A while back, I made the poster featured as the cover image to improve my vector graphics skills, to subdue feelings of shame acquired during my student years for never making a good enough poster, and to reminisce on my days as a synthetic organic chemist. After reviewing the periodic table and thinking of all the important uses for each element, I realised that some elements get a lot more use than predicted and a lot less credit for how important they are. Some organic chemists play the game of having a periodic table around and crossing off elements after having used them at least once. In the process, they don’t even bother with some of the common ones. Here is my top 3.
- Deuterium. Being an isotope of hydrogen, it technically doesn’t need referencing as an individual element. It is the same element, but due to hydrogen being tiny in the first place, deuterium gets a chance owing to its being significantly heavier. I had almost forgotten it off the list, before I remembered that in organic chemistry running an NMR is a must, and for that we needed deuterated solvents. I think the reason it doesn’t get the love it deserves is for being useful precisely as a ‘ghost’ element. With the exception of deuterium labelling studies, when people go searching for it, it gets blamed for being expensive, potentially hard to introduce where you want it, not occuring naturally in compounds due to its low abundance, and just not doing anything chemically its little (or big?) brother hydrogen cannot. A chemistry degree will teach you this is not quite true. But I have to make its case, just so that those lab chemists give it a spot next to the ‘firstborn’ sibling hydrogen.
- Manganese. Whether you’re into posh catalysis or not, give this one some love. You probably rely on it almost exclusively for doing the dirty work of staining your TLCs. Cross it off. And think of it before going to bed. I am giving it second place, even though I am more of a PMA person.
- Argon. A noble gas, it gets used almost exclusively to fill up flasks when air or nitrogen won’t cut it. Lots of chemists depend on it, invoke the ‘magic’ properties of blanketing it has, but ignore it after all. The chemists who actually use it for chemistry..I don’t know. Such a rare breed, I can’t say anything about them. So make sure you give argon a thumbs up and a cross off the table.