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No. 838: Periodic Table: 65 Terbium

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Periodic Table: 65 Terbium

First | Previous | 2020-12-31 | Next | Latest

Permanent URL: https://mezzacotta.net/dinosaur/?comic=838

Strip by: David Morgan-Mar

T-Rex: T-Rex presents the Periodic Table:
T-Rex: An expressive component of the mineral xenotime, originally named kenotime from the Greek κενός (vain) and τιμή (honour), meaning "vainglory". So named as a sick burn by one...
T-Rex: mineralogist to another who had claimed to have found a new element in it.
Utahraptor: Wow! Imagine having some scientist's insult to your preserved forever like that!
T-Rex: Yeah! I'm sure UTAH is a very nice place!
T-Rex: *snicker*

The author writes:

Terbium is surprisingly interesting for a middle-of-the-lanthanide-series rare-earth metal. The mineral xenotime by itself, which terbium is an important component of, is plenty to write home about.

The French mineralogist François Sulpice Beudant wrote a big treatise on minerals, and so got to name a whole bunch of them. He decided to encode an insult to his Swedish rival Jöns Jacob Berzelius in the name of "kenotime", since Berzelius had claimed to have found a new chemical element in the mineral - a claim later disproven as what he'd identified was the previously known ytterbium.

Berzelius was in fact a prominent chemist and did discover two elements—cerium and selenium—as well as being the first person to isolate pure silicon and pure thorium. Besides having the insulting xenotime dedicated to him, Berzelius also has the more flatteringly named mineral berzelianite named after him.

Besides all this, xenotime is the perfect mineral name for use in science fiction.

And we haven't even touched on any other cool things about terbium! It's used in the trerbium-dysprosium-iron alloy Terfenol-D, which has the highest magnetostriction of any known material. This is a material that changes shape, expanding and contracting, when subjected to a magnetic field. This makes the alloy useful for things like sonar systems and acoustic transducers, which convert to/from magnetic fields and sound waves.