Superior High School's new periodic tables will feature element named by graduate
The Class of 1989 raised money to replace the periodic tables in SHS science classrooms. A Spartan sticker will mark element 111, which graduate Jon Schwantes helped name.
SUPERIOR — A graduate with an elemental claim to fame visited the Superior High School science classrooms Friday, Sept. 30.
Jon Schwantes, SSHS class of 1989, was among the team of scientists that named element 111, roentgenium. Schwantes, a nuclear radiochemist, is currently working for the U.S. Department of Energy in a national security position.
“It’s been a kind of fun story to tell the kids,” said science teacher Caitlin Zatroch. “Because, you know, they’re ninth graders and you get the like ‘When am I going to use this?’ And it’s like, ‘This guy did.’”
“I’ll be talking about that 'til I retire from this place. What an accomplishment, and a great thing to share,” said science teacher Tyler Ross.
Schwantes’ accomplishments, which include a number of published scientific papers, have earned him a spot in the Superior Athletic and Academic Hall of Fame. He was among those inducted into the hall of fame Saturday, Oct. 1.
Classmate Cindy Magnuson, who nominated him, took the recognition one step further. She sent out a call to the class of 1989 via Facebook, seeking $1,200 to purchase new periodic table of the elements charts for all the high school science rooms, with a Spartan logo beside element 111. Within 10 days, the charts were paid for.
“I’ve got a lot of great classmates that stepped up,” said Magnuson, who was an educator and administrator in Superior for 20 years.
Zatroch’s current periodic tables, which dated back to 1998, were older than her students. Ross said the one he had fell apart before the iconic SHS circle was torn down during the school’s renovation.
“It just had cracked and the whole lanthanides and actinides fell off, and that’s a shame. So I’m without,” he said. “I have a Russian one on a little thing but not a good size one, so that’s really going to be what we needed.”
The seed for the gift was planted when the class of 1989 toured the high school three years ago. When they walked into a science room, Schwantes noticed the periodic table of elements chart.
“I just remember him saying ‘This is an old one. It’s missing element number 111,’” Magnuson said.
After learning Schwantes was being named to the hall of fame, she lofted the idea for the charts.
“I’ve always been about inspiring young kids who are sitting in seats to know that they can make an impact on the world, and they can have a place in our future … inspiring people to believe that anything’s possible, especially young learners,” said Magnuson, who's been in the education field for nearly 25 years.
On their trip to Superior High School Friday, the classmates shared memories of their time at the school and recalled science teachers Dean Hecht and Bob Thompson.
“I think it was all of the teachers that were able to see something in me that I didn’t maybe even see in myself at the time,” Schwantes said.
Asked what he’d like students to take away from that Spartan logo on the element chart, Schwantes said the most intelligent people he’s ever met all have one thing in common: They are always asking questions.
“It instilled in me that intelligence is not something that’s born in you. It's something that is generated,” he said.
The periodic table of the elements is always expanding.
“We add a new element to the periodic table about every 10 years," Schwantes said. “And so when I was going into high school, I remember a periodic table that was probably around 100.”
Today, the number is up to 118, a noble gas named oganesson.
Before it was roentgenium , element 111 went by the generic title unununium, basically a place marker until it was formally named.
First discovered in 1994 and named in 2004, roentgenium is a man-made element with a short shelf life and no practical application to date. Its most stable isotope has a half-life of about 26 seconds.
“The rule of thumb is, after five half-lives, the element is essentially gone,” Schwantes said.
The Superior hall of famer was a postdoctoral researcher with a team at the Lawrence Berkeley National Lab that tested the element in 2003 and 2004 to independently confirm it. They named it after Wilhelm Conrad Roentgen, who discovered X-rays in 1895.
The new Spartan element charts should be up in classrooms later this school year, Magnuson said.
Visit the district website to learn more about the Superior Athletic and Academic Hall of Fame.