2019 is International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements

  Hort Snacks - January 2019
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 The United Nations has designated 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of the Chemical Elements, to recognize the 150th anniversary of the discovery of the periodic system by Dmitry Mendeleev in 1869. If you are like me, the Periodic Table is one of those things that you recognize but that you have a love/hate relationship with. In your early studies of chemistry, maybe it was interesting and exciting to read and learn about some of the building blocks of the things around you. If you struggled through more advanced studies in university, maybe it became something that haunted you. But regardless of how you feel about it, the Periodic Table, and the elements that comprise it (and make up our world), play a big part of our lives.

To celebrate this achievement in my own way, I decided that it might be interesting to reflect on some of the common elements in the table, and share why those elements are important or are favourites of mine. To make it even more exciting, I polled some of my colleagues, to capture which elements are their favourite or those that they feel are most important, and why they think that.

Chemical ElementIts role in plants (if any)What’s the story? (Why is it important to…?)
Nitrogen (N)This is the driver of vegetative plant growth and is probably the most often recommended fertilizer element. It is a key component in amino acids and proteins.Almost every soil test I view and every fertilizer recommendation that I’ve ever given has had some tie to nitrogen. It is the first element I look at for amending and is linked very tightly to general plant health. And I love that it is just floating around out there in the air.
Phosphorus (P)This is a key part of the new cellular growth and is an essential piece in photosynthetic processes of plants.This is the 2nd most often recommended element in fertility management, tied with potassium. This one is near and dear to my heart, since I always associate it with rooting and new plants, especially transplants. I love me a good 10-52-10.
Potassium (K)Similar to phosphorus, K has a big role in the energy pathways in plantsGrowing up in Saskatchewan (which is basically one huge potassium (potash) deposit), I have a deep appreciation for this element.
Sulfur (S)It is a critical component of proteins. Without sulfur, we wouldn’t have the volatiles that are such a big part of things like onions and garlicDespite its stinky reputation, I appreciate it for all the flavour that it brings to the table.
Helium (He)I don’t think that there is oneI always associate helium with laughter, because, whenever helium is present in our home (in the form of balloons, of course), hilarity ensues. Nothing is funnier than saying silly things in a high-pitched voice, at least to kids and teenagers.
Hydrogen (H)As in individual, standalone element, maybe it isn’t as critical, but it is a huge part of important compounds, like water, sugars, etc.Hydrogen is one of the elements that is a part of everything. Adding or subtracting a molecule of hydrogen from something can have huge implications.
Oxygen (O)Without oxygen, there wouldn’t be life. And oxygen is a key component of many essential compounds, such as water, carbon dioxide, etc.While I appreciate oxygen and breathing and all of that, my favourite compound form of oxygen is actually ozone (O3). A highly reactive element, with a short half-life, it was the basis of my Masters research. To this day, I can’t go past a photocopier without smelling that uniquely fresh (but almost acrid) smell that comes from ozone (produced with a corona discharge) and think about its unique properties.
Carbon (C)An essential part of plants, and a part of all plant processes (including photosynthesis, respiration, etc.). Without carbon, plants would be, period.
  • Major component of chocolate
  • Life on Earth is almost solely dependent on carbon. Other than silica based life, every living thing on earth is carbon-based. It is an amazing element that can be formed in many different configurations from a benzene ring to bucky balls
  • Iron (Fe)It is an essential part of the formation of chlorophyllIron is one of those elements that is conveniently obvious in its deficiency or absence in plants, making diagnosis simpler. Iron chlorosis sounds very official and is suitably impressive to describe to anxious plant owners.
    Molybdenum (Mo)It is an important part of the nitrogen, oxygen and sulfur cycles, helping to change different forms of these elements to more plant-available/useful forms.It’s just hard to spell and funny to say.
    Lead (Pb)Nothing good, reallyFor me lead always brings an image to my mind of a solid block, unaffected by outward forces. It’s heavy and grounding.
    Gold (Au)N/AOne of my colleagues likes gold, and once spent a summer panning for it with her husband.
    Calcium (Ca)Calcium is an important part of the structure of plants, helping to make up strong cell walls.I appreciate calcium, mostly because it is a big part of our native soils in the Canadian prairies, as well as a big part of dairy products, which I love (but my body does not). I always associate it with strength and durability, in the form of healthy plants and strong bones.
    Lanthanum (La)N/ALanthanum is a soft, malleable, ductile, silver-white metal. It is chemically active, it is one of the most reactive of the rare-earth metals: it oxidizes rapidly in air and it reacts with water to form the hydroxide. Lanthanum is easily ignited, its salts are often very insoluble. And a co-worker thought it sounded like her (agreed)
    Neon (Ne)No ideaThis one is a favourite of Delburne high school girls because it is easy to deal with…
    Titanium (Ti)N/AA co-worker expounded on its low density, but high strength, which contributes to its value in the medical field. She also likes the song…

    Some chemistry humor…
    • H2O is water and H2O2 is hydrogen peroxide. What is H2O4?
      • Drinking
    • I asked the guy sitting next to me if he had any Sodium Hypobromite…
      • He said NaBrO
    • Q: What do you do with a sick chemist?
      • A: If you can't helium, and you can't curium, then you might as well barium
    • If the Silver Surfer and Iron Man team up, they’d be alloys
      • Q: What is the most important rule in chemistry?
      • A: Never lick the spoon!
    • Silver walks up to Gold in a bar and says, "AU, get outta here!"
    • Two chemists go into a restaurant.
      • The first one says "I think I'll have an H2O."
      • The second one says "I think I'll have an H2O too" -- and he died
    • Q: What did the scientist say when he found 2 isotopes of helium?
      • A: HeHe
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    This information published to the web on December 12, 2018.