Skip to content

“The Chemistry Book: from gunpowder to graphene, 250 milestones in the history of chemistry” by Derek B. Lowe

‘The Chemistry Book’ is one of a series of ‘milestone’ publications by Sterling Books. To date the series includes maths, physics, medicine, space, drugs, psychology, biology, engineering and law. From the few books that I have perused, all of the books in this series seem worth reading.

Derek Lowe

This is certainly the case with Derek Lowe’s Chemistry Book. Lowe is an industrial chemist, with nearly 30 years’ experience in various medicinal projects. My early impression was that he is a good researcher and writer, with a level of knowledge that only an industry insider in any given field tends to have. Lowe’s writing is so good and well-informed, that I thought he must have other publications worth reading. Indeed he does. He has columns in Chemistry World, and he has a popular blog, In the Pipeline which is so well written, even hilarious, that his writing is accessible to any educated person. The trick is to dance over the difficult terms and just enjoy the intellectual journey. Good writers like Lowe make this possible, hence their importance in science education. Something always sticks from this process: our brains make that possible. Getting educated is the main challenge, in a world so awash with information that it is difficult to differentiate signal from noise. This is where The Chemistry Book and its kind come into their own. You don’t have to be a chemist to get something out of it. I’m not and I read it from cover to cover.

Some basic markers of a good non-fiction book are: Contents – which should facilitate broad navigation; Introduction – which should give a good overview, with navigation pointers; Notes and Further Reading (or references) – which is probably the most important and should point readers to primary sources and areas for further exploration (poor referencing can be a major red flag); and a comprehensive Index – which should facilitate pinpoint navigation for specific items or subjects.

Derek Lowe’s book scores well in all of these areas. Indeed, while perusing his ‘Notes and Further Reading’ section, I spotted The Disappearing Spoon. I promptly borrowed and read it from cover to cover, delaying the Chemistry Book review by months. This created a conundrum in that the details of Lowe’s book are not fresh in my mind. But for review purposes, perhaps that’s not a bad thing. As time goes by, what sticks in our minds is the impact of various things we’re exposed to, with smatterings of cues that unexpectedly pop up for the remainder of our lives, leading us back to the original source. Lowe’s book is of that calibre.

This is a reference book that is not only accessible to lay readers, but which any serious chemist will almost certainly have on his or her shelves for light reading and occasional ready reference. Astute teachers will point students to it, and astute students will find a smorgasbord of ideas to pursue, in chemistry, science, history, and more.

Chemistry is literally the stuff of life. It occupies the middle ground between physics and biology. In this book, you will find snapshots on the discovery and development of various substances, from those familiar to you to more exotic or specialist substances. Along the way, you’ll learn something of the development of science, some of the people involved, and the role of contingency and sheer happenstance.

For example, Ferrocene (pp.370-371) was discovered in 1951 as an unplanned by-product of research into another substance. Ferrocene is an orange-red crystalline solid, the investigation of which “set off a wave of organometallic chemistry research” and widespread use in chemistry, resulting in the 1973 Nobel Prize for a couple of independent researchers. Lowe notes that “it seems strange that such a widely applicable type of compound had been missed for so long”. It turns out that the chemical precursor of Ferrocene when “distilled through an iron apparatus was known to clog the pipe with some worthless yellow-orange stuff. Thus, a Nobel Prize was scrubbed out with a brush and thrown away”.

Such happenstance is found in more familiar, everyday products, like Gore-Tex, which is used in the textile industry. Gore-Tex is essentially expanded PTFE (polytetrafluoroethylene). Most plumbers, engineers, farmers, and handymen know of PTFE, either by that term, or the term ‘teflon’ tape, or just thread-seal tape. In 1969, American chemist Robert W. Gore “was working with rods of PTFE, trying to carefully heat and stretch them, but he wasn’t getting very far…after yet another unsuccessful run, he gave the next heated rod a furious yank in frustration, then watched in amazement as it expanded to nearly eight times its original length. The rod’s diameter hardly changed, though, and experiments showed that ‘expanded PTFE’ was like nothing anyone had made in the field before. It was about 70 percent air and formed of very fine fibers in a porous net”. Apart from textiles, this material has found use in “wire and cable insulation for electronics, medical devices including implants and sutures, and more”. It transpired that New Zealander John W. Cropper produced a similar material three years earlier, “but the company that used Cropper’s material kept it a trade secret, filing no patents”, unlike Gore.

