The Elements of MIT

In recognition of National Periodic Table Day 2019, explore MIT faculty, researcher, staff, and student connections to one of science’s most treasured tabular arrangements.

Have an addition, correction, or question? Let us know.

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1HHydrogen

PODCAST: On the history and future of fusion, which involves the fusing of hydrogen.

Earliest evidence of hydrogen gas shown to be approximately 180 million years after the Big Bang, in one of Physics World’s 10 Breakthroughs of 2018.

Providing evidence of hydrogen’s “spillover effect”.

Bioengineered microorganisms produce hydrogen.

Progress in splitting water to produce hydrogen fuel as an alternative to fossil fuel.

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2HeHelium

PODCAST: On the history and future of fusion, which involves the fusing of hydrogen to produce helium.

First commercial airborne wind turbine using a helium-filled shell, from MIT spinout Altaeros Energies.

Superfluid helium research among professor’s recognized contributions.

An ode to former Building 20, home to Collins Cryostat, a device for producing liquid helium that led to a magnetic resonance imaging technique used in hospitals.

Richard Feynman, MIT alum and cultural icon, made major contributions to fluidity, the frictionless behavior of liquid helium.

In memory of a professor whose contributions included the two-fluid theory of liquid helium.

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3LiLithium

Professor recognized for work on solid-state lithium electrolyte batteries.

“Reversible sponge” for lithium-based batteries.

Doubling the power of lithium batteries could make smartphones, drones, and electric cars last twice as long, according to MIT spinout SolidEnergy Systems.

Lithium-oxygen battery to improve energy efficiency and longevity.

A clue to how lithium works in the brain.

Previously difficult to observe, advances in seeing lithium in action.

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4BeBeryllium

Produced naturally at high altitudes, beryllium provides insights into the effects of aviation emissions.

Scientists sleep easy after beryllium target generates neutrinos, validating the Standard Model of Particle Physics.

Again the target of friendly fire, beryllium faces off against protons to produce muons, elementary particles with the same charge as electrons and 200 times the mass.

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5BBoron

Controllable adhesion system for underwater robots uses a boron-based magnet.

System to produce boron for less than one-tenth the traditional cost places in annual student competition for developing materials to address sustainability.

Of bread and boron: Boron nitride sandwich demonstrates the ability for the same material to switch between two different electronic states.

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6CCarbon

PODCASTS: On negative carbon emissions and firm low-carbon energy resources.

Mildred Dresselhaus, celebrated and beloved MIT professor, helped unlock the mysteries of carbon, earning her the nickname “queen of carbon science”.

Carbon nanotubes: From making airplane frames lighter to turning spinach plants turned into explosive detectors to improving the performance of capacitors, batteries, and water desalination systems.

Professor awarded for work on the mathematics on Earth’s carbon cycle.

Professor creates a never-before-seen compound, known as an alkylidene, with a carbon and metal double bond.

A pencil draws carbon nanotube sensors onto sheets of paper.

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7NNitrogen

Engineering cereal grains to produce their own nitrogen fertilizer.

Nitrogen provides insights into marine ecosystems through interactions with microorganisms and the degradation of New England coastal waters.

Cleaving nitrogen molecules, previously only accomplished through nitrogen-fixing bacteria.

Energy Initiative seed fund project on gallium-nitride-based electronics is honored nearly ten years later and leads to the founding of the MIT/MTL Gallium Nitride Energy Initiative.

Nitrogen atoms in an ultrathin superconducting film help researchers discover a universal law of superconductivity.

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8OOxygen

Let the countdown begin: Oxygen-creating device to fly on the Mars 2020 mission.

Scientists pinpoint oxygen’s first appearance in Earth’s atmosphere, the Great Oxygenation Event (GOE), at 2.33 billion years ago.

Lithium-oxygen battery greatly improves energy efficiency.

Implantable device provides cells with their own oxygen supply.

Studying how insects use trapped oxygen to breathe underwater.

Inspired by previous research in producing oxygen on the moon, a new process uses iron oxide from lunar soil to make oxygen for a more environmentally sound steelmaking process.

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9FFluorine

Adding fluorine to pharmaceuticals offers flexibility and potential cost-savings for new drugs.

Fibers detect and produce sound by varying fluorine content.

Students discover high levels of fluorine in the soil surrounding the most active Hawaiian volcano.

Fluorine among the elements providing evidence of a possible mass extinction 250 million years ago.

Fluorine replaces hydrogen for a more simple method to make complex emulsions.

Attaching fluorine to drug compounds could make drugs more potent.

