As we’re nearing the end of the calendar year, we’re also getting closer to the end of the International Year of the Periodic Table. It’s been great to celebrate the 150th anniversary of this chemistry icon. Here at the Nature Research Chemistry Community we’ve enjoyed reading all the posts that were submitted to the IYPT2019 channel.
But the International Year of the Periodic Table also got us all talking about some of our favourite elements. Admit it, you probably have a favourite, too. It could be an element that you’ve studied closely, or one with a history you enjoyed learning about. Maybe it’s hydrogen for being the lightest and – let’s face it – a bit lonely up there in the corner of the periodic table. Maybe it’s tennessine, for being one of the most recently discovered. And do all organic chemists really love carbon the most?
So, let us know in the comments: With 118 known elements to choose from, which one is your favourite, and why?
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I like it when the names and symbols don't match, like Pb and Sn. And of course, Ruthenium!
I quite like iron.
I like the redness of blood, and the orangeness of rust.
I like that it forms complexes, that it is involved in electron transport in mitochondria; and is used in catalysts.
That is magnetic.
And that it is pretty much everywhere.
I like the idea of "pig iron".
I have a happy memory of saying to my daughter every morning: "F is for Ferrous Fumarate".
Carbon comes second. Because I like drawing hexagons. And organic chemistry gave me the chance to draw quite a lot of these.
It's so hard to pick a favourite, but one of the ones that always stands out for me is Germanium. When Mendeleev first created the periodic table, there were a few gaps. He predicted that there should be elements in those positions, even though it hadn't been discovered yet. Of these four, Germanium is the one that I remember learning about in this context in school. It was discovered a few decades after Mendeleev predicted it, and really showed how well the table worked. It wasn't just a random list - it could predict the properties of undiscovered elements! This was one of the stories that inspired me to study chemistry for my undergrad degree.
I am a fan of the seemingly humble calcium.
I am old enough to remember the little milk bottles we received at school (before Thatcher cut them), which we were given to us as a source of calcium to strengthen our bones. But behind this seemingly simple mineral, calcium has crucial roles in an incredible array of biological processes, including muscle contraction, excitation of neurons, viral infections, and even swimming sperm - all of which are controlled by Ca2+ ion channels.
During the final years of my postdoc I worked on a novel protein that turned out to be a Ca2+ channel and it was incredible to me that such a well-known element can have so many diverse functions in cell biology. This made it very tricky to know what this unknown protein did!
I also love gold, but sadly don’t have much experience with it.
Nickel wins. It has ubiquity yet uniqueness. It's at the inorganic core of our Earth yet is relied on by living things, including us, on the Earth's surface.
Nickel and platinum are in the same group, yet the chemistry of platinum is rather predictable and that of nickel is anything but. A friend of mine once referred to platinum chemistry as 'baby chemistry' because it's so well mapped out. Funnily enough, it's not 'baby chemistry' from a cost sense - it's pricey stuff!
I had a five-year love-hate relationship with Ni, some of which I described in my video on the interactive periodic table (https://www.nature.com/immersive/d42859-019-00001-7/index.html).
Molybdenum, because its atomic number is 42! :)