The history of science is full of such stories, which contributes to its fascination. Lowe’s book has more examples than can be done justice to in a brief review. As noted above, there are gems to be found even in the ‘Notes and Further Reading’ section. Your best bet is to read the book for yourself.

Reviewed by Steve

Advertisements

What if you could set the world on fire?

‘The Fireman’ is a contemporary novel by Joe Hill, set in a possible future where a fungal spore has infected humans. The prevailing theory is that global warming melted the polar ice and the spore was underneath it.

Regular people call it ‘Dragonscale’ because when you catch it, your skin starts to show black streaks and get scaly.  That’s not so bad – the worst part is that it causes uncontrollable spontaneous combustion, and many thousands are dying.

Harper is a nurse,  volunteering at a local hospital. She wears full body rubber suiting, and is very careful to follow all safety protocols, because no one seems to know how the disease spreads yet. After the hospital burns down, she retreats to her home to hide out with her husband Jacob.  After discovering she is pregnant, she also finds black streaks… Jacob is furious, and becomes more paranoid as time goes on. Eventually, he decides they must commit suicide together, because there is no hope…

Fortunately, Harper manages to escape and is guided to a camp of infected by a mysterious stranger dressed as a fireman. The camp is full of long-time infected, who have found a way to co-exist with the fungus. They sing to it … and the oxytocin released brings them into a state of being they call The Bright. The fireman explains that the spore feels what the host feels, so if the host feels happy and safe, the spore doesn’t harm the host … it’s only when the spore feels exposed that it may combust and create ash, which is how it transfers to a new host.

Everything is going very well, until the leader of the camp is attacked. His paranoid daughter takes over, and Harper feels increasingly in danger. The fireman, Harper, and a few friends are secretly planning to leave but when their ‘conspiracy’ is discovered, the leader of the camp takes very extreme measures.  All hell breaks loose, but in the chaos Harper manages to escape. After an arduos journey, she and the Fireman finally make it to the famed CDC treatment facility on a remote island, where a cure is being sought. But it’s not what they hoped for….

I enjoyed this novel.  It’s not really a horror, more a dystopia and with plenty of action, but also drama and a touch of romance, I think it would appeal to both men and women.

Natalie

Maths is Fun 2017 – holiday programme

Maths is Fun children’s programme for October school holidays is open for registrations on Monday 11 September 2017.  It’s for children in Year 1 to Year 8 at school (or homeschooled). Children learn to enjoy maths by applying it to create and have fun. Places are strictly limited so register quickly.

Age groups are separated into four age-appropriate separate sessions each, depending on school years:

Level 1 = school year 1 & 2 (half day)
Level 2 = school year 3 & 4 (half day)
Level 3 = school year 5 & 6 (full day)
Level 4 = school year 7 & 8 (full day)

RUNNING TIMES BELOW – MUST BE REGISTERED TO ATTEND

Woodville Library

  • Level 1 : Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 October ; 10am to 12.30pm both days.
  • Level 2: Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 October ; 1.30pm to 4pm both days.
  • Level 3: Wednesday 4 October ; 10am to 12.30pm, then 1.30pm to 4pm.
  • Level 4: Thursday 5 October ; 10am to 12.30pm, then 1.30pm to 4pm.

Eketahuna Library –

  • Level 1: Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 October ; 10.30am to 12.30pm both days.
  • Level 2: Monday 2 and Tuesday 3 October ; 1pm to 3.30pm both days.
  • Level 3: Wednesday 4 October ; 10.30am to 3.30pm.
  • Level 4: Thursday 5 October ; 10.30am – 3.30pm.

Dannevirke Library

  • Level 1 : Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 October ; 9.30am to 12 noon both days.
  • Level 2: Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 October ; 1pm to 3.30pm both days.
  • Level 3: Wed 11 October ; 9.30am to 12 noon then 1pm to 3.30pm (bring lunch/drink)
  • Level 4: Thursday 12 October ; 9.30am to 12 noon then 1pm to 3.30pm (bring lunch/drink)

Pahiatua Library

  • Level 1 : Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 October ; 1pm to 3.30pm both days.
  • Level 2: Monday 9 and Tuesday 10 October ; 9.30am to 12 noon both days.
  • Level 3: Wed 11 October ; 9.30am to 12 noon then 1pm to 3.30pm.
  • Level 4: Thursday 12 October ; 9.30am to 12 noon then 1pm to 3.30pm.

