Daily Archives: May 14, 2010

unununium

Oh, isn’t it a cute little caterpillar of a word, this one! Or like a little train. Or some accordion-folding thing, like a party streamer. It also makes me think of some little kitten munching kibble: num, num, num. It would be a nightmare to read in gothic script, though; one could slip it somewhere in a sentence such as “mimi numinum nivium minimi munium nimium vini muniminum imminui vivi minimum volunt” (which means something on the order of “the very short mimes of the snow gods do not wish at all that the very great burden of distributing the wine of the walls will be lightened in their lifetime”). Actually, it’s a bit of a problem to the eyes in any type face, isn’t it?

But what nimiety of inimical mummery may animate a nominative noumenon so ominous in its limning of inanition? Oh, it is a phenomenon nonnative to humanity: a liminal element of minimal numerosity, not known in even nanomole amounts. The monicker unununium (Uuu) is an allonym from ere unanimity on its immanence; now it is known as Roentgenium (Rg). (But doesn’t Uuu look more like a train whistle – or a mother animal and two little ones?)

So why the mind-numbing union of un, un, un? Why eighteen vertical strokes, three cups, five caps, and a dot? Elemental, dear Watson. It is the 111th element. In the periodic table it sits in period 6, group 11. Some six atoms of it have been created through smacking together smaller atoms (lead and copper, for instance) – three at a time (one, one, one), twice. Others have come into being through the decay of higher-number elements. Does this seem base, ignoble even? Oh, no, I assure you: unununium – roentgenium – is more noble than gold.

No, really, it is. Group 6 is a column of noble metals – formerly three, now this one makes four – so called because of their nonreactivity: copper, silver, gold, roentgenium. The top (29) is copper. Next is silver (47), and below it gold (79); reactivity decreases as you go down the column and up the numbers – silver and gold are not decayed by oxygen, for instance, but are attacked by halogens, and silver is also affected by sulfur. Roentgenium (unununium) is likely not to react even with the halogens, but perhaps with fluorine. It is also expected to look like silver. Once there are more than a half dozen atoms of it, maybe they’ll find out for sure.

Oh – not that those atoms are around any more, by the way. It has a half-life of about 20 minutes. But perhaps at some time we will see evanescent medals made of it to nominate some inimitable numinosity.