing arsenic, and so it came to be known as the ‘goblin ore’. ‘Goblin’ in German is kobold. Nickel, the next discovered element, also has a German name – its ore resembled that of copper, yet miners were unable to extract any copper from it. They called it ‘devil’s copper’, or kupfernickel.

A few more elements:

Oxygen – its name comes from the Greek words for ‘sharp’ (referring to the sharp taste of acids) and ‘producer’. At the time of naming oxygen, people thought it was a component in all acids.

Yttrium, ytterbium, terbium, erbium – all of these elements were named after the Swedish village of Ytterby, as all four of them were discovered in the village’s mine. The name means ‘outer village’.

Tungsten – its name is derived from the Swedish words ‘tung sten’, meaning ‘heavy stone’, and its unusual chemical symbol from the mineral wolframite, meaning ‘the devourer of tin’, as it interfered with the smelting of tin.

Perhaps the most interesting name origin is that of xenon. Its name in Greek means ‘stranger’, which implies that it doesn’t combine with anything (like most of the noble gases), but it is the only noble gas to be part of a compound, xenon tetrafluoride (XeF4).

 Recently, many of the elements discovered have been named after famous scientists (for example, einsteinium, mendelevium and rutherfordium). So what are you waiting for? Go get an element named after yourself!

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The little stone

Speaking of stones, did you hear the story of the stone that drifted?

This stone was originally found by a curious seagull living by the southern Atlantic Ocean, next to the Endes Mountains.  He had unusually keen eyesight, even for a seagull, and noticed immediately that this stone was different from all of the others.  He took it in his beak, and flew north for three days and three nights, dropping it when he reached southeastern North America.

This particular stone was lighter and less dense than most pebbles that you may have seen by the sea. It also possessed the unique ability to hear and speak – though it didn’t like to speak to everybody. He heard a few humans talking about these islands, and he worked out that these islands were called the “Florida Keys”. However, he had learned from his father, the Mountain, who taught all the rocks everything that they needed to know, that every Key fits a Lock.

“If these are Keys, then where is the Lock?” he wondered.

The Ocean heard this, and sent one of its Waves to speak with this stone.

“You are looking for the Loch, aren’t you?” rumbled the Wave. Despite all of his education, the pebble had never heard of a Loch, and so, assuming that it was a Lock, he said that he was indeed looking for a Lock.

“Come to Scotland, and you will see plenty of Lochs.”

The small pebble agreed.

Halfway through the journey, at Latitude something and Longitude something else (the stone could not reasonably be expected to remember ALL the things that were taught to him) a storm broke out. The Wave remained on course, but the rock could not stay there. He was thrown off the back of the Wave, and landed on the back of something that he thought was called a Wale (or Whail).

“Perhaps it is a Wheel; I have heard that they are normally round, and this looks round – if only I could look round the rest of it!” the pebble thought.

He looked around and saw a whole group of these creatures. They were not completely round, and so they could not be Wheels.

“They must indeed be Wales, in that case.” He noticed a Wale swimming up to him, and he asked her (as it was a female Wale):

“Can you tell me where your School is headed?” (Once again, thanks to the Mountain, he knew fish went in Schools – and later in Colleges).

“Certainly – to Canal City, in Italy.”

The stone had not heard of Canals – he had only heard of Canines, which were some teeth that humans had. He hoped the city was not full of teeth.

The little pebble hardly noticed his entry into Canal City. They went from the Ocean to a smaller river, with people on the left and right. He did not see any Canines.

Some people nearby were speaking about ‘vaporettos’, which the small stone had never heard of. Perhaps, he thought, the city did have Canines, but they instantly Vaporised. The Wales could not enter the city, so they were waiting near an island some distance away. The rock floated down these rivers, and did not really decide where he would go. He saw the air shimmer slightly, and assumed it was a Vaporising Canine. Eventually, he ended up back at the entrance to the little-river-maze, and called upon the Ocean to take him elsewhere.

“The way forward is through the Middle Sea. You may go through it, to the east,” offered the Ocean (now the Sea).

The pebble agreed.

While he was journeying through the Middle Sea (or, as humans know it, the Mediterranean) he saw a land to the south. He asked the Sea what it was.

“That is Africa. Its size is immense, and a large amount of the north end is covered with sand,” said the Sea.

So this was the Sahara Desert which the Mountain had warned him about! He did not know the way through it, and could only travel with the help of the Ocean or Sea, or with an animal, and he could not see an animal anywhere, so he told the Sea to carry on.

 

Where will he go next?

Wahoo Rising (Part 1)

As Wahoo boarded the large strange-looking craft that was probably going to be his home for the rest of his life, he reflected on the events that had brought him – and all of the population of Jamaath – here. It had all started when he had read something in the e-newspaper, over three years ago. He still remembered the date of that newspaper – 17th September 2034. The headline read:

 HUMAN POPULATION COULD BE HOUSED IN LARGE SHUTTLES IN FIVE YEARS’ TIME.

The report went on to state that these shuttles could house the population of a large town, and they would be about the same size. They would head for a new planet which had recently been discovered to have sufficient oxygen, fresh water, and even vast reserves of coal – even more coal than the amount that used to exist on Earth.

Wahoo paid no attention to that report – he just sent it for recycling like all the other daily NewsPads. These were a technological replacement for newspapers, which had been used since Wahoo was four years old.

However, two years later, the news came – but not via a NewsPad. Instead, a leading scientist (in fact the creator of this shuttle) came to Jamaath himself and informed them that they would test the new shuttle by sending the citizens of their town onboard, and the government of Middle Asia had approved the test. They were assured that it was completely safe, that it would not run out of fuel (it was largely solar-powered) and that it would feel just like their town.

They were given one year before they had to shift.

Several of the older citizens decided that they weren’t up for space travel, and so, in spite of countless people persuading them to come, they chose to stay. Being thirteen years old, Wahoo did not have a say in whether to stay or to leave – his parents had decided that the whole family would go.

Now, one year after that day, he was in a fake town – though if you looked at it, you wouldn’t be able to tell that it was not on Earth. The one thing that they lacked was sunshine – but nobody missed that after the hot and humid temperatures of Middle Asia.

The contraption was just big enough to fit in a large field near their town – their old town, Wahoo reminded himself. This was their home now. Still, there were advantages to living in a shuttle; for example, having a completely air-conditioned village.

Since the shuttle was too large for a runway on the ground, powerful magnets were used to levitate the shuttle one hundred metres up in the air. In this part of the country, there were hardly any tall buildings, so it was not difficult to mark an elevated, imaginary runway, assisted by magnets until it finally took off.

Those who had remained in the town looked in wonder at the immense craft as it rushed over the fields and finally rose up into the sky.