A group of children are playing statue on the lawn. The leader yells ‘freeze”, and thy all stop still as a rock–or at least as still as children can be. There is no doubt that these kids are made up of snips and snails and puppy dog tails. But that’s not all. They ar also made up of just one hundred eighteen elements that chemists have identified. These elements combine in enough ways to create everything we know.
Some of those same hundred plus elements make up the copper-colored rock on the hillside that breaks loose and skitters down the bank into the road, causing a car to swerve to avoid it. The rock moves faster than the children, but, of course, it is not alive. That is unless you consider the electrons spinning around the protons and neutrons in these one hundred eighteen elements a sort of life. Or you are a Tarahumara Indian who knows even rocks can be alive. Everything in sight is made up of arrangements and rearrangements, links and bonds, emulsions, suspensions, layers, fusions, transformations of the same one hundred eighteen elements. These are not just random arrangements. These are arrangements that follow the rules.
For centuries inquisitive minds have observed the world and have developed theories about how it all works. Little by little–sometimes two steps forward and one step back–we have pieced together information to help understand our lives and our world. Sometimes it’s for the better, sometimes for the worse. Scientists started naming elements over two hundred years ago, and it hasn’t stopped yet.
Some of those children on the lawn may continue this quest. They may discover combinations that will lead to cures for disease or weapons for destruction. What is the combination of snips and snails and carbon and oxygen that will lead one to be a chemist, another a dancer, a third a philosopher?
That question is one that may be answered by those for whom the fascination of the atom is too great to resist. One such person, not long ago a child like those on the lawn, my be Yinon Bentor. I do not know him except by his work. In 1996, as an eighth grader in North Carolina, he started a project to enter in a science fair. The periodic table is a chart that lists all the known elements in groups according to their properties. Yinon found very little online on periodic tables, and for his project he created an interactive periodic table for the web. He completed the project in about a month.
Yinon has continued to update his project and it is still available for all to see. What I have learned from viewing his work is more than I remember from a semester of chemistry/\. It is a glimpse into the world around us through the eyes of a youth who takes nothing for granted.–one who sees the grand in the miniscule, and who has not learned his limitations and therefore has none.
I am not a chemist, but I’m impressed. To see if you are, visit http://chemicalelements.com/