Posts Tagged ‘societe de chimie industrielle’

Once each year I like to go over the statistics for this blog in detail to see what posts have been the most popular, which search terms are finding this blog, which videos are most watched, etc. I’m not doing this just for an ego trip, but to be able to report the impact this site is having. I have had some very generous sponsors over the three years this blog has been running, especially the American Section of the Société de Chimie Industrielle (which paid for my fellowship in 2009) and the Chemical Heritage Foundation, which provided such a wealth of resources in its collections on the history of chemistry. It was during the time of my fellowship that this blog really began to find an audience, and it has been growing ever since.

Stats for the Elements Unearthed

Monthly Stats for the Elements Unearthed Blog

So here is where this blog stands: As of today, there have been a total of 67,620 visits to this site. As seen by the histogram, the number of visits has shown a definite annual pattern consistent with the school year – visits are lower in the summer when school is not in session, rise in August and September, stay high in October and November, dip a bit in December due to Winter Vacation, then rise again in January and February and peak in March, then gradually decrease as the school year winds down in April and May. This same pattern has repeated for the last three school years, but has grown each year. Last year, in the 2010-2011 school year, my best months were slightly above 3000 visits. Now they are topping out above 4000 and I hope they will hit 5000 by March.

Granted, compared to some popular blogs with thousands of hits per day, 5000 per month doesn’t sound like much. However, I am pleased – this is a rather esoteric blog dedicated to the history of chemistry and chemistry education. The yearly pattern shows that I am reaching my intended audience of high school students and teachers. This is also shown by the types of searches that reach my blog.

Although there are always some unrelated search terms that somehow reach my blog (the biggest ones are “Ocean City, New Jersey” and “Punxsatawney Phil” because I visited both places in 2009 and showed some pictures), by far the majority of search terms are related to chemistry and its history or to science education in general. I’ve gone through the search terms and compiled them into categories, mostly so that I can make plans for the future. Here are the top searches that reach this blog: (1) Greek Matter Theories (3473 searches) with Aristotle, Democritus, and Thales being the biggest ones; (2) the Periodic Table of elements (2288); (3) beryllium (1600); (4) Alexandre Beguyer de Chancourtois (1397) – this is a bit surprising, but apparently my animation of his telluric screw periodic system and description of his work is one of the few sites out there about him; (5) the Tintic Mining District (1041); (6) the history of the periodic table (868); (7) science education (862), especially using iPads in science classes; (8) early modern chemistry (822), including Lavoisier, Boyle, Priestley, Dalton, and Newton; (9) alchemy (732), with love potions, Khunrath, Basil Valentine, Zosimos, and Maier the highest; (10) water and wind turbines (618); (11) strange attractors (586) – this is another odd one, since I only mentioned it once, but it was in my most popular post; (12) mercury (554); (13) early technology (514), such as Roman glass, Pliny the Elder, Agricola, Neri, and others; (14) mining in general (455) – such terms as overburden, open pit mine, ball mill, and headframe; and (15) Cripple Creek, Colorado (315).

Top Posts for this blog

Top Posts for the Elements Unearthed Blog

The videos that I have created for this project are posted on this blog (under the video tab) and on YouTube. The History of the Periodic Table, featuring Dr. Eric Scerri of UCLA, is my biggest hit so far. All parts of this video have been watched a total of 11,474 times as of 1/7/2012. There are even a few derivative works on YouTube that take parts of my video – a section on Henry Moseley, for example – and combine it with parts of other videos with Bill Nye, etc. I’ve had quite a few comments on how useful this video has been for chemistry teachers out there, and I am very pleased with the results so far. There is also a version with Portuguese subtitles done by a professor in Brazil; I’m not sure how many times that has been seen. My separate video that showed only some animations of the periodic table has been watched 416 times.

The second most popular videos have been the two parts on beryllium – its properties and uses, and how it is mined and refined. It has been watched a total of 3219 times, with the separate video on the geology of beryllium watched itself an additional 153 times. The Discovery of Synthetic Diamonds has been watched 745 times and the demonstration of Glass Blowing 754 times. These have been the most popular videos related to this project.

In conclusion, the most important question is: Have I succeeded in my attempt to bring the history of chemistry and chemistry education to the general public, and specifically to teachers and students? All indications, based on these statistics, are that I am succeeding and that that success is continuing to grow.

