23. Vanadium: Beauty In The Background

From freeways to firefights to unfathomable depths, vanadium can often be found quietly doing the hardest work.

Featured above: The goddess Vanadis in her chariot pulled by cats. I have no idea.

Show Notes

But There Already Were Automobiles: Cars have been using lighter materials than vanadium steel for a long time now, but Element 23 might be making its way back into cars in the near future. Vanadium can be used to create new kinds of batteries that can be charged extremely efficiently, and can last for decades.

Northern Overexposure: It seems kind of unfair that we didn’t get an element with an etymologically Spanish name when we had the chance, since there are so very many elements named after Scandinavia. It might not seem like a lot yet, but just wait till we visit Ytterby.

Some Clarification: Some people would probably like me to point out that the “Tunicates eat their own brain thing” is not entirely accurate, because once they’re anchored in place, they do develop a new cerebral ganglion that’s actually much bigger than its old one.

Is that supposed to make it sound less incredible? Because I know that if I were to eat my own brain, I wouldn’t proceed to grow a new one that’s the size of a garage!

And it is pretty fair to draw the comparison between tunicates and humans, because we’re more closely related than you might guess. Tunicates and humans are both members of the phylum Chordata, the taxonomical group that includes all vertebrates.

Other fun facts about the tunicate: Some varieties group up to form vast colonies of organisms, and they can also reproduce by budding. This video includes some more trivia, and also some gorgeous aquarium photography:

Click To Read Transcript


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  4. American Council On Science And Health, V Is For Vanadium: Versatile, Valuable, And Very Colorful. Josh Bloom, January 13, 2018.
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  6. The Monthly American Journal Of Geology And Natural Science, Letter From J. Berzelius. 1831. This whole correspondence is fascinating and readable — Berzelius is actually arguing in favor of naming the element after Del Rio, who appears to write back and say “Nah, I’m good.”
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  13. Encyclopedia Britannica, Sea Squirt. Last updated March 27, 2014.
  14. BioOne, The Mechanism Of Accumulation Of Vanadium By Ascidians: Some Progress Towards An Understanding Of This Unusual Phenomenon. Hitoshi Michibata, 1996.
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  17. Abraham Wald And The Missing Bullet Holes, excerpted from How Not To Be Wrong by Jordan Ellenberg.
  18. You Are Not So Smart, Survivorship Bias. David McRaney, May 23, 2013.

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