To chemists, the periodic table is pure poetry. It captivates with its orderly columns and rows and its ability to seemingly tame atomic mystery.
When Dmitri Mendeleev came up with a way of ordering the elements 150 years ago, it was impressive because of its simple beauty. Over the years, Mendeleev’s periodic system has grown ever more beautiful, expanding, morphing, and unfurling its colorful wings into the configuration we have today. And it may undergo metamorphosis again, as chemists continue adding to it and learning more about the properties of the elements at its outer reaches, those that defy the rules of nature.
To celebrate the poetry of this iconic table, as well as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT) in 2019, C&EN asked readers to submit their own verses and rhymes. We accepted entries into the #PeriodicPoetry contest July 5–31 via Twitter and Instagram.
The three winners you see here are our favorite submissions, narrowed down by our editors and judged by two chemistry poets: Mala Radhakrishnan and Mary Soon Lee. Radhakrishnan is a chemistry professor at Wellesley College who has published Atomic Romances, Molecular Dances and Thinking, Periodically, books of poetry that also teach chemical concepts. Soon Lee is a fiction writer and poet who will soon release Elemental Haiku, a book of poems about each element in the periodic table.
The winners will receive C&EN and IYPT swag as well as copies of Radhakrishnan’s and Soon Lee’s books.
First place: @chemphasis via Twitter (Carrigan Hayes of Otterbein University)
Comment from the judges: “I particularly admire the poem’s rhythm and its playful use of eur-eka to reference the eka-elements that Mendeleev predicted.”—Mary Soon Lee
Second place: @bobthechemist via Twitter (Robert “BoB” LeSuer of the College at Brockport)
Comment from the judges: “I was impressed with the use of the word inamorata and the ability to say something meaningful, somewhat poetic, and something chemically relevant via personification within the constraints of haiku and periodic table symbols.”—Mala Radhakrishnan
Third place: @janetkuypers via Twitter (poet and writer Janet Kuypers)
Comment from the judges: “Janet Kuypers lyrically presents facts about magnesium, closing with one that is personal and emotional.”—Mary Soon Lee.
When your fire starts— Janet Kuypers (@janetkuypers) July 31, 2019
you're impossible to stop,
burning brilliant white,
Seeing your fireworks,
snapping my flashbulb photos-
I feel that your intensity
is also a part of me.
make my heart
7/28/19 poem "Magnesium Burn" #PeriodicPoetry @cenmag pic.twitter.com/r1jXjsACck
C&EN received many more entries than the three winners. Here are some other favorites.
Most abundant, I swear;— Sodoor | Sudoor | صدور (@evenlyOdd786) July 18, 2019
We know it as inflammable air.
From the big-bang to the chemical gangs;
Hydrogen is intact, everywhere.
Lightest in the weight and undetectable;
By making solar fuel, taking the lives care.#periodicpoetry @cenmag
For those of you who may not know, @cenmag is celebrating chemistry and poetry!!💚🧪— Safia | صفية (@Finetraces786) July 25, 2019
Here is my second poem for #PeriodicPoetry:
A story of reactions and “Molecular Melodies.” 😊
#Chemistry #Poetry #SciArt #ChemTwitter pic.twitter.com/mnwSDQtGrk
@cenmag #PeriodicPoetry— Josué Ayuso (@Tzublal) July 30, 2019
I Have Arrived | He Llegado
I came here from very distant ethers,
my carrier changed suddenly your sphere
but it meant just a new beginning here
where I lay from the ground a few meters...
[see photo] pic.twitter.com/eXz3ofhccp