Most of us had a required High School course in chemistry. Its mostly remembered for Bunsen burners, boiling liquids, cleaning glassware (making coffee) and trying to balance equations in order to get the same number of + & – to come out even.
Behind the teacher’s desk, high up on the wall was a cacophony of alphabet soup looking like a disparate bunch of recruits trying to line up by command, but failing. The ranks and files were straight but there were gaps, especially in the top row. Far from uniform, each member had its unique symbols.
Few of my classmates could have explained more than where to find hydrogen, oxygen and carbon (perhaps gold and uranium) on the table. I, for one, had, absolutely, no idea of how important chemistry is in our life.
Our every sensation, experiences and actions are chemical reactions.
Even when you are sound asleep, your minute by minute continued existence depends on dynamic chemical exchanges and electrical messaging which travel through structures which are composed of (molecular biological) chemicals. From momentary survival (oxygen/ carbon dioxide exchange), nutrition/ digestion, jogging, connubial bliss or having your child, it is all electrons, protons atoms and molecular chemistry.
Sean Kean has written a book called Disappearing Spoon, which is both fun and enlightening. The dreaded Periodic Table of the Elements is playfully deciphered. Kean reveals the periodic table as it’s never been seen before. Not only is it one of man’s crowning scientific achievements, it’s also a treasure trove of stories of passion, adventure, betrayal, and obsession. (1)
Kean employs the enormous value of story telling (gossip?) Boring rote memory is replaced by a good, gossipy, tabloid-like tale! (Marie Curie used to provoke jealousy in colleagues’ wives when she’d invite them into closets to see her glow-in-the-dark experiments, and perhaps more…..?)
“The infectious tales and astounding details in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, and gold as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, war, the arts, poison, and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them. Lewis and Clark swallowed mercury capsules across the country; their campsites are still detectable by the poison in the ground. Why did Gandhi hate iodine? Why did the Japanese kill Godzilla with missiles made of cadmium? And why did tellurium lead to the most bizarre gold rush in history? From the Big Bang to the end of time, it’s all in Disappearing Spoon .” (2)
This book has my personal guarantee that you will, not only like it, but you will be urging your friends to read it.
“Although precursors exist, Dmitri Mendeleev is generally credited with the publication, in 1869, of the first widely recognized periodic table. He developed his table to illustrate periodic trends in the properties of the then-known elements. Mendeleev also predicted some properties of then-unknown elements that would be expected to fill gaps in this table. Most of his predictions were proved correct when the elements in question were subsequently discovered. Mendeleev’s periodic table has since been expanded and refined with the discovery or synthesis of further new elements and the development of new theoretical models to explain chemical behavior.” (3)
Charles Clanton Rogers July 7, 2015
(1) Sean Kean, Disappearing Spoon, Little, Brown & Co., 2010
(2) Publisher’s notes, Little, Brown and Co.