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10NeNeon

Study showing nearly three times more neon in the sun than previously believed provides the key to developing future theoretical models.

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11NaSodium

A new form of matter, known as a supersolid, made of sodium atoms.

Cooling sodium-potassium gas to the lowest temperature ever recorded: half-a-billionth of a degree above absolute zero. Later research applies the discovery to quantum computing and the long-sought “qubit”.

A more efficient desalination process involves blocking large sodium atoms.

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12MgMagnesium

Early version of a novel molten-metal battery includes magnesium.

Technology for cleaner magnesium production from Infinium Metals, co-founded by an MIT alum.

Insights into the role of magnesium in memory.

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13AlAluminum

Self-healing metal uses an ultrathin layer of aluminum oxide.

Aluminum batteries that “drink” seawater could power autonomous underwater vehicles, from MIT spinout Open Water Power.

“Yolk-and-shell” nanoparticle with an aluminum “yolk” boosts capacity and powers rechargeable batteries.

Producing more uniformly structured aluminum casts for aviation and vehicles.

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15PPhosphorus

Safer, simpler industrial and household chemicals by breaking up phosphorus with ultraviolet light.

Gone dark: Optimizing high-speed computing with black phosphorus.

Phosphorus informs climate change models.

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16SSulfur
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17ClChlorine

Chlorine among the elements providing evidence of a possible mass extinction 250 million years ago.

MIT Legatum Center awards seed grant to social enterprise Zimba, with an automatic chlorine doser to be piloted in rural India.

Periwinkle plant uses bacterial genes to attach chlorine to compounds for creating more effective cancer drugs.

Making drugs more potent by binding molybdenum to chlorine.

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18ArArgon

Argon gas sealed a 1957 time capsule unearthed in a 2015 excavation for MIT.nano.

Ratio of potassium to argon shows the moon’s molten core was likely sustained by an alternative power source.

Dark matter detector uses liquid argon.

Argon continues to build its space case, showing Mars has been in a 4-billion-year freeze and providing evidence of a once-active dynamo on one of the largest asteroids in the solar system.

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19KPotassium

Cooling sodium-potassium gas to the lowest temperature ever recorded: half-a-billionth of a degree above absolute zero. Later research applies the discovery to quantum computing and the long-sought “qubit”.

Ratio of potassium to argon shows the moon’s molten core was likely sustained by an alternative power source.

Producing potassium fertilizer from feldspar, a rock abundant in countries otherwise reliant on potassium imports to produce bananas and other potassium-dependent crops.

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20CaCalcium

Calcium separates the strong from weak among connections in the brain.

Calcium-based MRI sensor for more sensitive brain imaging.

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21ScScandium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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22TiTitanium

Titanium dioxide “shell” to boost capacity and power rechargeable batteries.

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24CrChromium

Resilient chromium-niobium material for industrial processes including coal and petroleum combustion, gas turbines, and waste incinerators.

Twenty years later, chromium continues its corrosion dominance in the development of a composite used in nuclear reactors.

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25MnManganese

Measuring manganese activity to improve electrochemical conversion and storage.

Manganese to decipher the role of genes in learning and memory.

Making better batteries with nanowires of manganese made by viruses.

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26FeIron

Phytoplankton shown to be extremely sensitive to changing levels of desert dust containing iron.

Inspired by previous research in producing oxygen on the moon, a new process uses iron oxide from lunar soil to make oxygen for a more environmentally sound steelmaking process.

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27CoCobalt

Layer of cobalt used in a device controlling microchip magnetism, opening the doors to computing that consumes drastically less power.

Cobalt center powers a rotting meat sensor for improving food safety.

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28NiNickel

Professor discusses resurgence of interest in nickel-based chemistry in energy and environment.

Nickel-dependent enzymes in the biogenesis of natural gas.

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29CuCopper

A new way of extracting copper. The same researchers later receive a $1.9 million grant from the U.S. Department of Energy’s Office of Energy Efficiency and Renewable Energy to advance copper production using sulfur-based minerals.

In a major advance for the field, copper-oxide superconductors show surprising electronic disorder.

Copper-gold nanoparticle shows copper’s potential as an energy-efficient method to recycle carbon dioxide.

Advancements in superconductors use ceramic copper oxides.

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30ZnZinc

DNA damage risk posed by the same zinc often used in sunscreen.

Tracking zinc in cells to learn more about its function.

Zinc selenide contributes electronic and optical properties to fibers.

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31GaGallium

Energy Initiative seed fund project on gallium-nitride-based electronics is honored nearly ten years later and leads to the founding of the MIT/MTL Gallium Nitride Energy Initiative.