A little white lie never hurt anyone…

Set in Australia, ‘Big Little Lies’ by Liane Moriarty is the contemporary story of three friends, linked because all their five-year-olds have started school together. The novel starts sort of at the end, with the police investigating a mysterious death at the school Trivia Quiz. As they interview parents, in flashback the story begins to unfold about the consequences of a new friendship between three women…

Madeline is forty, with a rebellious teenage daughter from her first marriage, and a young son and daughter from her second marriage to Ed. To complicate matters, her first husband has moved nearby with his new wife and their five-year-old daughter has started at the same school.

Celeste is the beautiful wife of an extremely successful hedge-fund manager, Perry, and they have twin five-year-old boys. They live in a huge mansion on the waterfront, and have so much money Celeste doesn’t know what to do with it all. On the surface, their life looks perfect, but as the story progresses, we come to know that there is a very dark secret.

Jane is twenty-four and she recently moved because she is looking for someone … hoping and yet, not hoping, to find him.  Unfortunately, on his first day, five-year-old Ziggy is accused of bullying a little girl.  He is ‘convicted’ by public opinion, even though he swears he didn’t do anything, and other children are instructed to shun him. Furious at this treatment of her new friend, Madeline starts a cold war with the other mothers and the school is soon divided. As the school term progresses, the shennagins of the mothers continue while Jane is quietly trying to uncover the real truth.

Meanwhile, Celeste takes steps to achieve a better future.  But it’s a fine line she’s walking, and the consequences end up being extremely dire.

Also produced for television by Netflix, starring Nicole Kidman, Reese Witherspoon and Shailene Woodley.

Poetry competition entry 2017: View from above

 View from Above

Stars burn their bright fires

Above a world of steel and wires

Concrete acres sound nature’s knell

Would anything burn if the stars fell?

 

Elegant moon, cool and aloof

Glancing down on the city’s roof

What does she see of beauty or note

In the human playground, the land we smote?

 

Regal sun all ablaze

Can’t melt the plastic we ditch in our maze

Finding its way to the warming sea

To choke the life that should be free

 

Celestial bodies I cringe beneath you

To think of how we’ve spoiled your view

The land so changed, the sea so sullied

Bounteous earth so stripped and muddied

 

What beauty then do we commit

Worthy of being heaven-lit?

Art must be our saving grace

For you to look on from yawning space

 

Amid destruction we still create

Two thirsts, it seems, we cannot slake

And with painted image and written phrases

We still look up and sing your praises

 

 

© Beatrice Hudson

Poetry Competition 2017 : Winners … ta da!

People’s Choice AwardFor the love of music  (72 views)

Poetry Competition Winner: Forest Fungi

Congratulations to Amy Phillips, and Hayden Macdonald. Winners will be contacted shortly.

Thank you to everyone who participated this year.  See you next year!

 

Check out the Power of Poetry  http://www.powerpoetry.org/about

Poetry competition entry 2017 : Exits

Exits

know your exits

like the rivers in your hand

know your nearest exit

like a palm reader.

 

Side step the rabbit holes

deep by design,

loop around loop

and back around.

 

Take olive oil

thats fresh and green

to get you out slick

just fine.

 

Bow your head forward

calibrate in your grounding

your circumference,

your middle earthen earth.

 

Tend to your books

square your numbers

work in the craft soil,

the warm and pungent damp.

 

Oil your branches

your heart line,

know your nearest kind.

 

©  Josie Connor

Poetry competition entry 2017: The Slap

The Slap 

Squeezed under a bed

steamy breaths on hot necks, hearts thumping in young chests

a grizzly beast stomping up the steps

Herbert, the Grandfather

comes

to visit

Flushed out like rabbits, we’d run, but he’d get us

 

Hauled up on his knees one by one, he’d inspect us

We’d wriggle, fight, kick and cry, desperate

to get away

before

the giant

mottled

hand

closing in on the thigh

delivered 

THE HORSEBITE

He’d roar, sinewy and spittle,

unable to contain his pleasure

tight creases around his eyes

softening in triumph.

 

We’d slip down once his grip turned to jelly

And run!

