University of Leicester eBulletin

The Man of Steel Carries Kryptonite to Piccadilly

February 2003
No 32

Press Release issued by the Royal Society of Chemistry:

Superman swooped onto Piccadilly on Friday lunchtime, January 31, to deliver a lump of kryptonite to mark the 70th anniversary of his arrival on the planet Earth.

Commissioned at the request of the Royal Society of Chemistry to celebrate the first appearance of the superhero, the crystal was produced by the University of Leicester, whose Chemistry Department has worked on the chemistry of the real element krypton. The RSC had asked the University to investigate the possible nature of ‘kryptonite’.  

The 6’ 3” blue and red superhero delivered the glass-covered kryptonite to the Geological Society, after changing in London’s most historic telephone box at the arched entrance to Burlington House where both the Learned Societies are located. The phone box was the earliest to appear in London, as a brass plaque there confirms.  

[Photo: superman with 'kryptonite']

Housed in a domed glass container, the crystal gives an eerie glint of green light well known to and feared by, the Man of Steel.

The University of Leicester chemists suggested that ‘kryptonite’ could be a complex of krypton difluoride incorporating a radioactive form of krypton. Such a compound would not only be radioactive but also a powerful oxidizing agent that would react violently with almost all other substances and would burn a human being. 

University of Leicester Pro-Vice-Chancellor and Professor of Inorganic Chemistry, John Holloway, said: ‘Our knowledge of the chemistry of krypton and its compounds goes a long way towards accounting for Superman’s susceptibility to ‘kryptonite’.

Krypton is one of the rarest gases in Earth’s atmosphere, accounting for only one part per million by volume. It was discovered in London by Sir William Ramsey and MW Travers in 1898.The origin of its name is the Greek word kryptos meaning hidden. It is a colourless, odourless gas, inert to everything but fluorine gas. Superman first appeared in January 1933, the creation of Americans Jerry Siegel and Joe Shuster, the first story entitled The Reign of Superman.

The Royal Society of Chemistry is the Learned Society for chemistry and the Professional Body for chemists in the UK. With 46,000 members world-wide, it can trace its history back to the Chemical Society founded in 1841. The Society is a major international publisher of chemical information, supports the teaching of chemistry at all levels, organises hundreds of chemical meetings a year and is a leader in communicating science to the public.

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Last updated: February 2003
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