Laptop power adaptor uses gallium nitride for higher efficiency over silicon, from MIT spinout Cambridge Electronics.

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32GeGermanium

Germanium increases speed of computer chips, leading to several MIT spinouts, including AmberWave Systems and 4Power.

Lincoln Laboratory receives funding to use germanium in the next generation of photonic integrated circuits.

First germanium laser gets computers one step closer to using light instead of electricity to move data.

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33AsArsenic

Researchers discover the first organism to thrive on arsenic.

The Kanchan Arsenic Filter (KAF) provides a low-cost household water filter for the developing world.

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34SeSelenium

Selenium links molecules to overcome drug resistant infections.

One-molecule-thick material using selenium to create LEDs, photovoltaic cells, and light detectors.

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35BrBromine

Low-cost, high-capacity, rechargeable bromine battery to enable widespread adoption of intermittent energy sources including solar and wind.

Periwinkle plant uses bacterial genes to attach bromine to compounds for creating more effective cancer drugs.

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36KrKrypton

Artificial blubber infused with krypton protects divers in frigid water.

On why kypton detection is one of the challenges in finding clandestine nuclear sites.

Krypton gas used for energy-efficient windows in Solar7, an MIT solar house legacy dating back to 1938.

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37RbRubidium

Shining a laser through ultracold rubidium atoms shows a new optical state that could enable quantum computing with photons.

Cooling rubidium used in previous research into magnetism and superconductivity.

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38SrStrontium

Ratios of strontium to neodymium show India joined with Asia 10 million years later than previously thought.

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39YYttrium

Studying the effects of high current on a yttrium-based superconducting material.

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40ZrZirconium

Zirconium used for corrosion resistance in advanced nuclear materials.

Zirconium oxide, also used in cubic zirconia “fake diamonds”, grows nanotubes without the unwanted side effects of metal.

Zirconium cladding provides performance for nuclear technology in a MITEI Low-Carbon Energy Center project.

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41NbNiobium

Resilient chromium-niobium material for industrial processes including coal and petroleum combustion, gas turbines, and waste incinerators.

Yarns of niobium nanowire for more efficient supercapacitors.

Niobium atoms in an ultrathin superconducting film help researchers discover a universal law of superconductivity.

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42MoMolybdenum

Professor wins Nobel Prize in chemistry for a molybdenum chemical reaction used for environmentally-friendly production of pharmaceuticals, fuels, and synthetic fibers.

Making drugs more potent by binding molybdenum to chlorine.

Molybdenum-based semiconductors emit light in a range not absorbed by silicon, allowing it to be used alongside silicon for on-chip communication.

First flexible, battery-free device to convert Wi-Fi signals to electricity uses molybdenum-based semiconductor.

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43TcTechnetium

Professor contributes to the first technetium-based myocardial imaging agent, Cardiolite, an important tool in clinical nuclear cardiology.

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44RuRuthenium

Ruthenium demonstrates a “perfect” solar absorber capable of harnessing the full spectrum of available solar radiation.

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47AgSilver

Silver-based material provides design principles for producing fuels from carbon dioxide emissions.

Silver flakes used to detect safe ranges of electric fields to treat cancer.

DNA damage risk posed by nanoscale silver used in toys, toothpaste, clothing, and other products for its antimicrobial properties.

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48CdCadmium
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49InIndium

Smallest indium-based transistor ever built could challenge silicon’s dominance.

“Artificial leaf” uses indium-based film.

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50SnTin

Ultra-thin tin-based films demonstrate room-temperature ferroelectric states.

Producing electricity from industrial waste heat using a tin-based compound.

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51SbAntimony

Early version of a novel molten-metal battery includes antimony.

Antimony surprises researchers with its high performance, producing a high operating voltage.

Theoretical, superconducting quasiparticle verified using an antimony-based material.

Antimony in thin films for new semiconductor chips and thermoelectric devices.

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52TeTellurium

Media Lab professor develops one of the first holographic-video displays, using the biggest piece of tellurium dioxide crystal at the time.

Ultra-thin tellurium-based films demonstrate room-temperature ferroelectric states.

Scaling up production of thin electronic material uses a method including tellurium.

MIT Summer Scholar develops tellurium thin films for infrared photonics.

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53IIodine

“Self-healing” batteries powered by iodine.

MIT Radioactivity Center produces the first iodine isotope.

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54XeXenon

Artificial blubber infused with xenon protects divers in frigid water.

On why xenon detection is one of the challenges in finding clandestine nuclear sites.

