There Will Be Smoke.

Last week this quote fell into my inbox:

There is a beauty in discovery. There is mathematics in music, a kinship of science and poetry in the description of nature, and exquisite form in a molecule. Attempts to place different disciplines in different camps are revealed as artificial in the face of the unity of knowledge. All literate men are sustained by the philosopher, the historian, the political analyst, the economist, the scientist, the poet, the artisan and the musician.–Glenn T. Seaborg, scientist, Nobel laureate (19 Apr 1912-25 February 1999)

It fell into my inbox as part of Anu Garg’s A Word A Day, a daily email that gives a word, its definition, and then closes with a quote from a famous person who was born on that particular day. Seaborg’s quote didn’t have anything to do with the day’s word, lilac, so there was no mention that he was the first person to have an element named after him in his lifetime–no.106 is Seaborgium. The other is Yuri Oganessian with Oganesson, no.118.

As a kid I had a chemistry set. I started out with it doing some of the more “educational” experiments, trying to learn serious stuff about chemistry, but then I realized I was only interested in making cool looking crystals or colors or blowing stuff up–which is why I added potassium permanganate and glycerin to my collection of chemicals. By the way, if you don’t know what potassium permanganate and glycerin do when mixed together and you have young children, go to the drugstore and buy some of each. Then take some modeling clay and form it into a volcano and put about a tablespoon of potassium permanganate crystals in it. Pour some glycerin on top of that, then stand back. It’s best if you do this experiment outside. There will be plenty of smoke.

In addition to attempting to burn down my parents’ house I also tried collecting as many elements in their pure (or almost pure) state as I could. I remember having samples of sulfur, lead, a small bottle of mercury I tried to freeze (unfortunately the freezer wouldn’t go down to -40), some zinc, and maybe a few others. I never did my hands on the ones I really wanted–selenium, bismuth, bromine, thorium, or arsenic. I didn’t want these elements because they were dangerous–I just wanted them because they were unusual and interesting.

Yeah, I also kind of wanted them because they were dangerous.

Now there’s the internet with this interactive periodic table with all kinds of cool stuff, like amazing pictures of bismuth and a radioactive toy that came in cereal boxes that kids could put up to their eye.

I don’t know if that caused any smoke.

Also there’s a law that any mention of the periodic table must be accompanied by this song. Or at least there should be.

 

15 Comments

  1. Ann Koplow

    Element-ary, my dear Waldrop.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Once again you’ve demonstrated your powers of deduction, and I am thoroughly grateful.

      Reply
  2. Arionis

    No Plutonium 239 in your set? Didn’t Sheldon sing that song on an episode of the Big Bang Theory once?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Yes, Sheldon got drunk and started singing that song, and as an old Tom Lehrer fan I fell off the couch laughing when he launched into it. I think they cut it off before he could do the whole song and Sheldon, of all people, should know that Lehrer’s song falls short by about seventeen currently known elements, but it was still hilarious.

      Reply
  3. Kristine @MumRevised

    I love that song but it will be in my head all day much like cobalt, iron, rubidium, selenium, zinc, chromium, silver, cesium, antimony, and scandium. Those are just off the top of my head 😉 (or google, which is close).

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      That’s a pretty impressive list for just off the top of your head, although I’m sorry for getting that song stuck in your head. When there’s a song stuck in your head like that there is only one cure.

      Reply
  4. Gilly

    When I want to make smoke, I just use some food and my oven. I do it quite regularly.

    Just off to learn that song. What a simple little ditty. 🙂

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      If your oven is producing as much smoke as the mixture of potassium permanganate and glycerin then there’s something seriously wrong with your oven. Hopefully it’s not also producing the same amount of flame.
      And here’s a fun fact: Tom Lehrer wrote the lyrics but the tune is from Gilbert & Sullivan. Pirates Of Penzance, I believe.

      Reply
  5. Chuck Baudelaire

    I began to obsess over the fact that Seaborg appeared to have been born and died on the same date. Finally I had to Google it. Actually he died on February 25. Then I could read the rest of the post.

    You never know what effect your writing will have on people, is what I’m saying.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you for pointing that out. I’ve corrected it and also fired the editor, who was me. And now I’ve hired a new editor, also me. He’s kind of on probation at the moment.

      Reply
  6. Jay

    I love that child’s curiosity…when do we lose it? Or are yous till trying to blow shit up?

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      When I can I still try to blow shit up. I may grow up someday but I’m not in any hurry.

      Reply
  7. mydangblog

    I really need to try that volcano experiment, or at least grow cool crystals. I love the Elements song–the character Sheldon also sang it on Big Bang Theory.

    Reply
    1. Christopher Waldrop (Post author)

      Thank you for reminding me about those cool crystal kits. As a kid I tried to grow some rock candy, but didn’t dissolve the sugar correctly and let the whole thing sit in a corner for, er, a couple of weeks at least. The results were…not pleasant.
      And Sheldon’s performance of the elements song was great, but here’s an equally fun song about the elements.

      Reply
  8. mydangblog

    Sorry–I didn’t see the comments above where you already referenced Sheldon! Great minds think alike, I guess!

    Reply

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