The last several posts have been about astronomy and space science education, and although some search terms have reached these posts, not many have. For various reasons, not the least of which is that I want to keep this blog focused on my original intent, I am starting a new blog which should be up and running by Wednesday night on space science education and resources for teachers to use now that we are in the golden age of astronomy. I will be doing quite a bit of education outreach on these topics over the next few years, if all goes well, and they deserve to have their own blog. I will include links here once that is ready to visit. I will post to this new blog once per week on Wednesdays.

The statistics also point out which topics have been most popular, and give me direction on what to post about in the future. In my next post, I will give you a schedule of what I intend to discuss over the next year and a half and when I will have the related videos completed. I will try to post once per week, probably on weekends. I have much more material from my fellowship at the Chemical Heritage Foundation that I haven’t shown or discussed here yet, and I look forward to digging into it all. I have also visited many sites related to mining and refining of the elements which I have only mentioned in passing. It’s time to edit all that footage and photos into videos for this site and YouTube. I expect the next few years to be busy, productive, and rewarding and to reach even more people than I already have.


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Ramon Llull portrait

Portrait of Ramon Llull

As we have studied the history of chemistry for our recent unit in Honors Chemistry, I’ve had my students do a bit of research on what is known and supposed about various alchemists. For example, a student in each of my sections was assigned to research Ramon Llull, the Majorcan alchemist. We started by finding out what is known about the real person. He was born in Palma in 1232 AD, and was a courtier, poet, and womanizer at the court of King James of Aragon, then had a religious epiphany that converted him into a fervent missionary for Catholicism. After a nine-year hermitage and writing many religious tracts, he set off on a series of missionary journeys to North Africa. He was fluent in Arabic and was unusual for his time in that he believed in converting the Muslims through reasoned argument instead of Crusades and the sword. He wrote some of the first works in Catalan, his native language, and died after being stoned in Tunis.

Ramon Llull title page

Ramon Llull title pagae

I also had the students research what is attributed or credited to the person in tradition and later writings, such as Ramon Llull’s alchemical works and his having created the Philosopher’s Stone.

Uroboros from Michael Maier

Uroboros from Atalanta Fugiens

Each student also had to find an image of the person and include it, then take their short report and convert it to simple bullet points to summarize their findings. I’ve now taken those bullet points and turned them into a Keynote/Powerpoint slide show and added their images as well as photos I took last year at the Chemical Heritage Foundation as part of my fellowship sponsored by the Société de Chimie Industrielle (American Section). This is the first time, except for a few progress report blog posts, where I have started to use all the materials I assembled. I am attaching it here, and hope you enjoy going through it and using it in your own classes.

Alchemy_History (Powerpoint)

Alchemy_History (PDF)

Sorcerers Apprentice

A Sorcerer’s Apprentice Masters the Transmutation of Copper into Gold

It was my privilege last summer to dig into the very books these alchemists wrote, and I’m still digesting what I discovered. One result has been my own creation of the White and Red Elixirs and the formation of the Stone itself; in fact, I demonstrated my alchemical prowess for my students by converting copper into silver and then into gold. Several of my students had achieved the inner transmutation sufficiently to successfully direct the Stone’s powers as well, as shown in the photo. (Of course, we really aren’t making gold. This is the old “Alchemists Dream” activity where copper pennies are coated with sodium zincate [using a combination of 6.0 M sodium hydroxide and zinc powder], then heated gently in a Bunsen burner flame to alloy the zinc with the copper to form brass, which looks like gold).

Basil Valentine

Portrait of Basil Valentine

These student-created projects are part of my overall philosophy of science education and the main rational of this Elements Unearthed project: that students learn best when they are actively involved in sharing their knowledge with others. With modern tools for publishing on the Internet through blogs and PDF files, Powerpoints and videos, students now have an audience for their work that is much greater than simply their peers and teachers in class. Tomorrow is the unit test; we’ll see if my theory holds water then!