Studying thermodynamic processes using xenon lamps.

Radiometric dating method uses xenon for insights into the magnetization of asteroids.

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55CsCaesium

Quantum computing switch uses mirrors and supercooled cesium.

MIT geophysicist explains how measuring the movement of a cesium atom beats the Earth’s rotation for keeping accurate time.

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56BaBarium

“Electronic nose” prototype uses barium-based layers.

Barium atoms in the first single-atom laser.

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57LaLanthanum

The first increases in computers’ clock speed since 2002 could be coming after experiments using a lanthanum-based composite.

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72HfHafnium

Ratios of lutetium to hafnium measured in research showing India joined with Asia 10 million years later than previously thought.

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73TaTantalum

Filtering light waves based on direction using layers of glass and tantalum.

Tantalum crystals predicted to achieve solar efficiencies exceeding 10 percent.

High-temperature tantalum crystal could power everything from smartphones to spacecraft.

Magnetic layer of tantalum demonstrates nanoscale quasi-particles known as skyrmions.

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74WTungsten

PODCAST: On the history and future of fusion, which involves uranium.

High-temperature tungsten crystal could power everything from smartphones to spacecraft.

Alloying tougher tungsten to replace depleted uranium in armor-piercing projectiles.

One-molecule-thick material using thungsten to create LEDs, photovoltaic cells, and light detectors.

Tungsten-based transistor combines two different electronic states of matter.

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75ReRhenium

Electrically-driven process extracts high-purity rhenium used in jet engines.

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes discoverer of rhenium, Ida Noddack.

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76OsOsmium

Theoretical, superconducting quasiparticle verified using an osmium-based material.

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77IrIridium

Iridium electrode to study thermodynamic processes in an ultra-high temperature molten oxide.

Engineering a virus to split oxygen from water molecules using iridium.

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78PtPlatinum

Magnetic layer of platinum demonstrates nanoscale quasi-particles known as skyrmions.

Platinum could be used to treat a broader range of cancer types more successfully.

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79AuGold

Copper-gold nanoparticle shows copper’s potential as an energy-efficient method to recycle carbon dioxide.

Selective light absorption of nanostructured gold make it an ideal material for sensors and displays.

Gold nanoparticles shown to easily penetrate cells for delivering drugs.

Turning blood clotting on and off using gold nanorods.

Cardiac patch uses gold nanowires to enhance electrical signaling between cells.

Cancer treatment uses gold nanorods to absorb energy from near-infrared light and re-emit as heat, destroying cancer cells.

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80HgMercury

Professor details the problem with China’s coal: Mercury in rice.

Related research shows that to be effective, mercury-controlling policies must be more strict the longer countries wait to implement them—about 14% more every 5 years.

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81TlThallium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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82PbLead

Isotopic tracers, essential for dating geologic samples, measure decaying lead isotopes.

Students use cigarettes, which contain lead, to compose music based on emitted energy.

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83BiBismuth

Optical technique to probe magnetism uses an bismuth-based thin film.

Quantum-mechanical mixture of electrons and photons in a bismuth-based insulator.

Never-before-seen photon and electron coupling on the surface of a bismuth-based crystal.

Thin films include bismuth for new semiconductor chips and thermoelectric devices.

Bismuth compound sheds light on superconductivity riddle.

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84PoPolonium

Students use cigarettes, which contain polonium, to compose music based on emitted energy.

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes discoverer of polonium, Marie Curie.

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85AtAstatine

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes discoverer of astatine, Berta Karlik.

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86RnRadon

Radon mapping system addresses degradation of New England’s coastal waters.

MIT Radioactivity Center uses radon needles to produce the first iodine isotope.

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87FrFrancium

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes discoverer of francium, Marguerite Perey.

MIT Knight Science Journalism Fellow writes about great-great-aunt Marguerite Perey.

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88RaRadium

In memory of a professor who pioneered studies in the effects of radium.

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes discoverer of radium, Marie Curie.

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89AcActinium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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104RfRutherfordium

Professor recognized for developing the fundamental chemistry of rutherfordium by perfecting “one-atom-at-a-time” chemical procedures on its short-lived atoms.

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105DbDubnium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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106SgSeaborgium

An MIT PhD student was later involved in the discovery of seaborgium.

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107BhBohrium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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108HsHassium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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109MtMeitnerium

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes namesake of meitnerium, Lise Meitner.

MIT astronomer and writer performs a play about the life and accomplishments of Lise Meitner.

