With my daughter safely back in Utah beginning her freshman year at the Univeristy of Utah and the ISPC symposium done, I have returned this week to documenting/ photographing books related to this project. I have progressed to the early modern period (18th and 19th Centuries) and the foundations of modern chemistry (what Robert Boyle at the time called “Chymistry”). I have, in fact, photographed a 1680 edition of his “Sceptical Chymist” (the 1661 that CHF has is so rare that I don’t dare touch it). The 1680 edition has the advantage of having some additional notes by Boyle published in the back. It was very interesting reading through the text and finding references to Paracelsus and Van Helmont. He wrote the book as a dialogue between several people, the main voice being an experimental chemist who argued for overthrowing the Aristotelian ideas that had dominated chemistry for so long. Because Boyle advocates experimentation and observation over dogma, this book is considered the birthplace of chemistry as a science. Boyle also speaks out in favor of a “corpuscular” theory of matter, reviving the long neglected atomic matter theory. In his words:
” … there may be some Clusters of Particles, wherein the Particles are so minute, and the Coherence so strict, or both, that when Bodies of Differing Denominations, and consisting of such durable Clusters, happen to be mingl’d, though the Compound Body made up of them may be very Differing from either of the Ingredients, yet each of the little Masses or Clusters may so retain its own Nature, as to be again separable, such as it was before. As, when Gold and Silver being melted together in a Due Proportion . . . Aqua Fortis will dissolve the Silver, and leave the Gold untoucht.” (Pp. 152-153)
I’ve also been photographing works by Amedeo Avogadro, John Dalton (a first edition of his landmark 1808 book A New System of Chemical Philosophy), Antoine Lavoisier, Nicholas Lemery (who wrote a textbook on chemistry in 1675), Humphry Davy, and others.
I have continued to photograph a few more technical books as well, including the amazing Amphitheatrum sapiente by Heinrich Khunrath and the wonderful Utrisque cosmi maioris by Robert Fludd. Both have detailed illustrations. Khunrath’s book has engravings that are so packed it would take hours to find all the information they contain, and Fludd was a polymath similar to Leonardo Da Vinci;
his book covers all kinds of subjects from astrology to the creation of the elements to practical geometry to musical mathematic theory (and how to tune a lute) to how to build a water clock that plays music to how to draw the human face to how to build military fortifications (including a cannon battlement that can be moved forward on wheels – much like Da Vinci’s armored tank)
. . . anyway, it was a fun book to look at, and I am amazed at the level of knowledge and technology it displays given it was written between 1617 and 1634.
My biggest discovery this week has been a collection in our archives of the notes of Edward Mazurs, who wrote the definitive work on classifying different systems of periodic tables in 1957 with a revised edition in 1974 (Graphic Representations of the Periodic System During One Hundred Years; University of Alabama Press). Mazurs was a professor of chemistry at the University of Riga in Latvia until he escaped the Soviet occupation following World War II. After working for many years at Argo Corn Products in Chicago, first as a janitor and later as a chemist, he retired from Argo and moved to Santa Barbara, CA where he taught at Westmont College.
He collected articles and wrote extensive, detailed notes on every version of the periodic table he could find as it developed from its start in the early 1860s with the work of de Chancourtois through 1974. All of those notes have been donated to CHF and fill up ten binders, with meticulous drawings, charts, tables, and frequent additions and changes. There are also some pieces of the original artwork prepared for the book, and a wooden model of the periodic table Mazurs built himself. I am including photos of a few of the more interesting forms of the table here.
As for me, I’ve struggled for years to teach the periodic law to first-year chemistry students and find the structure of the common medium-format table to be a hindrance when explaining the electronic structure of atoms. The order of electron orbital filling is simply too hard to grasp using the usual table. Mazurs came to the conclusion – and so have I – that a left-step table works best, as shown here. As one progressed through the eight periods (rows) one adds electron orbitals in the correct order. The only remaining problem is the First Period – hydrogen is OK in the alkali metal column (that’s where it usually is placed) but helium doesn’t belong in the alkaline earth family, at least not chemically (although it does electronically as it has filled an s-orbital).
Perhaps hydrogen and helium should be floated above the main table as they are now in the medium-long format. But that is for chemical theorists and philosophers to debate on. In the meantime, I continue to photograph a few more books in my remaining week at CHF, then packing up and driving back to Utah. I had hoped to have an episode or two completely done by now, but have made the decision to spend my time at CHF acquiring more materials rather than editing; the final edits will have to wait until I get back to Utah. Sorry about the delay, but by the end of September the first two podcast episodes will be done. With what I plan on videotaping on my way back to Utah and what we already have done, there will be enough material to make approximately 30 episodes. Now I just need to find the time and funds to edit it all.