Saturday, 16 April 2016

Periodic Table of Popularity

What are the most popular elements of the periodic table? Elements come into and out of fashion, so I thought it would be interesting to look at the 2016 rankings of elements. To do this, I searched for each element in a Google Scholar search where the element had to be in the title of the paper. I took this to mean that the article was largely about the element and this removes issues around whether all of the text of an article is searchable by Google. The title is usually the first thing Google indexes.

Here is the data presented in various different graphs. 

Elemental podium

Here is a sort of podium where the height relates to the number of search results for each element in a title. You can see that carbon is at the top of the elemental podium.

However, the 3D bar graph distorts the data beyond recognition. Let's try some other representations.


Ranking the elements with a bar plot shows what the most popular elements are and makes it much easier to compare. Carbon is the outright winner with 789,000 search results. Carbon is very reactive and has lots of interesting chemistry. It is the basis of all organic life on earth, so it is unsurprising that it is the most popular for researchers.

The next few elements are atoms nearby carbon that bond with it, for example Hydrogen, Oxygen, Nitrogen. Transition metals come in very popular with Iron, Copper, Zinc, Gold, Silver and Lead. Silicon is what the semiconductor industry is based on so lots of research on Silicon.

There are two ways to view these rankings. Either feel sorry about the lesser studied elements and do some research on them or publish something about carbon and you will probably get the most people interested. I am currently taking the first approach.

Hot spots

A heat map gives a better view of where hot spots in the periodic table are concentrated. 
Below is a periodic table if you have forgotten the different regions of the table. avAround carbon there is a lot of heat. The top of the alkali metals are also quite hot. The transition metals first row are quite hot particularly Iron which is the most stable element. There is also a hot spot around group 11 with Copper (Cu), Gold (Au) and Silver (Ag). Some of the amazing properties that make these elements so interesting are their relativistic effects.



Something else to consider is whether the ranking has anything to do with the amount of these materials on earth as the trends for popularity are for the more abundant elements at the top of the periodic table but also it is important to see if we are spending too much time on elements which we really don't have enough of.
data link
To scale these values I divided the popularity by the amount of the substance in the earth's crust. Large numbers indicate a lot of attention for substances we don't have a lot of.

Something to think about for finite resources is how to move the attention to elements which are more abundant. So, for example, the element scoring highest in the scaled popularity is Ruthenium. We have tiny amounts of this in the earths crust yet we have a lot of research on this element. This is mainly because Ruthenium is used in dye sensitised solar cells, data storage elements for electronics and as a catalyst. Therefore, ways to replace Ruthenium in dye sensitised solar cells is of interest.

I will update this each year and see if there is any changes in the ranking.

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