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Stories About Chemistry


30. A Hitch in the "Electronic Computer"

Physics and chemistry had made tremendous progress by the twenties of our century. In a matter of two decades these sciences had scored no less achievements than throughout the preceding history of mankind.

But the discovery of new elements suddenly came to a standstill. There remained several �blank� spaces in the Periodic Table which had to be filled. These were the boxes corresponding to the atomic numbers 43, 61, 85, and 87. What strange elements were these which refused flatly to settle in the Periodic Table?

Stranger No.1. An element of Group Seven with the atomic number 43, situated between manganese and rhenium, and probably similar in properties to these elements. It was to be sought in manganese ores.

Stranger No.2. A companion of the rare-earth elements resembling them in all aspects. Atomic number 61.

Stranger No.3. The heaviest halogen, iodine's elder brother. It could be a great surprise to chemists, for it was not impossible that its properties would be weakly metallic. Halogen and metal what a splendid example of a two-faced element! Flat 85 of the Big House was kept in readiness for it.

Stranger No.4. Now this is an interesting element. The most furious, the most active metal, and it would melt if just held on the palm of your hand. The heaviest of the alkali metals. Its atomic number is 87.

Scientists compiled very detailed files on the mysterious strangers. Sherlock Holmes could detect a criminal by the ashes of a cigar he had smoked, by specks of clay adhering to his shoe leather. But his methods were nil compared to the delicate methods of chemists who had learned to identify the minutest amounts of unknown substances.

The clever detective was always lucky. The chemists were not. All their efforts to find the mysterious strangers and install them in their flats ended in failure.

The strangers were sought everywhere: in cigar ashes and in plant remains; in the rarest and most exotic minerals, the pride of minerological museums; in the waters of the seas and oceans. All in vain!

On the shelf of unsolved problems there appeared a new brief entitled �The Case of the Mysterious Disappearance of the Chemical Elements 43, 61, 85 and 87.� A �disheartening case,� some crime investigators might have called it.

Could nature have been up to the unsuspected trick of eliminating these elements from the list of simple substances existing on our planet. Could it be another of her strange whims?

Indeed, it looked like magic. They say that miracles don�t happen, but for reasons unknown the four flats of the Big House remained vacant. They were filled only after the scientists learned to make chemical elements artificially.

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by Ian Ellis
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