Sue Mertz

Discovered in 1898 by Pierre and Marie Curie and named after Poland. It had no known uses. Obtained from pitchblende, decay of radium. Pl;utonium became famous in 2006 when it was used to induce acute radiation sickness in Alexander Litvinenko, a former officer of the Russian Federal Security Service, FSB and KGB.  According to his doctors, Litvinenko’s murder marked the beginning of an era of nuclear terrorism.


Sue Mertz

Named for the Scandinavian goddess of beauty and fertility, Vanadis (Freya).

Vanadium a was first discovered in 1801 by a Mexican scientist who later withdrew his claim, and later rediscovered by Nils Gabriel Sefstrom, a Swedish chemist in 1830. It is sometimes used to make special tubes and pipes for the chemical industry. Vanadium penotxide is its most useful compound.  It is used as a mordant which permanently fixes dyes to fabrics.A silk portrait of the goddess is machine appliquéd over the multi hued background of grey, the test tubes show the various colors achieved as it decays.


Bromine is primarily found in the ocean and in brine pools as a colorless crystalline mineral salt. At room temperature it is a fuming, toxic and corrosive liquid.

Bromine has many uses in our daily lives. It spends time in hot tubs around the world. Bromine is to hot water what chlorine is to cold. It helps kill all kinds of bacteria and things we don’t want floating around in the hot tub with us. Bromine is also a primary ingredient in the fire retardant applied to children’s pajamas – over 250,000 tons of bromine are consumed in fire retardant production. Formerly used in pesticides, bromine is found to be highly reactive to sunlight and is very effective at ozone depletion. Due to this unwanted side-effect, bromine use has been abandoned as a pesticide ingredient. Amazingly enough, bromine is also found in lemon/lime soft drinks – including Mountain Dew – and is responsible for that almost glow-in-the-dark yellow/green color.

To interpret this element as a quilt, I used a Mountain Dew kerchief as the background and then a photo transfer of “baby Jeanne” in some pjs that we assume were treated with fire retardant. The spiral of wool roving “smoke” represents the noxious fumes while the white button attempts to represent the bromine tablets that are used in spas and hot tubs.


Gallium, as represented in this original cartoon drawing, is based on one of the tales told in Sam Kean’s book The Disappearing Spoon and other tales of madness, love and the history of the world from the periodic table of the Elements. Kean does a remarkable job sharing the stories behind the discovery of the elements in an interesting and very readable book, even for those of us non chemistry majors.

Gallium has one of the lowest melting points of any of the elements at 84 degrees Fahrenheit and was used as a practical joke by chemists when they molded spoons out of the metal and then watched the spoon disappear as their guests were served hot tea or soup. Today, other applications for gallium include electronic uses as a laser light in CD players, in LEDs and as a semi-conductor in computer chips.


I love archives. I  love the smell of old paper and the thrill of going through old documents and stumbling on a treasure trove of information. I love to look at old photographs and what they tell us about the way people lived and how they thought. And it breaks my heart when I see these wonderful pieces of our history crumbling away through the ravages of pollution, time, and damaging storage environments. An archivist once told me that one day, as he worked among the stacks of an old film collection, he could literally hear the films flaking apart all around him. He said it sounded like it was raining.

Argon is one of the noble gases. As with most noble gases, it is chemically inert and does not form bonds with other elements which makes it an ideal medium in preservation efforts because it refuses to react with any other substance. When the National Archives and Records Administration built the Charters of Freedom display for the  Declaration of Independence, the Constitution, and the Bill of Rights in the new rotunda at the National Archives Building in Washington DC, it built argon-filled titanium cases to display these pricelss pieces of our history.


This soft, silver-gold metal has a melting point of 82 degrees F, which makes it one of 5 metals that are liquid near room temperature. One of its distinguishing characteristics is the brilliant sky-blue it emits when burned.

Cesium also decays at an exceptionally stable rate; therefore when the scientists of the world decided to regularize our timekeeping, they turned to cesium. In early definitions, the length of a second was based on calculating fractions of the apparent motion of the earth and sun which they found meant that a second is not always a second–sometimes it’s longer, sometimes it’s shorter. That’s no way to run a universe. So in 1967, the International Bureau of Weights and Measures used an isotope of cesium to help define an unequivocal second: “the duration of 9,192,631,770 periods of the radiation corresponding to the transition between the two hyperfine levels of the ground state of the caesium 133 atom.”


Cesium is used in atomic clocks. In this piece, I depicted an atomic clock with a kind of steam punk esthetic.