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Thales of Miletus - illustration by David V. Black

Thales of Miletus - illustration by David V. Black

    I realize that the title of this post sounds a bit like the Lord of the Rings, but after three months in Philadelphia at the Chemical Heritage Foundation my research fellowship is ending. I am very thankful for the opportunity that I’ve had to be here, which was made possible by a grant from the American Section of the Société de Chimie Industrielle. My stay at CHF has been extremely productive, more so that I could possibly have hoped. In addition to acquiring over 7500 photos of books and archives here, I have taken the opportunity to visit nearby sites related to The Elements Unearthed project, such as the Lackawanna Coal Mine near Scranton, PA and the Sterling Hill Zinc Mine in New Jersey. I’ve interviewed Dr. Eric Scerri, a noted expert on the history of the periodic table (I will have samples of that interview on this post shortly) and I’ve photographed mineral and gem samples at the Smithsonian in Washington, D.C. I’ve also created some illustrations (here’s a new one of Thales that I drew by hand, then digitally colored) as well as animations and scripts for episodes. Not bad for only three months!

    Meanwhile time continues to fly by. These three months have been great to focus solely on this project, but now I need to head back to Utah and actually earn my keep again. I hope to gain further sponsorship of this project so that work can continue unabated; if not, I’ll continue to edit the footage on a part-time basis until funds do come in. Several episodes are nearing completion and should be done by the end of September, at which time I’ll finally officially create the iTunes podcast. A few segments will be uploaded to this blog and to YouTube over the next several weeks. I’m sorry for the delay, but decided to spend my time at CHF acquiring materials instead of editing them. I figure it will pay off in the end.

Table of Elements by Antoine Lavoisier

Table of Elements by Antoine Lavoisier


    This last week at CHF I have ran the curators ragged finding several obscure books that contain illustrations I’ve known about and have even drawn before for posters and other projects I’ve worked on, including Antoine Lavoisier’s Traite du Chimie, with his famous list of the then known elements (showing oxygen for the first time);

Glauber furnace

Glauber furnace









a diagram of a furnace by Johann Glauber in his De Furni Novi;

and illustrations of the Greek philosophers in the Nuremburg Chronicles (yes, CHF has a 1493 edition of this monumental work, an attempt to tell the entire history of the world). The illustrations are rather interesting because the same woodcuts are used several times and the ancient philosophers are dressed in 15th Century clothing. Not that anyone really knows what Empedocles looked like anyway . . . .


Illustration of Empedocles from Nuremburg Chronicles

Illustration of Empedocles from Nuremburg Chronicles

I also took some final photos of exhibits here at CHF. Even though I’ve looked at everything, I hadn’t read all the notations on the exhibits, and was a bit astonished to discover that a rather nondescript piece of pottery with glass objects sitting in it was rather familiar to me – none other than Joseph Priestley’s pneumatic trough, with which he tested the properties of air. This is one he probably had made in America after a mob had destroyed his lab in England and he emigrated here.


Joseph Priestley's pneumatic trough

Joseph Priestley's pneumatic trough





    Now, after fond farewells at CHF, I am busily packing up the minivan and getting ready to drive home tomorrow. I’ll take 6 1/2 days to get to Utah, stopping at several places related to this project, such as the Drake oil well in northwest Pennsylvania near Titusville; an interactive periodic table installation at DePauw University in Indiana; an interview with Theo Gray in Illinois; a tour of the Bonne Terre Lead Mine in Missouri; a salt mine in Hutchinson, Kansas; the Molly Kathleen Gold Mine in Cripple Creek, CO; and the mining museum in Leadville, CO. I’m also stopping at some historical sites such as Gettysburg National Military Park and Kirtland, Ohio. I’ll be camping most nights, and it will be a busy but fun trip, my own vacation before the hard work of editing all of this begins. By the time I return home, I should have enough material for at least 30 complete or partial podcast episodes. Wish me luck! My nest post should be very interesting!

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   Last week I drove 2300 miles from Utah to Philadelphia to take up my three-month residence at the Chemical Heritage Foundation. Today I’ll describe more about what CHF is, how I came to have this fellowship, and what I will be doing with it.

Entrance to Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia

Entrance to the Chemical Heritage Foundation, Philadelphia

   The Chemical Heritage Foundation was established as the Center for the History of Chemistry in 1982 at the University of Pennsylvania with support from the Americal Chemical Society (ACS) and later from the American Institute for Chemical Engineering (AIChE). In 1987 it incorporated as the non-profit National Foundation for the History of Chemistry, and in 1992 it was renamed the Chemical Heritage Foundation. In 1995, the foundation purchased the old First National Bank building in downtown Philadelphia, having outgrown its space at the U. of Pennsylvania. Today it has several divisions and research arms, including the Othmer Library of Chemical History which houses over 100,000 titles including journals, reference books, portraits, photos, oral histories, and even scientific instruments. It also houses the 6000 titles of the Roy G. Neville Historical Chemical Library, a collection of rare books from the 15th Century and later, some 400 titles being unique to this collection.  The Beckman Center for the History of Chemistry manages the research of visiting scholars and fellows at the library.

