Chris Stanley, a minerologist at London's Natural History Museum, was puzzled when mining Group Rio Tinto brought him an unusual specimen.
Discovered in a mine near Jadar, Serbia, the mineral had a known chemical formula—sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide. Using his own expertise and specialized resources, Stanley was unable to identify the mineral. Finally, he did what the rest of us would have done at the start—he searched for the formula on the Internet. And got lots of hits.
It turns out that this mineral had already been described—in Superman comic books and movies. The formula is an exact match for Kryptonite, the fictional mineral. Kryptonite, according to DC Comics, was created when the planet Krypton blew up. Stanley explains:
"Towards the end of my research I searched the web using the mineral's chemical formula—sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide—and was amazed to discover that same scientific name, written on a case of rock containing kryptonite stolen by Lex Luther from a museum in the film Superman Returns. "The new mineral does not contain fluorine (which it does in the film) and is white rather than green but, in all other respects, the chemistry matches that for the rock containing kryptonite."
As true fans know, green kryptonite is the most common variety, taking away Superman's powers and eventually killing him. Quick to spot a good plot device ("technovelgy"), writers soon introduced variations like gold, red, white and blue kryptonite. The worst of these is gold kryptonite, which removes Superman's powers permanently.
Real "kryptonite" (that is, sodium lithium boron silicate hydroxide) is not a scary, glowing mineral; rather, it is a boring-looking white, harmless substance. Dr. Stanley hastens to add, however, that it fluoresces a pinkish-orange under ultraviolet light.
Scientists are not allowed to use the name "Kryptonite" for the mineral owing to their insistence on following the stodgy, dusty international nomenclature rules that note that "krypton" is a real element. They will call it "jadarite" instead, after the town near the mine where it was found.
If you are interested in unusual real-life materials with science-fictional qualities, take a look at these articles:
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