Is there a chemical element you love the most? To celebrate the International Year of the Periodic Table in 2019, Double Helix is running a poetry competition for school-aged students with support from the Royal Australian Chemical Institute (RACI).
Meet our chemistry expert and competition judge, Michelle Neil!
How would you describe your job?
As a forensic analyst, I help to find out how people died. I test blood, urine, liver and vitreous humour (the fluid from inside your eyeball) for drugs the person may or may not have been taking before they died.
Why did you decide on a career in chemistry?
When I was a kid I used to constantly ask my parents “why?” Sometimes they didn’t know and that frustrated me. As I grew older I realised that everything around me was basically a chemical or a mix of chemicals – water, air, medicine, even food! So if I wanted to know the answer to “why?” I had to study chemistry.
What is your favourite element and why?
My favourite element is lithium (Li). It’s the third element in the periodic table, but is also a metal that is soft enough to cut with a knife.
In its metallic form, lithium is extremely flammable. It has to be stored in mineral oil so it doesn’t come into contact with oxygen – and explode!
In small amounts, lithium is used for smartphone batteries, heat-resistant glass, ceramics and the pink/red colour in fireworks. And lithium salts are used as a medicine to treat people with mental illnesses, such as bipolar disorder.
I love that this soft metal has so many uses!
This competition has now closed. Winning poems will appear in Double Helix Issue 36 (release date 1 December 2019), subscribe now to receive this issue.