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DBL%20Hendrix%20small.png College chemistry, 1983

Derek Lowe The 2002 Model

Dbl%20new%20portrait%20B%26W.png After 10 years of blogging. . .

Derek Lowe, an Arkansan by birth, got his BA from Hendrix College and his PhD in organic chemistry from Duke before spending time in Germany on a Humboldt Fellowship on his post-doc. He's worked for several major pharmaceutical companies since 1989 on drug discovery projects against schizophrenia, Alzheimer's, diabetes, osteoporosis and other diseases. To contact Derek email him directly: Twitter: Dereklowe

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May 21, 2010

Friday Book Recommendation

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Posted by Derek

I'm going to be off helping out with my daughter's field trip today, so it's not like there are going to be a lot of posts around here. But I did want to mention this book, "The Elements", by Theodore Gray.

That's this guy, Theodore Gray of Wolfram Research and of Wooden Periodic Table fame. He's clearly a wild man for chemical elements, and good for him. Now what someone needs to do is a coffee-table book on photogenic chemical compounds - dissolving potassium permanganate, crystals of chromium (III) chloride, hunks of copper (II) sulfate. It would (as those examples suggest) be mostly inorganic chemistry, but what the hey. . .

Comments (25) + TrackBacks (0) | Category: Book Recommendations


1. Lisa Balbes on May 21, 2010 7:20 AM writes...

I agree 100%, it's truly an awesome book.

I am seriously considering buying an iPad, just so I can get the app that brings this book to life.

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2. Bob on May 21, 2010 7:45 AM writes...

Bismuth crystals are pretty cool too!

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3. You're Pfizered on May 21, 2010 8:01 AM writes...

Derek, what are you doing?!

Pretty pictures of chemicals are going inspire young minds to go into science, only to become embittered underemployed PhDs posting on your blog about how the MBAs have ruined everything.


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4. very old guy on May 21, 2010 8:33 AM writes...

I would not worry about seducing kids into chemistry with pretty pictures of elements when an Ipad is way cooler.

50 years ago, I tried to synthesize as many of the elements as I could based upon the pictures in the Life book Matter. I had a back yard lab stocked with all kinds of highly hazardous chemicals such as mercury. Of course what was really fun was making things like lead azide and nitroglycerin which I did in my early teens.
Everyone thought it was cute, you know one our next generation of scientists. I think if some kid got into chemistry today the way I did back then, the DEA, Home Land Security, ATF, FBI, EPA, Fire Marshall, etc., etc. would be crawling all over my tail because I would now be an obvious threat to society and the environment. Nope it is far better we have kids sitting in from of TV screens killing virtual people or even better writing new algorithms to buy crap. That is the future for our next generation of chemists

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5. Wavefunction on May 21, 2010 9:17 AM writes...

Yes! Bought this book a couple of months back and it has graced the living room coffee table ever since, ready to impress friends and family.

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6. coprolite on May 21, 2010 9:29 AM writes...

perfect day for a field trip, I'm trying to convince my boss to freelance me on a sunspot study--good posts this week derek, enjoy the weekend!

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7. Hap on May 21, 2010 9:59 AM writes...

I guess the fact that we're not a frozen ball of ice says there's a sun out there, but other than that, we haven't seen much evidence of the sun's existence lately. We had our nice day of the month here yesterday.

I can't use that excuse here.

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8. PJ Hansen on May 21, 2010 11:45 AM writes...

Excellent book! My kids love it and it makes my coffee table look nice even when closed.

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9. Sili on May 21, 2010 12:54 PM writes...

I guess the fact that we're not a frozen ball of ice says there's a sun out there, but other than that, we haven't seen much evidence of the sun's existence lately.
If you do the maths on Stefan-Boltsmann's law, you'll find that it takes more than just the Sun to keep us defrosted.

That said, we've have pretty damn nice weather here the last coupla days. I doing my best to synthesise some vitamin D and make sure I catch an early death.

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10. Ruth on May 21, 2010 1:17 PM writes...

I found this at our school book fair and bought it for my 10 year-old. Makes a great addition to the coffee table.

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11. retread on May 21, 2010 1:21 PM writes...

Another book recommendation

If you've ever wondered about the polemics between Stephen Jay Gould (punctuated equilibrium) and other evolutionists (e.g. E. O. Wilson, Richard Dawkins) is all about, try reading "Stephen Jay Gould and the politics of evolution" by David F. Prindle. Being scientifically literate, you've probably heard the hubbub, but unless you're a professional in the field, that's about all you know (like me). All is explained by this (apparently) fair-minded book.

Reading the back and forth in the pages of Nature over the years, the disputes seemed more theological than scientific.

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12. psi*psi on May 21, 2010 7:23 PM writes...

OH COME ON! We could EASILY do a similar book with gorgeous, brightly-colored organics. Hell, I'd be happy to supply a bunch of pictures. Organic semiconductors are pretty.

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13. Cartesian on May 22, 2010 4:37 AM writes...

The table of elements could stay the same with the new model for atom I propose (this is not changing to much things :) ).
See at this address “article 3” first and second part :

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14. Ipsum on May 22, 2010 8:02 PM writes...

I remember that Life book on Matter too. As a teenager, I was also inspired to synthesize elements from chemical compounds. I remember I produced elemental potassium, lithium, and a few others by electrolysis using elemental mercury as an anode. I even popped some light bulbs underwater to capture the (not entirely pure) argon.

Yes, in the overly safety-conscious world we live in today, most kids like me would be arrested. Too bad for all of us. The world is actually becoming quite boring. Safer? I wouldn't really say so.

By the way, I nearly blew myself up once when I released a balloon-sized amount of hydrogen into a plastic 5-gallon water-cooler bottle, and lit it. Rather than the desired rocket, I produced a pound or so of high-density polyethylene shrapnel. What a bang!

