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.
Chlorine was discovered by Sir Humphry Davy in 1810 and was named from the Greek green-yellow. Like many of the elements, the properties of chlorine have been used for both healthful and harmful purposes as represented by the yin yang beads on this piece. Chlorine was used as a chemical weapon in World War I causing severe respiratory damage or death when chlorine gas combined with the moisture in the lungs creating hydrochloric acid. Its use in pesticides like DDT (dichloro-diphenyl-trichloroethene) caused serious environmental damage, including significant decline of eagles and other raptors due to the thinning of the birds’ egg shells. The poisonous properties of DDT take more than 15 years to break down. I chose to portray an eagle about to nest as I have enjoyed watching eagles on White Earth Lake and throughout the area since they have made the gradual and powerful come back once DDT was banned in the US in 1972. On the positive side, chlorine has provided safe drinking water for over a century and is widely used in manufacturing PVC, polyvinyl chloride pipes for water and waste.
Uranium was discovered in 1841 and is named after the planet Uranus. It is the heaviest of the natural elements and was the first element discovered to be radioactive in 1896. Uranium is best known for use in the atomic bomb and in nuclear reactors, however, I chose to represent this element in one of the earliest uses which was to color glass and ceramic glazes.
Manganese was discovered in 1774 by Johann Gahn and was named from the Latin mangnes, meaning magnet. This common compound is a very hard and brittle metal that is used in the production of iron, stainless steel and aluminum alloys. My depiction of Mn represents the manganese dendrites, also called pseudo-fossils, which form when manganese oxide crystallizes on rock surfaces in branching patterns. I applied metallic fabric paint on a gelatin mold and used arborvitae branches as a resist on black silk to create the design and then cut out the piece in the shape of one of my favorite states, Minnesota.
Palladium was named after the asteroid Pallas. It is relatively rare and resembles platinum. Palladium is mined and sold as jewelry, bullions and coins, including the Lewis and Clark coin which I used to represent this element. Palladium is also used in dentistry to make crowns as it is very malleable and non-corrosive. It is used medicinally as a treatment for certain types of cancer by inhibiting cell division and causing fewer side effects than some other types of treatments.
The Stillwater igneous complex is located in southern Montana. Long a source for chromium ore, it also produces palladium and other platinum group elements.
Barium was discovered by Sir Humphrey Davy in 1808. It is toxic to humans if ingested as a soluble salt in the form of barium chloride and can cause heart problems. When used in the insoluble form barium sulfate, it provides radiologists x-ray images to examine the digestive tract. Barium was also widely used in vacuum tubes to remove unwanted gases and moisture. Being a big fan of the pyrotechnic convention that comes to the Fargo area every three years, I preferred to depict barium as used to produce the green color in fireworks.
Carbon’s name is from the Latin carbo, meaning charcoal. Carbon is the most essential element for life on our planet as carbon atoms link up forming long chains to which other elements attach forming DNA. Our lives literally depend on carbon but our choices of how we use the carbon found in coal and other fossil fuels will also impact the lives of generations to come. I decided to represent that individual responsibility by tracing the feet of my immediate family, including our newest grandson, Koen James Jolstad, born on April 11, 2010. Suggestions for making big and small steps for reducing our carbon foot prints were machine stitched throughout the piece.