Chemical Elements (2)

I personally find that the controversies of columbium (Cb) / niobium (Nb) and tungsten / wolfram and related stories are pretty interesting. Here is a “short” version of what happened based on Wikipedia:

In 1802, tantalum (Ta) was discovered by the Swedish chemist Anders Ekeberg. The name comes from Tantalus, a Greek mythological figure. Tantalus is most famous for his eternal punishment in Tartarus. He was made to stand in a pool of water beneath a fruit tree with low branches, with the fruit ever eluding his grasp, and the water always receding before he could take a drink. This is the origin of the English verb tantalize. Ekeberg wrote “This metal I call tantalum … partly in allusion to its incapacity, when immersed in acid, to absorb any and be saturated.”

In 1801, columbium (Cb) was discovered by the English chemist Charles Hatchett from a mineral sample that had been sent to England from Massachusetts, United States. The new element was named as columbium after Columbia, the poetical name for the United States.

However, due to similar properties of Cb and Ta, some people thought that Cb is identical to Ta. In 1846, the German chemist Heinrich Rose argued that there were two different elements in the tantalite (tantalum oxide) sample, and named them after children of Tantalus: niobium (from Niobe), and pelopium (from Pelops). This confusion arose from the minimal observed differences between tantalum and niobium. The claimed new elements pelopium, ilmenium and dianium were in fact identical to niobium or mixtures of niobium and tantalum.

Cb was used in America, while Nb was used in Europe. In 1949, IUPAC chose niobium (Nb) as the official name of this element. The compromise was that IUPAC accepted tungsten instead of wolfram, in deference to North American usage, for element 74.

The name “tungsten” (from the Swedish tungsten, “heavy stone”) is used in English, French, and many other languages as the name of the element, but not in the Nordic countries. The other name “wolfram” (or “volfram”), is used in most European (especially Germanic and Slavic) languages, and is derived from the mineral wolframite, which is the origin of its chemical symbol, W. (Compromise again. Today if you say Wolfram, most people would think about Wolfram Alpha, I guess.)

See also: Element Symbols Not in Use
Po instead of K for Potassium, So instead of Na for Sodium, Tu/Tn instead of W for Tungsten seem so straightforward! Nitrogen used to be called Azote? No wonder RN2+ is called diazonium!

From the Element Symbols List I found that some other elements also have a mismatch between the symbol and the English name, just like W for tungsten. Most of them are known from the ancient times.

1. Ag Silver
Ag is from Latin name Argentum.

2. Au Gold
Au is from Latin Aurum, which means “shining dawn”.

3. Cu Copper
Cu is from Latin Cuprum, which means Cyprus.

4. Fe Iron
Fe is from Latin ferrum, meaning “iron”.

5. Hg Mercury
Named after Mercury, the god of speed and messenger of the Gods, as was the “planet Mercury” named after the god. The symbol Hg is from Greek name, ὕδωρ and ἀργυρός (hydor and argyros), which became Latin, Hydrargyrum; both mean “water-silver”, because it is a liquid like water (at room temperature), and has silvery metallic sheen.

6. K Potassium
K is from Latin name, Kalium.

7. Na Sodium
From the English, “soda”, used in names for Sodium compounds such as caustic soda, soda ash, and baking soda. The symbol Na is from Modern Latin noun natrium.

8. Pb Lead
Pb is from Latin name, Plumbum, hence the English, “plumbing”.

9. Sb Antimony
Sb is from Latin name Stibium.

10. Sn Tin
Sn is from its Latin name Stannum.

11. W Tungsten
See above.

Reference: List of chemical element name etymologies

Chemical Elements (1)

Perhaps for most people, the first thing they think about chemistry is the periodic table of elements. I found that Element FAQs at and Wikipedia are both great sources for interesting facts/lists about elements. Some of my favorite are:

Element Discovery Timeline
I realized how great the earlier chemists are. Here you see big names like Scheele, Davy, Berzelius.

Naming of elements (see also: List of chemical element name etymologiesList of chemical elements naming controversiesTransfermium Wars)
I personally find that the controversies of columbium (Cb) / niobium (Nb) and tungsten / wolfram and related stories are pretty interesting. Will talk about this story in the next post.

