Chemical Poems: Thorium

Chemical Poems: Thorium

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-white metal. Density: 11.72 g/cm3. The name comes from the Scandinavian god Thor. In the early applications of X-rays, which were discovered in 1895, thorium oxide was injected to improve the observation of blood flow in some organs (“Thorotrast” method). Subsequently, many patients became ill with cancer. It was also used as additive in toothpaste. Only in 1898, seventy years after the discovery of thorium by Jöns Berzelius in 1828, did Marie Curie and Gerhard Carl Schmidt show that it is radioactive.

In the days of gas lighting, the net bags surrounding the gas flames were impregnated with thorium nitrate [1]. These net bags absorb heat from the flame, attaining 1400 °C, and emit a brilliant white light.

90 % of the heat in the liquid inside the Earth is produced by the decay of the isotopes thorium-232 and uranium-235 [2]. The mechanical interaction of plates of the Earth’s crust, floating on the matter below, causes earthquakes.

[1] G. Sadagopan et al., Radiat. Prot. Dosim. 1997, 71, 53–56.

[2] H. Keppler, P. J. Wyllie, Nature 1990, 348, 531–533.


Gas lanterns
in the streets. Dark excitation.
Pimps, junkies, police. Battered children.
A prostitute waits. Dogs rummage in the trash.
Couples seek a hiding place.
Thorium lamps
rule the night
in San Francisco.

Suddenly the city shakes.
Lanterns smash.
The earth opens.
Any quest is futile.
The Thorium furnace
under the ground
becomes the master
of life and strain
in the city.

Time passes by.
The dogs return
to the trash.
The prostitute


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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