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.
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.
The recent inclusion of four new elements to the periodic table was cause for the clinking of champagne glasses at places where people cook up such exotic stuff, including Berkeley. One reason is that credit for some of these latest discoveries goes to Lawrence Livermore National Laboratory, which was itself birthed out of UC Berkeley.
Posted on January 7, 2016 - 8:16pm
Let the other universities brand themselves with the presidents they’ve produced, the corporations they’ve midwifed, their location in a small town outside of Boston, or their number one football team.
At Berkeley, we’re OK with being number 97. On the periodic table of elements. You may have heard of “the table,” as we call it around here. It’s sort of the ingredients list for the universe. All of it, including presidents, corporations, slushy college towns, and inferior (spiritually) football teams.