Loathing firing out of our fingertips like darts,

out of our toes,

spewing out on our breath,

the roots of our hair

standing

on end

 

The angry red welt

would appear on my thigh, sometimes two, overlapped,

a criss-cross memory of pain

and on my sister’s thigh, my brother’s

 

Later, I got rid of his smirk.

A fringe of white lashes shadowing

two cold blue lakes

lie hidden under scribbled brown crayon

 

Death calls in its own time

to Thames, in Epsom,

while out walking, in bed sleeping

Those who gather for a wake

tell the story of a life

 

There they all were,

strangers

taking up the space in the kitchen, the sitting room

drinking and drunk

nostalgic and rheumy

eating off my mother’s best china

Rowdy and raucous

vomiting on the hydrangeas

Ash from forgotten cigarettes

falling on the rose patterned carpet

 

My mother

patient, flushed, weeping silently

behind staring eyes

 

My father

head uplifted

blue skies

dancing

in his eyes,

sighed a sigh

with the force of a thousand winds

blowing to Africa never to return,

and uttered, ‘He’s gone’.

 

©  Julie Biuso

 

Poetry competition entry 2017: Dialogue Adonis and the Hetaira

Dialogue Adonis and the Hetaira

Adonis was moved to enquire

Of a high born hetaira her hire

And if she’d agree

To forfeit her fee

Should desire engender desire

 

To which the hetaira replied

“Your logic cannot be denied.

Adonis

Should I state as a fact

There’s no joy in the act

You’d likely suspect that I lied”

 

“Would conscience but let me escape!”

Said Adonis, while peeling a grape

“To plunder your treasure

Without giving pleasure

Would render me guilty of rape.”

Her countenance darkened to thunder

“Your scruples could drive us asunder!

I’d call it obscene”

Cried she “If you mean

To deprive me of pleasure in plunder!

 

I’d surely not charge to the hilt

Any youth so impressively built

My fee isn’t large:

And to pay as I charge

Would serve to relieve you of guilt.

 

Moreover, my handsome young man

If all goes according to plan

Tonight you and me

Will guiltlessly be

Disporting upon a divan.”

© Keith Henderson

 

Adonis: Exceedingly beautiful youth of ancient Greek myth. Courted by the love goddess, Venus

Hetaira: In ancient Greece a hetaira was a female hired to provide companionship to adult males. Whether (as this poem assumes) this included sexual favours is a matter of scholarly debate.

Poetry competition entry 2017 : Untitled II

Untitled II

My heart is a conch.
Press your ear here, love;
listen-

An ocean heaves for you,
it turns over every rock
again and again
and again. 

“Onwards”- heed it.
But I remain;
lichen-clothed and half-buried.

My heart is a conch.
A specked carapace;
all ridges and spines,
all echo and echo 

and echo. 

 

© Jess Carter

 

Poetry competition entry 2017 : A life of hurting

A Life of Hurting

Death seems the best way

But what would that achieve

Pain is temporary relief

But how do you hide the scars

 

I always feel like nobody cares

When I know deep inside that they really do

Why don’t they show it more

To make me show myself

Why do people hide their feelings

It only makes things worse

Bottling up your emotions

Does not make you a better person

 

To make life work for you

Is almost an impossible task

Things are sent to try us

To see if we can take the strain

 

If life was like a lullaby

We would all be better people

But there’s always some big problem

That stands in our way of happiness

 

Life is a light at the end of a tunnel

Something you can’t reach until you die

So maybe when it’s our time to leave

Will be when we start living our lives

 

© Karen Wright

Poetry competition entry 2017: Love on the beach

Love on the Beach

As we cackle into the end

Of the coastal coarse road,

The succulent sunlight

Forces our skin to erode,

And while I glide down

Silvery streams

Time mentions my name

Again, and again,

Until I hold her hand

To breath

In the depths of

Her passion

Gliding her sculpted fingers

Through the abundant

Shaved shells;

The future mentions

Sensuality, although

I cannot hear the words

The warning of pleasure

The power of woman

On an empty beach – this

Decorated by love

Our very plasm of heat.

 

©  Max Duncan

Poetry competition entry 2017 : Angels Round Here

Angels round here

wear Redbands

and never work nine to five.

 

They rarely take an hour for lunch.

 

Sometimes at night

they burn hellfire

for warmth.

