Saturday, September 05, 2009

Sapphire, Steel, and Uranium-238

Those growing up in the 1970s (that's Generation X, not the Transformer-loving Generation Y), may well, if they lived in the UK, have been spooked at some stage by a flying cushion, or impressed by Joanna Lumley's incarnation of pure sultriness on Sapphire and Steel.

It was an unusual blend of the supernatural chiller, and space-time claustrophobia. As the voice-over to the introduction explained:

All irregularities will be handled by the forces controlling each dimension. Transuranic, heavy elements may not be used where there is life. Medium atomic weights are available: Gold, Lead, Copper, Jet, Diamond, Radium, Sapphire, Silver and Steel. Sapphire and Steel have been assigned.

Which seems rather unfair to the transuranic elements. A fairly haphazard collection of minerals, alloys, gemstones, and chemical elements seem to have been bundled together here. Moreover, lead is nothing if not a heavy element, and radium has a somewhat tarnished reputation when it comes to its life-enhancing properties.

What is splendid about the opening sequence, however, is the way the nuclei of the chemical elements are represented as if they're also miniature gemstones, with hundreds of sparkling, colourful facets. It's a notion which modern mass spectrometers do little to promote, yet this diagram of the uranium-238 radioactive decay chain does seem to owe a little something to the idea.

1 comment:

Doug Hudson said...

I didn't think sapphire was an element. Same goes for jet.

I personally think they made the whole thing up.