List of scientists whose names are used in chemical element names
For sure Mendeleev is on this list.

see also:
List of scientists whose names are used as SI units
This reminds me of a classic joke for nerds (find more here):

Einstein, Newton and Pascal are playing hide and go seek. lt’s Einstein’s turn to count so he covers his eyes and starts counting to ten. Pascal runs off and hides. Newton draws a one meter by one meter square on the ground in front of Einstein then stands in the middle of it. Einstein reaches ten and uncovers his eyes. He sees Newton immediately and exclaims “Newton! I found you! You’re it!”
Newton smiles and says “You didn’t find me, you found a Newton over a square meter. You found Pascal!”

List of scientists whose names are used as non SI units
Torr is from Torricelli!

List of scientists whose names are used in physical constants
Euler was a giant.

List of places used in the names of chemical elements

What Is the Most Expensive Element?
Since personally I am doing palladium chemistry, I googled the price for Pd and Ni. On 12/20/2014, Pd is about $800/oz, and Ni is about $7/lb. i.e. Pd is more than 1800 times as expensive as Ni. However, in academia, researchers tend to use Pd, usually because it gives better results. but I doubt that Pd is always 1800 times better than Ni. I remember once a speaker said: “Do not use cheap metals. They give cheap results.”

What Letter Is not Found in the Periodic Table?
A good conversation starter for chemists.

Expose your research on the Internet

Nowadays online presence manamgement is very important, and I don’t just mean Facebook profile and Twitter timeline. As a researcher, it’s a good idea to expose your work as much as possible on the Internet.

A lot of people use Google Scholar Citations to list publications and citations. It’s more accessible than Web of Science.

ResearchID is a similar tool provided by Thomson Reuters. Pro: with the data from Web of Science, they provide some cool stuff in their lab. Con: you can only add the publication after it gets a page number, while Google allows you to do so as soon as the paper is online. Also, I don’t know why but numbers of citations are smaller in ResearchID.

ORCiD is another similar service, I don’t know why I would need a third list of my publications (with only two items on the list). I got to know ORCiD only because it can exchange data with ReserachID.

You can list your publications on ResearchGate, too (no citations). It is also a social network of researchers where you can ask and answer research questions. A combination of LinkedIn and Quora?

LinkedIn also allows you to add publications on profile page.

Last but not least, most research groups have dedicated websites in addition to the PI’s profile page in the department website. I also set up a personal webpage/website.

One more thing, I learned about altmetrics from this article.

To measure the impact and reach of an individual article in traditional and social media, alternative metrics or “altmetrics” track the online activity and discussions on social media such as Twitter and Facebook, in the mainstream media such as newspapers and magazines, like ChemViews Magazine, and from online reference managers such as Mendeley and CiteULike.

Traditional metrics, e.g.  a researcher’s h-index, a scientific journal’s impact factor (IF), are useful but not perfect, as we all know. However, I don’t really know whether altmetrics would make things better. Here is an overview of altmerics service providers in 2012.

Space and Time

I used to be very active on my blog and all the social networking services. However, after a while I found that most of what I had written was trivial and irrelevant to my readers. So one of the goals of this blog is to provide contents that are valuable for the longest time possible, which, of course, makes it very hard to find proper topics to write about. Space and time seems to be a good one.

I am interested in stargazing (I bet people did that during warm summer evenings in ancient Greece, too. Btw, Dark Sky Finder and Clean Sky Chart are very helpful) because they give me a new perspective on life. I begin to understand why galaxy also means “an assemblage of brilliant or notable persons or things”. I realized why we call celebrities stars: movie star, rock star, NBA superstar, etc. Because you can see them although they are far away. Some stars are really bright but far, and others are less bright but closer. I guess the same analogy still applies to humans.

This a flash that demonstrates the Scale of the Universe.

Obviously waitbutwhy is one of my favorites, and a lot of what I wanted to say is already there. Here are some relevant posts:

Putting Time In Perspective (and a video by Kurzgesagt)

Meet Your Ancestors (All of Them)

4 Mind-Blowing Things About Stars (This is not my favorite post, but you get the point)

The Fermi Paradox

Update on 11/28/2014

Where to find dark sky parks? Here are two relevant webpages [1] [2]. Closest one to Chicago is THE HEADLANDS in Michigan, still pretty far away..

