“The Disappearing Spoon” – That Way-Cool Periodic Table



A Weekly Column with J. Torrey McClain

There are combinations of nerddom or geekdom or awesomedom (however you’d like to describe persons with passionate interests in a given subject) that are simple.  A love of chess and a love of The Lord of the Rings can lead to buying a Lord of the Rings-themed chess set.  A love of Chuck, Alien Nation, and cosplay can lead to Tenctonese Buy More employees Alien and Predator can lead to Batman: Dead End. (AK47, gone, not forgotten.)

Then, there are combinations that have built on each other for hundreds of years, as a love of science fiction can lead to a love of sciences and exploring that interest through reading books on astronomy, physics or chemistry (or vice versa).  I can’t remember why I came upon Disappearing Spoon And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements by Sam Kean, but its combination of history, familiar names of the past and the ability to summon up the image of the corner of my high school chemistry class, made it enthralling to me every morning and evening during my subway commute.  It may not be as obvious as a Star Wars Monopoly set, but in this book and contained in those stories are links to older wonders that we Knights of Wonderfulness, we Kings and Queens of Comic-Con explore.

Disappearing Spoon

There is talk about how carbon can bind together and combine and stack in so many ways as to create our lives as organic beings.  There’s talk about what life might be like for a silicon-based organism.  There’s the thought of electrons swirling around the nucleus of an atom and how it differs from the idea of the planets revolving around the sun, which was a common analogy (and a spark of “whoa” to any youngster thinking of different worlds.)  There’s the idea of the fine structure constant, known as alpha, and how subtle changes might have affected the development of life, and the idea that it may not be a “constant” in regards to the rest of the universe, leaving us possibly alone in the cosmos.  There are thoughts behind alchemy and trying to change lead into gold and the foolhardy nature of those attempts.  Alchemy leads to the idea of pathological science and trying to use science to explain the afterlife or prove the existence of cold fusion.

I look at those ideas and think of all of the many stories that could be told of the future when we figure out how to change the fundamental understanding of chemistry to mold into a plot device to create adventure or to use it to fully explain the machinations of madmen in the fantastical past.  I see riches, I see universes and I see danger.  After reading this tome, I want to transport myself back to my high school days where I gazed up at that poster on the wall and dreamed about all the elements there and now want to discover more of those secrets.

But, time travel to the past isn’t possible (yet), so instead, I’ll have to find a way to get a periodic table into my apartment, to remind me of the research that I can do and where I can find the starts of stories in subtle changes of how chemistry, as we know it now, works.  So, I quest to find art.  Here are a few favorites that I have found and if you know of any others, feel free to let me know.

Periodic table table

Periodic Table Coffee Table

The Wooden Periodic Table Table seen in the Nova episode, “Hunting the Elements” created by Theodore Gray is a one of a kind, but oh so cool as many of the elements open to reveal samples. What a cool way to experience the elements. Since I have little skill with woodwork though, I’ll have to figure out a different way to get that kind of cool table.  The Simple Periodic Coffee Table would be quite the living room addition and it is handcrafted, so it would be its own one of a kind.

Periodic Table Duvet

For a lot less money, I could turn my bedroom into my ode to chemistry with a Periodic Table Duvet.  Now, if I could just find a way to lie down on the ceiling so I can stare off into space at the periodic table on my bed.

Periodic Table Poster

One might say the easier solution would be to lie down on my bed and stare at the periodic table on the ceiling.  That’s how I might use this periodic table poster.  However, I might just have to settle for it framed and hanging above my headboard so it doesn’t look like I’ve gone back to college.  If I did, the next thing you know, I’d have posters of foamy beverages and scantily clad ladies taped randomly on the walls.

periodic table mug

Periodic Table Mug

Of course, the simplest and least expensive way to get more periodic table in my life (I’ve got a fever, and the only prescription is more periodic table) would be to get it on a coffee mug.  Then, every morning as caffeine jogs my mind into action, I can just gaze and smile at my own periodic table and think about all the stories within it.  Just like in high school, only with a bit more history and a lot fewer accidental explosions.

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