Berkelium incorrectly abbreviated on UC Berkeley anniversary banner

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Update 1/10/18: This article has been updated to include information from an email from chemistry professor John Arnold.

A post in the popular Facebook group “Free & For Sale” on Friday pointed out a conspicuous error in a banner displayed on the UC Berkeley campus.

The element berkelium, which was produced by UC Berkeley researchers in 1949, was incorrectly abbreviated on the banner as “Br,” the symbol for the common element bromine, instead of “Bk.”

The banner was posted near the Valley Life Sciences Building to promote the 150 Years of Light Charter Day celebration in March, which will celebrate UC Berkeley’s 150th anniversary.

Adrian Samkian, a sophomore majoring in chemistry, said that when he saw the Facebook post, he noticed the error in the banner immediately.

“Bromine is a pretty common element and berkelium is not as commonly used in laboratories, so it was a pretty drastic difference,” Samkian said.

Although some people commented on the post that they were “disappointed,” Samkian said he thought the error was “funny more than anything else.” He said he plans to go to campus to look for the banner so he can take a picture of it.

“(It’s) a big mistake to go unchecked, especially because those banners probably aren’t cheap to print,” Samkian said.

Chemistry professor and department chair David Wemmer said his original reaction to the error was one of “amusement.” He said he thinks most people who have taken freshman chemistry would recognize that “Br” is the symbol for bromine, but not as many students would know that the symbol for berkelium is “Bk.”

“It’s not that big of a deal,” Wemmer said. “It would be good to fix it. It’s slightly embarrassing, but it’s not that big of a deal.”

Wemmer said he has not heard anything from campus administration in response to the error.

Campus chemistry professor John Arnold said in an email that he saw the error posted on Reddit and was “horrified.”

“(The mistake is a) good lesson learned in fact-checking and proofreading, especially if your work is going to be seen by lots of people,” Arnold said in the email.

Arnold noted another, less conspicuous, error on the banner. The bottom of the banner features a partially cut-off chemical element with atomic number “26” and molecular weight “4.000.” According to Arnold, atomic number “26” correlates to that of iron, but the molecular weight “4.000” correlates to that of helium, which has the atomic number “2.”

The banner has since been taken down, according to a tweet from UC Berkeley administration.

Campus spokespeople were not able to be reached as of press time.

Contact Ella Colbert at [email protected] and follow her on Twitter at @colbert_ella.