Software/Programs/Apps I love – Part 3: iPhone

Today we turn to iOS platform. I don’t own an iPad so I’ve only used these apps on iPhone. Again this list won’t cover very popular apps like Duolingo. Most of them are also available on the Web and Android.

1. Pocket (alternatives include Instapaper and Readability)

Before I knew Pocket, when I found some cool stories online but didn’t have the time to read them right away, I bookmarked the page. Over time I ended up with a lot of bookmarks that required a huge chunk of time to actually read.

Now I save them to Pocket (by Save to Pocket Chrome extension), then this Pocket app becomes a mobile reading list so that I can read it whenever I want (e.g. waiting for a bus). Also Pocket removes the ads on the webpages, helping me focus on the content.

2. Feedly

Before I knew RSS, I had to check all of my favorite websites/blogs frequently because I did not want to miss any new posts. However, after a while I found this very tiring. RSS can solve this problem: all I need to do is to subscribe (just like YouTube) to the websites/blogs and every new posts will appear in my RSS reader automatically.

The best RSS reader used to be Google Reader. After Google shut it down on 7/1/2013, I switched to Feedly and it’s been working well. Their iOS app is great except one thing: pictures from Angewandte Chemie International Edition cannot display properly. So I am using Reeder on my phone.

Bonus – some websites/blogs I follow:

In English:

Waitbutway: weekly updated blog with insightful and unusually long posts. Some of my favorite posts are:

Why Generation Y Yuppies Are Unhappy (This is probably their most famous post)

How to Pick Your Life Partner (Part 2)

Life is a Picture, But You Live in a Pixel

7 Ways To Be Insufferable On Facebook

If you read these posts and agree with them, potentially you and I can be good friends.

Astronomy Picture of the Day (APOD): from NASA.

Abstruse Goose/PHD Comics/xkcd: geeky comics.

Hi, I’m Liz: cute comics.

In Chinese:




3. HabitRPG

To-do list (e.g. Google Task, Todoist, Wunderlist, is a great idea, and I’ve been using them for a long time. Recently I found HabitRPG and it’s exactly what I’ve been thinking for a long time. You’ve probably already heard about gamification, and this 8-min tutorial video explains how HabitRPG works. The HabitRPG Chrome extension can (potentially) help you spend less time on YouTube/Facebook/Reddit/9gag (RescueTime does the same thing).

4. Mint

Best free way to manage (my small amount of) money.


Workout app. A timer between sets and a log.

6. Starmap lite

Star Walk is great, but this one is free, and it works, too.

7. TripCase

Keep all your itineraries in one place.

Bonus: how to organize iPhone apps

First world problem: you have so many apps on your iPhone that you can’t find them when you need them. My solution: 1) delete the ones you don’t really need; 2) organize them in a way that works for you.

Here’s how I do it: Dock: A-level (frequency of usage) apps; Page 1: B-level apps, no folders; Page 2: C-level apps and folders. Page 3: new apps to test. You can see other ways of organizing apps here and here.


Software/Programs/Apps I love – Part 2: Google products

Since this is part 2, two is the keyword of this post.

1. Two third-party services for Gmail that have great potentials:


Toss the junk with one click.

If you want unsubscribe all those ads in your inbox, try this.


Fly through your email.

Turn your inbox into a to-do list.

2. Two of less known Google products:
(Click here for more. Hope Google won’t shut them down like Google Reader)

Map Engine Lite:

Create and share custom maps.

Great for trip planning.

Culture Institute:

Discover exhibits and collections from museums and archives all around the world.

3. Two of my favorite YouTube channels:

CGP Grey:

Complex things explained.


Breaking news on a weekly basis.

Hosted by John Oliver.

4. Two of my favorite Chrome extensions:

Google Dictionary:

View definitions easily as you browse the web.

Look up the definition of a word by simply double clicking on it.

KB SSL enforcer:

Automatic security, browse encrypted.

Enforce https when possible.