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Chemistry poets go beyond the call of duty

by Stephen K. Ritter
September 4, 2017 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 95, Issue 35

Periodic poetry returns

Using element symbols to spell out words reached a new level in 2006 when Dow Chemical produced ads that included the new symbol Hu for humanium. The ads were a bid to show how the “human element” is missing from the chemistry enterprise.

The public relations pitch inspired retired Dow environmental engineer Stacy Leroy Daniels to compose a poem using the symbols for the 111 named elements at that time and Hu, extolling Dow’s vision for capitalizing on humanium’s potential. Titled “HuMn FAcEs IN Th PErIODyK TbLaS,” the poem, which premiered in Newscripts, requires “considerable poetic and chemical license,” Daniels said 11 years ago.

With the Dow-DuPont merger taking place, Daniels is at it again. He has written a poem about the reactive chemistries of new elements being created by the corporate commingling, titled “Matter Becomes Alchenomical.”

The poem describes how dowium (Dw) and dowcorning­ium (Dc) combine, then in a humanium-catalyzed reaction with dupontium (Dp) form an intermediate, DwxDpy, which transforms into the new elements agriculturium (Agr), materialsium (Mat), and specialtium (Spe).

Not one to be bashful, Daniels took the opportunity to read the poem during the open session of Dow’s annual meeting in May. Dow CEO Andrew N. Liveris informed Daniels that the poem momentarily caught him “in a state of speechlessium.” Daniels adds that only time will tell whether the reaction of Dw with Dp will be endothermic or exothermic and whether an alchenomical side reaction of turning Pb into Au is irreversible.

Matter Becomes Alchenomical

The Periodic Table: 118 elements, so counted.
The work of many scientists has now amounted
To vast knowledge, not absent of polemicals, expounded.
It seems “light” matter is comprised of chemicals, compounded.

Alchemists transform lead to gold, (if one has gullibility).
Economists claim, “money-growing trees,” are an impossibility.
Just so, alchenomical balances endure constraintability.
Ecological, social, and economical factors insure sustainability.

Periodically, truths, some fundamental and atomical,
Become abstract, complex. Matter becomes alchenomical.
Activists spar with corporations. Financial pundits grow bolder.
Controversial Elements of business, spin round workers and shareholders, unmerciful.

The elements, Dowium [Dw] and Dowcorningium [Dc], react,
Catalyzed by the “human” element, Humanium [Hu], impact,
Dupontium [Dp], form an intermediate, DwxDpy, compact,
As Agriculturium [Agr], Materialsium [Mat], and Specialtium [Spe], extract.

- Stacy Leroy Daniels

Elemental haiku

Not to be outwritten by Daniels’s poetics, science fiction and fantasy writer Mary Soon Lee has created “Elemental Haiku,” an interactive periodic table containing a haiku poem for each of the 118 named elements, plus a closing haiku for element 119, which is not yet synthesized. “Elemental Haiku” was published online by the journal Science on Aug. 4.

An image shows an interactive periodic table in which hovering over an element reveals a haiku poem about the element.
Credit: Science/AAAS
Elemental poetry: An interactive table of haiku.

Haiku are traditional Japanese poems evoking images of the natural world. They consist of 17 moras, or sound units akin to syllables, broken into three lines of five, seven, and five moras.

“I wrote the first couple of haiku, hydrogen and helium, on a whim,” Lee tells Newscripts. “I then decided to see if I could continue all the way to the end of the periodic table.”

Lee says it’s hard for her to pick a favorite, “but I am fond of potassium.” Here’s her haiku on the element K:

Leftmost seat, fourth row,
yearning for the halogens
on the other side

Turns out this is not the first periodic table of haiku. Lee found out about two others after hers was posted. Since Lee’s table appeared, would-be chemist-poets have been sharing their elemental haiku on Twitter with the hashtag #ChemHaiku. From Newscripts, we’ll close with a haiku for all the periodic tables of haiku:

Periodic poems
from chemists’ sacred table
they’re elemental

Steve Ritter wrote this week’s column. Please send comments and suggestions to


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