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15. Kismet on May 23, 2010 12:08 PM writes...

Why getting arrested? Killing *yourself* is still legal in most parts of the world!

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16. coprolite on May 23, 2010 1:55 PM writes...

killing yourself is illegal in america, and endangering the lives of innocent bystanders is generally frowned upon as well. I'd like to think that my neighbors aren't haphazardly experimenting with hydrogen gas and lithium...but that's just me.

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17. Ipsum on May 23, 2010 6:08 PM writes...

Maybe I should have clarified something... I grew up on a ranch in New Mexico. Our nearest neighbor was 2 miles away. I still stand by my statements about safety. Safety and freedom are inversely related. The more you have of one, the less you have of the other. I'll pick freedom every time.

Most of Derek's funny comments about people who first discovered the properties of things like Dioxygen Diflouride wouldn't be possible without some casual disregard for common sense, on occasion.

The point is, I didn't end up killing myself. What doesn't kill you makes you stronger, and often wiser. Frankly, I'd rather go out with a hydrogen bang than rotting in a nursing home. But that's just me.

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18. coprolite on May 23, 2010 7:47 PM writes...

you can keep your casual disregard for other people away from me. too many people are way too cavalier with no education whatsoever; study the rules then go into the lab. I'm not exaggerating, I kind of find this lackadaisical attitude disgusting.
"I went to mit therefore I have every right to design my own models and not give a s* about the other people around me".....seriously, shut up about not following the rules. you get people hurt, and your attitude that at least you didn't die is very american, very rude. it isn't cool, I don't know who told you it was.

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19. coprolite on May 23, 2010 8:00 PM writes...

I have to apologize for that, I have no connection to japan, I do have an anecdotal story about a coworker that miscarried as a result of someone's carelessness......follow the rules or find another career, the lab isn't a place for teenagers

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20. Ipsum on May 23, 2010 9:17 PM writes...


I spent 11 years in the military, a good part of that in ordinance disposal. Later I worked for a major aerospace contractor. I think I know a bit about freedom, safety, when disregarding safety is lunacy, or when it is called bravery.

It is fascinating that you associate recklessness with being American. You are also jumping to several conclusions.

Watching your buddy blow his hands off because he screwed up wiring a detonator is a pretty good lesson in learning the importance of safety. Yet, I see safety being used today as a tool to manipulate and justify all sorts of things that at another time would never be tolerated.

I won't get into a blog fight with you because I think your motives are genuine. I know that you have completely missed my point, though.

My whole point is this: It is a matter of scale. Our technique should be as safe as possible, our big ideas should be as "dangerous" as possible. By dangerous I mean flying in the face of common sense (climbing the highest mountain, finding the Titanic, going to the Moon, exploring Mars...) That is the "casual disregard" part I meant. My mistake for being unclear.

An example close to home. The Space Shuttle is the most complicated and dangerous machine ever invented. It only works when everyone involved does their job 100 percent perfectly, following every procedure and every safety guideline.

As a kid in the '50's, my dangerous idea was to build a rocket. Unfortunately, my technique for achieving my rocket was equally dangerous. I learned from that experience, and it got me all the way to retirement.

By the way, no hard feelings over your "American" comment. And if you haven't seen it, you need to watch the movie "October Sky." It is a fine example of what I am talking about.

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21. opsomath on May 23, 2010 9:35 PM writes...

Coprolite - Yes, it is just you. A shockingly high fraction of the scientists I have known got their start by blowing stuff up in their garage. Compared to the benefits to society, the risk of harming an innocent bystander is pretty dang low. Now catching your garage on fire, yeah, that happens sometimes.

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22. partial agonist on May 24, 2010 7:39 AM writes...

On one of the last postings about chemistry-related books, someone mentioned "The Periodic Table" by Primo Levi, an older work available in paperback. It is a great read about life as a chemist (and a Jew) in World War II, with many intriguing stories about staying alive and using knowledge of chemistry to make a living in a horrible period of recent history. I recommend it highly.

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23. coprolite on May 24, 2010 9:38 AM writes...

Ipsum--thank you for serving. I love our country dearly, I get frustrated at our culture's sense of entitlement, I get a little excited about safety in the lab, I just don't want anyone to get hurt, especially me.
opso-of course I'm the only one, that's why I bothered to say something. so your garage explosions don't hurt anyone else, eh? where's the closest gas line? what do you do with your waste? how hard are you going to fight back the firefighters when they risk their lives to put out your mess? yeah, I know, benefits to society. good one.

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24. Cartesian on May 26, 2010 3:53 AM writes...

I know a good book in order to judge new ideas, this is about rules which are acknowledged internationally; this is “Conjectures and refutations” by Karl R. Popper.

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25. Peter Fife on June 10, 2010 12:40 PM writes...

Thanks SO MUCH for suggesting The Elements by Theodore Gray. I was captivated by this gorgeousphotographic collection of materials from Theo Gray's private collection of samples. It is a beautiful book, with spellbinding photography and very high quality printing on black paper which gives the pictures an extraordinary quality. I keep it on a carved bookstand in the living room, as if it were a work of art in and of itself. If you haven't been introduced to C.J. Good yet, author of Little Gifts of Sustainable Contentment, then this is a great starting place. The writer has honed experiences and perspectives down into a precise, yet simple collection of teachings that will transform the way you live now.. I intend to buy a book for every one of my friends and family. This will fall under the self help category, but it is much more than a trendy book. This is stuff you can learn right away. Each time I read my book, I hear something unique, or something is highlighted to me more strongly. Very advantageous to anyone who is willing to listen and try some of the ideas presented. I can't say enough about this book. Buy it right away if you can locate it!!!!

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