Chemical Poems: Promethium

Chemical Poems: Promethium

Author: Mario Markus

To date, 118 chemical elements have been found. Professor Mario Markus, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology, Dortmund, Germany, takes a look at each element, presenting a poem based on its natural properties along with a scientific overview of each element.

All 118 poems – as well as some poems about elements that only exist in theoretical simulations – are published in the book Chemical Poems: One On Each Element by Mario Markus. ChemViews Magazine publishes a selection of these poems.




Silvery metal. Density: 7.26 g/cm³. It glows in the dark with a pale blue light. It was discovered in Tennessee in 1945 by Jacob Marinsky, Lawrence Glendenin and Charles Coryell. It is practically not found in nature, but is produced in particle accelerators or reactors. Grace Mary Coryell, the wife of one of the discoverers, had the idea for the name of this element: As a product of nuclear power, it is comparable with the delivery of fire to humanity by Prometheus, a Titan in Greek mythology.

The high content of promethium on the surface of the star HR 465 in the constellation of Andromeda is astonishing, especially since this element is not found in the Milky Way [1].

After the use of radium in the luminous paint in watches was banned in 1968, promethium chloride with zinc sulfide was used. Zinc sulfide is luminescent due to the electrons emitted by promethium [2]. For example, the Seiko Chronograph from 1970 has luminous numerals made with promethium. Its emission of electrons is also of use in the very small and durable atomic batteries, for example for heart pacemakers.

[1] M. F. Aller, Sky and Telescope 1971, 41, 220.

[2] S. Ravi et al., J. Radioanal. Nucl. Chem. 2001, 250, 565–568.


The gods come and go
striding across
this or that time.
this or that place.

From this God-daddy,
who lashes me daily,
I have stolen the fire
from his case in the dresser,
the glittering numbers
of his sacred watch.

When friends come to see me
and watch the stars of Promethium
gleaming in my room at night,
I tell them proudly,
that a Titan with that name,
stole the fire from the gods,

of those spanning ages
and spaces
of formidable size,
not small provincial gods,
like my dad.


Professor Mario Markus, Max Planck Institute for Molecular Physiology, Dortmund, Germany.


Mario Markus Chemical Poems; one On Each Element

Chemical Poems – One On Each Element,

Mario Markus,

Dos Madres Press 2013.

ISBN: 978-1-933675-98-5

Perfectbound, 308 pages, English, $30


Interview with Mario Markus:   Poetry and Chemistry,
ChemistryViews 2013.

The poems have also been published in German in:


See all poems published so far by ChemistryViews.



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