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110DsDarmstadtium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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111RgRoentgenium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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112CnCopernicium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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113NhNihonium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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114FlFlerovium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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115McMoscovium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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116LvLivermorium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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117TsTennessine

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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118OgOganesson

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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58CeCerium

Cerium oxide, used in fuel cells, shown to expand because of an increase in charge localization.

Cerium nanoparticles powers bionic plants.

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59PrPraseodymium

Praseodymium shows the greatest activity level in experiments to improve energy storage in fuel cells.

Theoretical, superconducting quasiparticle verified using a praseodymium-based material.

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60NdNeodymium

Ratios of strontium to neodymium show India joined with Asia 10 million years later than previously thought.

Study involving neodymium supports new theory about the development of Earth’s early continental crust.

Neodymium glass at the heart of the ambitious effort to measure nuclear fusion.

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61PmPromethium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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62SmSamarium

Study involving samarium supports new theory about the development of Earth’s early continental crust.

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63EuEuropium

Fluorescent polymer gels use europium to detect structural failure in energy-related equipment.

Optical technique to probe magnetism uses an europium-based thin film.

Student awarded outstanding senior thesis for work on europium spin-filter material.

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64GdGadolinium

Gadolinium overlays used in a device controlling microchip magnetism, opening the doors to computing that consumes drastically less power.

Gadolinium compound demonstrates paired topology and intrinsic magnetism.

Gadolinium emits visible colors when exposed to near-infrared light, in research of smartphone-readable microparticles.

Gadolinium a key ingredient for low-power data storage.

Magnetic layer of gadolinium demonstrates nanoscale quasi-particles known as skyrmions.

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65TbTerbium

Fluorescent polymer gels use terbium to detect structural failure in energy-related equipment.

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66DyDysprosium

Study explains how rising demand for wind turbines and electric vehicles could strain supplies of rare earth metals including dysprosium.

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67HoHolmium

Record-breaking magnet uses holmium, reaching a magnetic field of 37.2 tesla, about 700,000 times greater than the Earth’s magnetic field.

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68ErErbium

Erbium emits visible colors when exposed to near-infrared light, in research of smartphone-readable microparticles.

Professor’s breakthroughs include an on-chip erbium laser using standard silicon manufacturing techniques.

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69TmThulium

Thulium emits visible colors when exposed to near-infrared light, in research of smartphone-readable microparticles.

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71LuLutetium

Ratios of lutetium to hafnium measured in research showing India joined with Asia 10 million years later than previously thought.

Insights into hafnium dioxide, a material compatible with silicon processing technology, paves the way for new data applications.

Hafnium for extending life and improving performance of fuel cell electrodes.

Sealing cracks in leaky graphene with hafnium.

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90ThThorium

Graduate student awarded for research involving dissolved thorium in seawater.

Analysis of a rare thorium isotope shows the Sahara swung between green and desert conditions every 20,000 years.

Thorium analysis, this time in stalagmite aging, shows the widespread forest loss in Madagascar 1,000 years ago not due to climate change, but to humans making way for grazing cattle.

Phytoplankton shown to be extremely sensitive to changing levels of desert dust, thanks to an analysis of the removal rate of thorium on the ocean’s surface.

Professor investigates the use of thorium in nuclear reactors to enhance fuel efficiency.

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91PaProtactinium

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes Lise Meitner, who identified an isotope of protactinium.

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92UUranium

Uranium analysis shows the widespread forest loss in Madagascar 1,000 years ago not due to climate change, but to humans making way for grazing cattle.

Early nuclear device can be handled with bare hands, due to the naturally low radiation emissions of its uranium parts.

Student group wins an award for developing an inexpensive hydrogel to extract uranium from water to provide more fuel for nuclear power plants.

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93NpNeptunium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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94PuPlutonium

Professor recognized for pioneering work in plutonium research.

In memory of a professor and distinguished theoretical astrophysicist who assisted in transporting the plutonium core to the first test site of the Manhattan Project.

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95AmAmericium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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96CmCurium

MIT science editor quilts a commemoration that includes namesake of curium, Marie Curie.

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97BkBerkelium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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98CfCalifornium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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99EsEinsteinium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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100FmFermium

Fermium’s namesake, Enrico Fermi, mentored MIT professor Mildred Dresselhaus during her graduate school days, providing an example that would inspire the future physicist throughout the rest of her life.

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101MdMendelevium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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102NoNobelium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

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103LrLawrencium

No contributions have been recorded for this element yet. Know of one? Let us know.

Alkali Metal
Alkaline Earth
Transition Metal
Basic Metal
Metalloid
Nonmetal
Halogen
Noble Gas
Lanthanide
Actinide
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