The Reading Room at CHF.

The Reading Room at CHF.

   In addition to the holdings in the library, CHF has museum spaces and exhibits and a convention center/meeting hall. The First National Bank building was rennovated and turned into museum space which opened last fall for the permanent exhibit called “Making Modernity,” which is a collection of instruments and artifacts that helped define the rise of chemistry as a science, with everything from samples of ancient Roman and medieval glassware to 20th Century pH meters, electron microscopes, and mass spectrometers. They also have changing exhibits such as “sLowlife,” a look at the adaptations and movements of plants; “The Whole of Nature and the Mirror of Art: Images of Alchemy” which is a series of photographic reproductions of illustrations from medieaval manuscripts; and “Transmutationa: Alchemy in Art” which displays paintings of alchemists by various artists. CHF also has traveling exhibits and the Ullyot Meeting Hall for conferences and conventions. It is a unique space for such meetings, since we are located right in the historical district of Phildelphia at 315 Chestnut St., diagonal to Carpenter’s Hall (where the First Continental Congress met in 1774) and just two blocks down from Independence Hall.

Roman glass display in the "Making Modernity" exhibit at CHF.

Roman glass display in the "Making Modernity" exhibit at CHF.

   The fellowships and travel grants managed through the Beckman Center are provided by the donations of individuals and 3rd party organizations. My fellowship is sponsored by the Societe de Chimie Industrielle (American Section), which has as its mission to provide better public understanding of the chemical industries, which is precisely what my project intends to do. I found out about this fellowship while researching grants about 18 months ago, and before that had not heard of CHF. I didn’t think I would qualify, since I don’t have a PhD or a disseration, but then I read the requirements for the Societe fellowship and found I might just qualify. I wrote a proposal and asked two people who know me and my work to write letters of recommendation, and sent the whole in by e-mail in Feb., 2008, thinking my chances were slim. When I received an e-mail from CHF  in April, 2008, I wasn’t able to read it at first because it came into my inbox as Chinese characters. I assumed it was the “thanks for your application we had many great applicants sorry we can’t accept all of them” and so on letter I’ve received before. I hit the reply button so I could get the Chinese translated into English and was amazed to find out this wasn’t a rejection letter at all. I had been selected! What remained was deciding when I would be here. My term of appointment is September 2008 through August 2009, but in discussions with my managers at MATC, they were not willing to let me take a sabbatical, especially in the fall when classes were beginning. Finally we compromised on this summer, the last three months of my fellowship term, when I would have fewer students to leave at MATC. They gave me such a difficult time about it, however, that I decided perhaps the time had come to leave MATC, which I have now done. 

Painting of an alchemist in the "Transmutations" exhibit at CHF.

Painting of an alchemist in the "Transmutations" exhibit at CHF.

   During my three months here, I will be conducting background research into atomic theory and its origins and development through the Middle Ages until revived by Dalton and others. I’ll also be looking at the instrumentation and labware of alchemists and chemists through the ages, and anything else that might be useful (there are some great reference works here, and those oral histories). Basically, this will all become background material for The Elements Unearthed, with images and information used to provide historical depth and richness to our project. I hope to take the illustrations of labware that I find, for example, and turn them into 3D models and animations, perhaps re-create entire laboratories of famous chemists. For all this work, this is the place to be; no other library has so much information specifically related to this project, and this fellowship comes at an ideal point to move into Phase II. I am very fortunate to be here, and so far I am being treated very well indeed.

   My goal is to not only use my time here to finish editing the students’ projects into final video podcast episodes, but to create several new episodes based on the information and images I acquire here, so that about ten episodes will be ready for uploading at last by the end of August. I’m going to stuff as much information as I can find, as many photos as I can get, into a hard drive and use them over the next several years as the project develops. I can’t afford to waste any time, so I’ve set up a detailed research schedule and so far I’m following it well, with some wonderful new information about Democritus and Aristotle that I didn’t know before. I’ll share more of what that is and how my research is going in my next post.

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