Field of Science

Weird Words of Science: Lemniscate Elemental Landscapes

In reading an older paper about periodic tables, the author referred to the "lemniscate table of Gooch and Walker" - but didn't provide a figure, and I had to admit lemniscate was an unfamiliar descriptor. (It's not in the abridged Oxford English Dictionary on my iPod, either - so I don't feel all that ignorant!) Even a Google search was not particularly enlightening.

The full OED came to the rescue - "ribbon like", from the Latin for a ribbon. The term dates to the 17th century when Bernoulli used it to describe a set of curves. The term was new, the curves were not - Bernoulli's lemniscate was a special case of a set already described by Cassini.

Once I located a figure of Gooch and Walker's table, I would agree "ribbon-like" is a good description and it is certainly reminiscent of Cassini's figure eight curves (to give credit where credit is due).

Figure of the periodic table from Outlines of inorganic chemistry‎ by Frank Austin Gooch, Claude Frederic Walker, Macmillan:New York, 1905. Figure of Bernoulli's lemniscate is from here.