Fun With Elemental Symbols

Since all matter including people consists of elements, it’s nice to see proper names entirely composed of elemental symbols, like , or if you recall the actress who played the part of a sultry James Bond villain,, or if we stick to chemistry .  In the English language alone, there are also thousands of improper nouns with such properties (27192, to be exact), and of course someone wrote a program to generate an exhaustive list. Probably one of the most interesting ones is CHOPS, as in pork chops, because the elements are all actually found in meat and include five of the six most common elements in living matter.

Unfortunately, it’s a hopeless case for any chemical compound’s name ending in ide, but luckily there is CoPPEr CArBONaTe, a substance formerly believed to make up Lady Liberty’s veneer. It’s ironic that more names, relative to inorganic nomenclature, exist for the elements themselves (IrON, CArBON, TiN, NeON, KrYPtON, SiLiCoN, CoPPEr, ArSeNIC, SiLvEr and four others). Silver’s inclusion depends on the synthetic superheavy element  Lv, or livermorium, a name only officially adopted last year after the element was synthesized in 2000 from uniting calcium and curium nuclei. Livermorium is not honoring dead liver but named after the Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory.

In organic chemistry, it should be easy to find names fitting the criteria, given the field’s gargantuan vocabulary. Although there are none among the basic heterocyclics; only AlKYNe among the basic functional groups and the lone VAlINe among the 20 amino acids, there is a sweet spot among alkanes: PrOPaNe, BUTaNe, NoNaNe and gasoline’s HePTaNe and OCTaNe. And turning to astronomy, order in the universe is further restored due to the existence of the MoON, SUN, SAtURn, NePtUNe, URaNUS, at least one asteroid, CeReS, at least a couple of constellations, BOOTeS and CaPrICORnUS, and some of the brightest stars, SIrIUS, AlTaIr and SPICa.

Spica’s name contains two of the alpha ladder elements (Ca and S) produced during helium fusion. The remaining pair, phosphorus and iodine, are formed mostly in type II supernovae, and being a blue giant with 10 solar masses, Spica is a candidate for such a fate.

* This article was coauthored and edited by PINa.

A few related riddles:

1. The series Breaking Bad used a single elemental symbol for each name in its credits. fraserWho was the only regular whose entire real or fictional name can be written with symbols?

2. Which of the elemental symbols in CORnFLaKEs are actual elements found in cereal?

3. Are there any metallic elements among the symbols of IONIC?

4. Which vegetable can be spelled with elemental symbols and also contains every element within its tissues?


1. LaURa FrAsEr who played the callous Lydia Rodarte-Quayle in 12 episodes. Notice the poison, As , in her name, but she was killed by ricin, which because of the “r”, cannot be entirely spelled out with symbols  

2. carbon, oxygen and potassium(K).

3. Yes Ni, nickel and, and how IrONIC, that the word “ironic” has both metals and nonmetals’ symbols!

4. SPINaCH.  Although not high in the sulfur-containing amino acids methionine and cysteine, spinach does contain some of those compounds along with sulfur containing enzymes and coenzymes.   Phosphorus is in ATP, DNA and other compounds. Spinach is one of the vegetables that’s richest in iodine; it has a little bit of Na: 24 mg of sodium per 30 gram serving; carbon and hydrogen are all over the place in its oils, carbohydrates, vitamins and protein.

And finally, BeNiCe, even if it means bringing together members of different families!



How To Remove Graffiti

He stood by the door of a subway car, looking from side to side to see if anyone was looking. Maybe my clothing camouflaged me against the background of my seat. More likely, I did not pose a threat, and certainly he didn’t realize I was a teacher at his school. He opened his long coat, and for a moment I thought he was going to flash the ghosts of the subway tunnels when suddenly he pulled out a marker from his inner pocket and tagged an advertisement on the wall.

Unfortunately I did not have my 95% ethanol with me. After I transferred to another school, I still encountered the occasional tagging. Interestingly “graffiti” is rooted in the Italian word for “scratch”. Tagging, technically, is less artsy than true graffiti. While the former is used by street gangs to mark territory, most individuals’ scratches and scribbles are merely an attempt to publicly declare individuality while they disregard others’ property.graffiti2

When that property is a metallic surface such as a locker, the ethanol wipes the ink away beautifully, without a trace. It’s also effective on wood surfaces when the markings are fresh, but unfortunately absolute ethanol can also dissolve the varnish.

That’s one of the challenges in removing graffiti. The most common medium, spray can paint, can host a variety of compounds: polyurethanes, lacquers and enamels. For each of these, there are solvents capable of forming intermolecular bonds with the compounds that are stronger than those between the latter and the background. Examples include butanone (MEK= methyl ethyl ketone) and xylene. But in attempting to remove graffiti, there’s the risk of letting the paint penetrate deeper and of damaging the surface itself. It’s advisable to begin by testing a solvent on small areas.

tagged_stoneWhen cleaning masonry especially, the cleaning product is best applied to a poultice, a porous solid filled with solvent. This extends contact time between the cleaning fluid and the surface and prevents spreading of pigments to unaffected areas. Since water does not dissolve in organic solvents, the surface should be dry. In cases where the tagging is recent, an ammonia solution with a pH less than 13 also works and is safe on most surfaces. And since ammonia is water-soluble, the surface could be wet. Some granites and most sandstones, especially those of a green or grey color, are sensitive to alkaline solutions, so highly concentrated solutions of NaOH or KOH are not recommended. At the other pH-extreme, most acids are not only useless in attacking paints, but they will also dissolve and thus damage anything with carbonates: marble, limestone and terracotta.

If there are still residual pigments after treatment with a solvent, they can be bleached with swimming pool disinfectant: calcium hypochlorite, Ca(OCl)2. Since this compound is only slightly alkaline (it’s the product of a weak acid and strong base), it’s innocuous towards both acid-sensitive and alkali-sensitive surfaces. Most commercial products use a shotgun approach by blending several agents. For example, an old recipe uses a blend of Ca(OCl)2, pine oil and ammonia. Another employs base, ether, ethanol and a ketone. Concoctions, however, can  sometimes be less than the sum of their parts, and the more meticulous approach is recommended for prized masonry. More recent patent-pending formulas are interesting from an environmental point of view because they use a combination of esters and surfactants.

Since solubility and evaporation rates are both temperature-dependent, an attempt to remove graffiti in extreme temperatures will render the cleaning operation less efficient. Sometimes the desire to avoid harsh chemicals tempts one to use high-pressure washing or abrasives, but these damage masonry, at times even etching a permanent outline of the graffiti.

A better alternative to grinding, albeit expensive and tedious, is the use of lasers, which have come to the rescue of defaced historical artifacts. When an Nd:YVO4 (neodymium-doped yttrium orthovanadate) laser was used on various granites, the effectiveness was not affected by the type of rock, but it did vary with the composition of paint used, especially if it was reflective.


Sasha Chapman. Laser technology for graffiti removal Journal of Cultural Heritage Volume 1, Supplement 1, 1 August 2000, Pages S75–S78

Martin E. Weaver. Removing Graffiti from Historic Masonry

T. Rivas. Nd:YVO4 laser removal of graffiti from granite. Influence of paint and rock properties on cleaning efficacy  Applied Surface ScienceVolume 263, 15 December 2012, Pages 563–572