The Periodic Table Book: A stunning visual encyclopedia of the elements
208pp., hbk., RRP $A35.00
Watch any quiz show on television and there is bound to be a question about the Periodic Table, that, odd-shaped mysterious, multi-coloured chart that decorates the walls of science classrooms and labs and which to many, including me, remains a mystery even after it is studied and memorised.
However, in this bright, brand-new publication from DK (Dorling Kindersley) those new to the wonders of chemistry are able to understand it better through the use of clear explanations and thousands of photographs and diagrams, starting with an explanation of just what an element is. “Everything in nature, from the mountains and the oceans to the air we breathe and food we eat are made up of simple substances called elements… The elements are rarely found in their pure form. Mostly, they are combined with each other to make compounds, which make up substances around us. To find out more about the elements, we need to take a good look at the periodic table …it shows the key information for each element, grouping them into similar types. With this information we can use the elements to make the things we need. Every element has its own story of where it comes from, what it can do, and how we use it.”
So it’s a bit like baking a cake – you put some butter, sugar, eggs and flour in particular proportions together and the chemical reaction amongst them when heat is applied leads to a cake we can eat, rather than four separate ingredients that are not so palatable. Or. as my son the chef keeps telling me, “It’s about how the ingredients work together that produces the dish.”
Using the stunning DK layout of photos, bite-sized chunks of text and white space that is their signature style, it begins with an explanation of what elements are (that even I can understand), through to ancient ideas about alchemy, a very clear explanation of inside an atom (I do remember that it was a New Zealander, Sir Ernest Rutherford who first split it but never understood what that meant or its impact),so the reader is taken on a on a visual tour of the 118 chemical elements of the periodic table, from argon to zinc. It explores the naturally occurring elements, as well as the man-made ones, and explains their properties and atomic structures. Each has a ready-reference summary of its atomic structure, physical and chemical properties, and the compounds it occurs more frequently in, as well as photographs of it in its raw state, its origins and uses (who knew that sodium was a key element of both mummification and fireworks) so that everything begins to make sense. There is even one of those charts tucked into a pocket at the back, perfect for the bedroom wall, the toilet door or the classroom.
While I have managed to reach a senior age without knowing too much about chemistry, it is very different for today’s students as so many new technological developments, medical breakthroughs and as-yet-unknown jobs rely on a knowledge and understanding of chemistry, the elements that make up this world and others, and how and why that periodic table is what it is. With STEM being the primary focus of so many curricula, this is a must-have for both the beginner and experienced junior scientist. Instead of just memorising “Happy Henry Lives Beside Boron Cottage, Near Our Friend Nelly Nancy MgAllen. Silly Patrick Stays Close. Arthur Kisses Carrie” or “Here He Lies Beneath Bed Clothes, Nothing On, Feeling Nervous, Naughty Margret Always Sighs, Please Stop Clowning Around” or singing The Periodic Table Song students will understand the basis of chemistry as a subject and see the relevance of it to their own world.
Perhaps if I came from an era of where it was more than reciting so the chanting was accompanied by explanation, connection and understanding, I would be a better cook today. No, perhaps not!