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Elements Abound In D.C.

After reading Beth’s elemental town-name Newscripts last week, I spent a bit of time looking through Nicholas C. Thomas’ article trying to find the closest elmental town to Washington, D.C. Of the ones listed, Barium Springs, N.C., is the closest, at just under 400 miles away. (Although Alloy, W.Va., is a bit closer, it’s not an elemental name, so I’m not counting it.)

I thought this area should have tons of elementally named towns, what with all the science that goes on here. Maybe we can convince some towns to change their names for the International Year of Chemistry 2011? I’m thinking “Radon, District of Columbia” has a nice ring to it (especially as we’re ringing out Radon Action Month). Or maybe “Lead,” to go with all the contamination we have in our soil and water.

Anyhow, not finding any towns in the area currently named after elements, I was surprised to stumble upon some graffiti on the trash can across the street from my apartment building.

Chemistry Graffiti

Chemistry Graffiti

I’m not sure if this is someone’s nickname or a territorial marker, but it made my day and got me thinking, which reminded me of this elementally named night club/lounge/restaurant only blocks from the American Chemical Society headquarters.

Hot Spot

So, I did a Google maps search for a bunch of elements in D.C. Not surprisingly, fluorine, sodium, neon, and other commonly known and used elements popped up a lot. But I also found a nice elemental shoe and clothing store just down the road from my apartment.

Shoes With A Common Bond

When I asked Carbon‘s owner, Kevin Powers, whether there was any chemistry behind naming his store, he responded with “I sell shoes, furniture and accessories. At the molecular level, they each include carbon as an element… A nice common ‘bond.’ ”

Elements In The Office

Most of D.C.’s elemental and chemical names appear in buildings such as this, which houses (although you’d never know it) Alkylphenols & Ethoxylates, the Environmental Arsenic Council, the Chlorinated Paraffins Industry Association, the Acrylonitrile Group, the Emulsion Polymers Council, the Vinyl Acetate Council, et cetera. Not as exciting as the graffiti, night clubs, and shopping options in the area, although the workers in this particular building got to witness a little bit of action a few months ago when a protester stopped traffic in a busy intersection to demand a few million dollars.

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  • Feb 1st 201020:02
    by John Marsella

    How ’bout Carbondale, PA?

    Less than 300 mi from DC, according to Google.

    Carbon County, PA is even closer, which was the home of the poor fellow that was the subject of a local paper’s headline a long time ago:

    “Carbon Man Sets Himself on Fire”.

  • Feb 1st 201023:02
    by Kenneth Moore

    Hah, that headline should be hanging next to similar ones at C&EN’s office–one of my favourite goes something along the lines of “15 dogs rescued, 2 arrested.”

    And both of those places are definitely much closer to DC than Barium Springs. Thomas’ list was by no means inclusive of the thousands of cities in the U.S. that have names (I think over 2,000 have “gold” in their names!), but of the examples he gave, there were few near DC.

    I’m still enamored of the idea of renaming this city to “Lead.” But, then, we can’t even get representation, and laws the city passes have to go through Congress, so I’m not holding my breath.

  • Feb 3rd 201018:02
    by John Marsella

    Hmmm…I was going to point out Ironton, PA as closer than the rest, but then Silver Spring, MD sprung to mind.

    OK, so Wiki says it’s unincorporated, but if it’s good enough for the USPS…

    Anyway, with regard to that “Carbon Man” headline above, I actually sent that to K. M. Reese for his Newscripts column in the early 90s. He politely acknowledged my submission (something along the lines of “Thank you for your ‘low brow’ headline”), but declined to use it.

    Maybe his standards were higher than ours?

  • Feb 3rd 201018:02
    by Kenneth Moore


    I was on my way to Silver Spring when I saw that Helium graffiti. I even grew up only 20 minutes from the town. And I’ve never associated the name with the element on the periodic table. I guess I was too busy looking for elements that were a little less common to find the ones right in front of my face!

    I have heard wonders of Ken Reese, who recently passed away. I can’t say anything from personal experience about his standards, but I’d imagine he got a good chuckle out of that headline.

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