Thursday, September 13, 2012

Making the Periodic Table Interesting?

Can the Periodic Table, that we studied in high school chemistry class be made interesting? Maybe if the author of "The Disappearing Spoon" was your high school teacher! Unfortunately, Sam Kean was not my high school teacher, as he is closer to my own age.

The element with the most colorful history on the periodic table, quite literally according to the author, was antimony. "Nebuchadnezzar, the king who built the Hanging Gardens of Babylon in the sixth century BC, used a noxious antimony-lead paint to paint his walls yellow. Not coinicidentally, he soon went mad, sleeping outdoors in the fields and eating grass like an ox.....Antimony pills also won fame as laxatives. Unlike modern pills, these hard antimony pills didn't dissolve in the intestines, and the pills were considered so valuable that people rooted through fecal matter to retrieve them. Some lucky families even passed down laxatives from father to son. Perhaps fro this reason, antimony found heavy work as a medicine, although it's actually toxic. Mozart probably died from taking too much to combat a severe fever. " (Kean, p. 22)

The woman who discovered that nuclei have shells and that electrons behave in a manner to reach a "stable" number was a scientist who was permitted to hang around science only because of her chemistry professor husband. It wasn't until after her Nobel prize that a university finally offered her a paying job. Even then a San Diego newspaper greeted her big day with the headline "S.D. Mother Wins Nobel Prize." (Kean, p. 31)

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