Barry Bergman

The Periodic Table Is Turning 150. Please Clap.

In 1669, Hennig Brand, a German merchant and alchemist, tried a novel experiment he hoped would yield the mythical “philosopher’s stone,” a way to spin base metals into gold. His exact formula is lost to history, but we know he heated urine in a retort, or glass chamber, until the vessel glowed and the dripping liquid burst into flames. Urine, it turned out, wasn’t a source of gold. It was a source of phosphorus, a previously unknown element and the first one isolated in the laboratory.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

The Element Named After Berkeley

Glenn Seaborg was born too late to have spawned Cal’s spirit cry. It’s coincidence, surely, that his name is an anagram for “Go Bears!” And, although he was definitely a Bears fan and was Chancellor when Cal last made it to the Rose Bowl in 1959, he was never in Oski’s league as a campus celebrity. While others led rallies, he had to settle for spearheading decades of trailblazing nuclear science, endowing UC Berkeley with bragging rights to the discovery of a record 16 new elements.

From the Fall 2019 issue of California.

Go Play! You Can Read This Later.

was during the Great Malaise of the Jimmy Carter years that Zippy the Pinhead, clown prince of non sequiturs, first wondered, “Are we having fun yet?” The questioner was a simpleton, but time has endowed his question with the ring of profundity.

Or is that an alarm bell? A warning from our inner child to slow down, ease off, throw our hands in the air like we just don’t care?

Listen up, America. We are failing at play.

From the Winter 2018 Play issue of California.
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