24 July 2012
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Rubidium With an Asterisk

Not Quite Bingo

If you've been following my Periodic Table Bingo, you will have noticed the shocking lacuna in row 5.  Yes, the Wall Street Journal, whose pages have contained references to elements from the common oxygen to the rare, obscure, and dense osmium, has never once mentioned the esteemed timekeeping alkali metal, rubidium.  Until, maybe, yesterday.

Maybe?  Yes.  A story in the 24 July issue of the Journal entitled "In Search of the Empty City" told the story of a web series about a desolate New York called "The Silent City" and of its creator, Australian-born Rubidium Wu.  Finally!  A rubidium sighting.  I could fill in the balance of row 5, declare Bingo!, and continue my hunt for the penultimate wily halogen. 

Not So Fast, Element Weenie!

Alas, and to save you unnecessary clickage, I will quote from the introduction to my sightings table: 

(A self-imposed rule:  "Gold Card" or "Oxygen Network" doesn't count.  There must be a plausible relationship to the element itself.)

Until now, this hasn't been terribly restrictive.  Oxygen, gold, platinum, titanium, and many other elements that find their nobility usurped by commerce have appeared frequently in their intended context.  But rubidium?  If AmEx comes out with a Rubidium Card you'll need to keep it firmly in your wallet in a plastic bag.  The Toyota Rubidium?  Don't drive it in the rain, for sure!  So one would hardly expect that the word rubidium would be found in any context other than an elemental one, hence my joy upon encountering it.  I fully expected that the Journal article would explain how Mr. Wu obtained his possibly unique name, presumably involving some scientifically inclined or professed parental unit.  Did it?  Not a word.  We element weenies have to be patient.  I started my table years ago, and am eager to complete it, at least to the extent of finishing all the cis-uranics.  After waiting for years, I was and remain reluctant to eschew the addition of the long-awaited rubidium.  And yet, I have no actual evidence as to whether Mr. Wu's name is related, or that perhaps someone heard the word in a song* and liked the sound of it. 

Lacking any evidence as to the provenance of his moniker, but hypothesizing that there must be a relationship to the element itself, I have solved the problem of adding it to the table in the same way that dubious records are immortalized in sport.  I have added an asterisk to the Rb entry, pending Mr. Wu's reply to a query I put on his Facebook page.  When I have evidence one way or the other, I shall modify my table, leaving the Rb or the asterisk, whichever seems appropriate.  Needless to say, there will be an update below if and when I find out the true facts.

Meanwhile, I continue anticipate an appearance of the one seemingly common element in other than its combined form, although I haven't encountered it in years of searching.  Perhaps it is so chemically active that the Journal can't even write about it without a reaction taking place.  Today rubidium, tomorrow, fluorine!


In an article released by the Center on Everyday Lives of Families at the University of California, Los Angeles, was this quote:

Mothers who used words indicating that their homes were messy or cluttered in their videotaped, self-narrated house tours had higher levels of stress hormones toward evening, as measured by saliva tests.  There was no such correlation with fathers.

*  Don't suggest to me that there is no such song.  There most assuredly is: rubidium comes between actinium and boron.

Follow-up 31 Aug 2012

We have achieved element!  I received a message from Mr. Wu, which I copy precisely below:

Mr. Rubidium Wu replies "Yes, I am named after the element."

Phil Ochs




Only a handful of audio companies have been around for over 40 years, and Ray Dolby's Dolby Laboratories is one of them, and one of the most successful. 

This shirt implies it's already been with us for 47 years.  Congrats Ray and associates.

Richard Factor

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