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Archive for December, 2010

A Metallic World

Wednesday, December 1st, 2010

Scratched copper plate. (Photo by Tymcode via Flickr)

I have always disliked chemistry. My high school chemistry class was horrible. The teacher, mean and incompetent, did nothing to inspire his students, and I ended up with a strong contempt for elements and compounds.  Much to my chagrin, I had to take a year of general chemistry and a year of organic chemistry (I was a biology major at the time) in college, and though my experiences were a little better, I failed to end up with an appreciation of the periodic table and complex organic molecules.

Several weeks ago, I decided to give chemistry another chance with the book Oliver Sacks’ book Uncle Tungsten. Within its pages I found a wondrous world of chemicals and metals I had never known before. Whether it was the childish enthusiasm conveyed in his words or the poetry of his writing, something drew me in.

I found myself particularly fascinated by his stories of growing up during World War I and World War II. It’s hard for me to imagine living in a place where air raid sirens were all too familiar much less being forced to attend a boarding school (where you were supposed to be safe from the war) where a regular practice was beatings. How could he survive that hardship and remain psychologically intact?