Sunday, May 18, 2014

Becoming Excited About The Periodic Table

On Chemistry

Image result for The Periodic table
The Periodic Table: In reviewing The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell, Michael Brooks writes that the Table of Elements might hold the answers to fighting news strains of antibodies currently resistant to our antibiotics. “The periodic table makes an appearance because reading its patterns after the Apocalypse will help us find ways to exploit the properties offered by natural substances. It may be worth starting now, however.” 

In a book review article (The Knowledge by Lewis Dartnell), by Michael Brooks, in New Statesman, the Periodic Table gets some notice that might long be overdue. For many students of high school chemistry, the periodic table is a dusty chart of chemical elements with little importance and purpose other than memorizing its elements and its placement on the table to pass an exam or two.

Yet, like many things of our childhood, we grow out of one state and enter another. So, it depends on how one views things. This table of elements is not only a  monumental achievement of human ingenuity that begs for recognition, but moreover, it might hold important information on bettering the human condition.

Brooks writes:
This month, researchers will gather at the Royal Society for two days of meetings about the periodic table of the elements. To most people, the phrase conjures up images of a fading poster on a chemistry lab wall – but to scientists, it is “the most fundamental natural system of classification ever devised” (in the words of the organisers).

And it’s not a thing of the past – the periodic table is still inspiring new angles of research. Because it suggests connections and similarities between elements, it is a source of ideas for extending our range of tools for manipulating nature and finding medical solutions. That third row of transition metals, for instance, might look boring but it isn’t if you have cancer. More than half of chemotherapy patients receive platinum in their treatment but it may not be as effective as some of the other metals in the third row, such as osmium and rhenium, research is discovering.
The periodic table has come a long way since its creation. We have added dozens of elements and have even learned to make 26 elements that nature didn’t get round to creating. By examining the building blocks of the natural world, we have designed some blocks of our own and extended the natural atomic scope by almost a third. According to the astrobiologist Lewis Dartnell, the periodic table is “a colossal monument to achievement, as impressive as the Pyramids or any of the other wonders of the world”. He makes this claim in his book The Knowledge, which was published last month.
That it is. The Russian scientist, Dmitri Mendeleev, is credited with publishing the first internationally recognized periodic table, in 1869, which then contained 65 elements. The beauty of the table is found in its symmetry, in that it tabulates, or shows, the commonality of elements, where a period is one horizontal row on the table of elements; and a group a vertical row. Currently, there are 118 elements on a standard periodic table comprising 7 periods and 18 groups. [When I was in high school, the periodic table was taped to my bedroom wall. For a basic understanding of its arrangement, see here.]

What this article is attempting to say, I would suggest, is that the solution to some of humanity's problems lies in understanding the relationship between and among elements, that is, in understanding the elements that make up our planet. It is about acquiring knowledge and how to apply it, which requires great effort. The earth does not easily reveal its secrets, so to speak. Humans have to dig to unearth it. A book that I would highly recommend is Primo Levi's The Periodic Table, published in 1975.

Of the many problems humanity is now facing, one in particular is not receiving the due it ought to: a host of antibodies are currently resistant to antibiotics. Brooks writes: "Researchers have been warning of the growing threat from antibiotic resistance since the 1980s…. We know, for instance, that the answer to antibiotic resistance, if there is one, must lie within the elements of the periodic table, or the combinations they offer. "

You can read more of the article at [NewStateman].

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