by Jan Flack

Gadolinium is a chemical element with the symbol Gd and atomic number 64. It is a silvery-white, malleable and ductile rare-earth metal. Gadolinium has exceptionally high absorption of neutrons and therefore is used for shielding in neutron radiography and in nuclear reactors. Because of its paramagnetic properties, solutions of organic gadolinium complexes and gadolinium compounds  are the most popular intravenous MRI contrast agents in medical magnetic resonance imaging. Gadolinium is also used in other medical imaging such as positron emission tomography (PET) scans.

For the block I chose to reprint a brain scan found online — it is a “normal” brain and was printed on treated muslin. Hand applique using purple DMC thread and beading complete the block.


detail showing Swedish huck weaving

Ytterbium is named for the Swedish island of Ytterby, where this and several other rare earth elements were discovered in ore from a quarry.* It’s one of the few places where very old rocks are found near the surface.

I chose to do some Swedish huck weaving, which is actually a form of embroidery done on a special fabric. (read about it here) The block features Swedish yellow and blue, and should cheer up this corner of the Periodic Table!


*the others are erbium, terbium and yttrium


Another of the Swedish elements from Ytterby, terbium is used in manufacturing CD’s and electronics. My husband’s favorite musician is Frank Zappa. I used his signature mustache and soul patch on the silver lamé CD. The background fabric was painted with watercolors, and the binding was intended to add some psychedelic flair!

This is my husband’s favorite element!


Erbium’s claim to fame is two-fold. It amplifies pulses of light without having to convert those pulses into an electrical signal. This amplification virtually revolutionized the communications industry. Thanks to erbium, scientists created fiber optics which ultimately resulted in the invention of HDTV.

Erbium is also the element that makes laser eye surgery possible. Laser is an acronym for “Light Amplification by Simulated    Emission of Radiation.” A tiny (as in microscopic) bit of erbium embedded within a fiber optic cable not only strengthens the  intensity of the light, but allows it to travel in the same direction as the light that stimulated its emission, rather than backward toward its origin. Voila, the “erbium fiber amplifier” provides the direction, strength and control required for highly precise laser eye surgery.

Initially I had planned to depict erbium as images of various herbs, reflecting its pronunciation, if not its spelling. However, the properties of the element inspired other images altogether. The only thing that remains of the original concept is the green plant-infused background. Erbium’s optic properties are represented by the waves of the color spectrum while its crystal structure is reflected in the hexagon shapes. The laser beam that originates with holmium completes its journey amplified by erbium and centered on an eye ball. The pink flower vase illustrates the role erbium impurities play in creating shades of pink glass. Its role in the creation of HDTV is referenced with the black frame that surrounds the images.



Named after Stockholm, Sweden, this rare earth element is prized for its ability to concentrate magnetic properties thus increasing the magnetic intensity. Used in MRI machines, Holmium boosts magnetic intensity to the level required to measure the nuclear spin within the human body. Holmium impurities in crystal create color centers that can store optical energy that can be released in the form of laser light pulse.

Before researching the history and properties of this element, the name itself brought to mind Sherlock Holmes, which inspired the iconic profile. Learning the actual background of the element, I included map images of the city of Stockholm as the background along with the Swedish flag. I considered also including the iconic IKEA logo, but instead featured a section of Scandinavian-inspired graphical fabric. I attempted to show a cross section of the skull as seen on an MRI scan, but while the computer-aided designed fabric captures the separation of the left and right hemisphere, a friend observed “that is one seriously disturbed brain.” The laser light image made possible by Holmium becomes highly intense when combined with next-door neighbor, Erbium.


I chose this element because it’s the name of the street my mother lives on. She lives in one of those modern developments where all the streets are named after metals in an attempt to give it some order and create some sense of neighborhood. It would seem like having a grand plan means it would be laid out logically but it’s a nightmare getting anywhere. The street names change at random cross sections and the developers threw  in cul-de-sacs and streets that don’t really lead much of anywhere. Imagine me laughing my head off when I learned the name Dysprosium comes from the Greek roots “hard to get at”.  I don’t know if the city planner who named this street had a puckish sense of humor (hard to believe) or if it was serendipity. Anyway, a labyrinth seemed an appropriate expression of the hard-to-get-at-ishness of the element. And of my mother’s house.