Proceed with caution as there are some movie spoilers here for those who haven’t already seen the Wakanda Forever: Black Panther movie. If you have seen the movie or even read the Marvel comics, then you should be familiar with the powerful element, Vibranium. Vibranium is an element that possesses astonishing chemical and physical properties. So, let’s take a moment to discuss what the big deal is about elements. In the world, everything is made of matter. Matter can be broken down into tiny puzzle pieces called atoms, which make up building blocks called elements. Elements are any pure substance that cannot be decomposed into smaller components by a regular chemical process. Elements are the fundamental materials of which all matter is composed.
To any scientist, these elements are arranged into and constantly referenced as the periodic table, which is used to help organize and arrange all of the discovered chemical elements. This periodic table is a staple when someone thinks of chemistry. Multiple combinations of these elements come together and make chemical compounds. Each of these elements is distinguished by a designated atomic number, a shorthand symbol, and usually includes a small number at the bottom of each cell that represents the atomic mass. Upon first glance at a periodic table, you may ask yourself if there is any correlation between these elemental boxes. I can assure you there is a method to the madness. Many of these elements are arranged based on properties such as electronegativity, ionization energy, and metallic properties.
Consider a periodic table as a chemical map and tool to help you understand the different properties of these elements. Elements in the table’s upper right-hand corner have the greatest ionization energy and electron affinity. Ionization energy is just a fancy way of describing how easy it is to gain or lose an electron. This becomes important in science because these species can easily be measured and tend to be found in the gaseous phase. Another trend that is commonly used to arrange the elements is in their order of metallic properties. Elements increase in their metallic properties as you move toward the bottom left of the periodic table (Southwest direction). This is informative of whether elements will have higher or lower boiling points.
In the most recent Wakanda Forever movie, the implementations of Vibranium are limitless, serving as a powerful energy supply for an entire underwater civilization. This element was harnessed as a power source of light for the entire civilization of Talokan. This element is also used to power the kingdom of Wakanda, provide aircraft support, and create armor for the Wakandan military. The science behind Vibranium is introduced in the first movie as being lighter than steel, enabling superpowers, a conductor of electricity, and being able to absorb, store, and release large amounts of kinetic energy. Also, King Ta’Challa, played by the late Chadwick Boseman, and his younger sister Shuri, played by Letitia Wright, both wear Vibranium Black panther super suits.
What if I told you that although Vibranium is a fictional element, it is being used in the classroom to teach real chemistry concepts? A trailblazing chemist, by the name of Dr. Sibrina Collins used the idea of Vibranium to challenge her students to consider where the element would be placed on the periodic table. Students needed to relate and connect a pop culture trend with an inorganic chemistry concept. While combining the elements, periodic table, and periodic table trends, Dr. Collins fused her creativity and passion for S.T.E.A.M. education using Black Panther to teach chemistry. She shares that the idea came to her while watching the first movie released in 2018.
In the newest movie, it was shown that Vibranium could be mined from and found in different parts of the earth. In honor of Dr. Collins, I challenge you as a reader to this same task given this new information. If you take a look at the periodic table and apply what you’ve now learned, where do you think Vibranium would be placed on the periodic table? I also encourage you as a reader to think of a show, comic, movie, or game that sparks interest in you and connect it to a lesson or lecture. Incorporating storytelling in lectures not only engages your targeted audience but allows you to be creative and make your content enjoyable.
Acknowledgements & References:
A special thank you to Dr. Sibrina Collins, who I had the pleasure of meeting Summer 2022.
Collins, S. N. (2020). Inorganic Chemistry: Vibranium and Marvel Studios’ Black Panther. In Advances in Teaching Inorganic Chemistry Volume 1: Classroom Innovations and Faculty Development (pp. 87-95). American Chemical Society.
Edited by Gabriel Nah and Jonah Wirt