 

Angels round here

feed motherless lambs

and smother Marmite on toast.

 

They have oilskin wings.

 

Sometimes they take

things they love

for granted.

 

Angels round here

mow church lawns

and help out at the school.

 

They split dry wood for the old.

 

Sometimes their faces

are well-weathered maps

to their hearts.

 

Angels round here

love their families

and are quite often sad.

 

They chase rain-coloured clouds.

 

Sometimes they ride

the roughshod storm

after a calm day.

 

Angels round here

don’t always agree

with their fathers.

 

They do things their own way.

 

Sometimes they quietly

scream for help

without asking.

 

Angels round here

carry their crosses

like lovers.

 

They have demons to discover.

 

Sometimes they can’t

tell the difference

between them.

 

Angels round here

wear wide-brim halos at

half mast.

 

They honour the fallen.

 

Sometimes they rise

with the dawn

to remember.

 

Angels round here

seldom believe

in themselves.

 

They are part of the landscape.

 

Sometimes they exist

only in lives

of other angels.

 

© Tim Saunders

Poetry competition entry 2017 : Tainui’s Canoe

Tainuis Canoe

Bound south from Tahiti they set to sea

In a canoe made out of a tree

Setting their course by sun & star

They sought a land they hoped was not far

The waves were mountains high & the wind was strong

But still their little craft did battle on

Each gale that came they fought it through

Until they sighted a land which was new

Wayworn & starved they strained their weary eyes

To that strange land far in the west that lies

With joyful voices they shouted long & loud

This is the looked for land of The Long White Cloud

 

© Ian Mollison

Poetry competition entry 2017 : Dr Seuss’s BIG Secret

Dr Seuss’s BIG Secret

Has anyone wondered when reading Doc’s books?

How most of his animals got their queer looks?

Did he only imagine the Lorex and Cat?

Or is something more sinister under that Hat!

 

The Sneetches and Grinch and all of his creatures,

I reckon I know, of what they all teach us,

I think our good doc was the first of his kind,

Of BIOTECH scientists we’ll ever find!

 

His creatures are all the result of G.M!!

Its real plain to see, just look closely at them.

They don’t look animals I‘ve ever seen,

And the reason is clear; he’s messed with their gene!

 

I reckon that somewhere in Monsanto’s stock.

You’ll find all his creatures behind key and lock.

There’s no other way, let’s not be absurd!

To give to old Horton an elephant bird!

 

I have to believe it, don’t know about you,

That a gene gun was used for thing one and thing two!

A giraffe was involved, I’m certain of that.

It explains the long neck of the Cat in the Hat.

 

Forget about drawings and books for the young,

Our Doctor Seuss was Monsanto’s big gun!

Yes he drew lovely pictures and books for school teachers,

But his real obsession was making the creatures!

 

Bio tech companies will open the door.

We know that they’ll do it, they‘ve done it before!

Let’s hope he made sure that he threw out the key

‘Cos the last thing we want is for them to go free!

 

There’s no doubt about it, with their brains and cunning.

It wouldn’t take long and the world they’d be running!

They’d take over the planet, and get rid of us

They would manage it quickly, without any fuss

 

There’s one way to save us, a really great plan,

Oh I am so brilliant, I know that I am!

We’ll close all the borders and stop all the trains,

No swimming, no submarines, rockets or planes.

It’s the only thing for it, so here’s what I say

We’ll keep them marooned in the U.S. of A!!

 

But hang on a sec; it’s popped out of my mind!

Doc’s creatures are always big hearted and kind.

Perhaps they may not be our own kith and kin,

But they’ll save us I’m sure, from the mess that we’re in!

 

They can run all the companies, countries and banks

They’ll do a great job and deserve all our thanks.

They’re bound to be better, there’s no need to ask us.

Than the ones we have now, with their really high taxes!

 

With the Lorex in charge of all forest and land.

He’ll put it back right, oh won’t it be grand!

And Horton can run all the governments too

{The ones we have now will do best in the zoo!}

 

Dr Seuss will be glad as he floats up above

That his books and his drawings are things that we love.

But let’s not be fooled. What is more to the point.

He made all his creatures for saving the joint!!

That’s his big secret .yes that’s what he meant

Dr Seuss; we all love you one hundred percent!  

 

© Lyn Charlton