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The Good, The Bad, And The Elements

965 words - 4 pages

The Disappearing Spoon: And Other True Tales of Madness, Love, and the History of the World from the Periodic Table of the Elements, a national bestseller by Sam Kean, breaks down the periodic table and explains chemistry, an often exasperating subject, in a funny and comprehensible way. Kean, who has been featured in numerous science journals and the New York Times Magazine, demonstrates how chemistry is applied in the real world by giving amusing anecdotes rather than the generic and boring applications, such as how Billy and Pablo used chemistry to make a baking soda and vinegar volcano for their fourth grade science fair, that textbooks typically provide. Each chapter explores different elements on the periodic table; the tenth chapter, “Take Two Elements, Call Me in the Morning,” discusses the positive and negatives effects of the applications of certain elements as medicines.
Specifically, “Take Two Elements, Call Me in the Morning” explores such situations of the elements copper, vanadium, gadolinium, silver, sulfur, and rhodium. The chapter begins by explaining applications of silver, copper, vanadium, and gadolinium as medicines and antiseptics and describing their benefits and consequences. The following section in the chapter discusses chirality, or handedness. Virtually every protein in every life form has a left-handed twist to it. When this was discovered by Louis Pasteur, it changed modern medicine. Also discovering something that would have a great impact on modern medicine was Gerhard Domagk, whose daughter tripped down a staircase while holding a sewing needle which then punctured her hand and snapped off inside of her. Although the shard was removed, the injury became infected. This spurred Domagk to research to find a solution; he experimented with prontosil, a ringed organic molecule that had unpredictable properties, and created the first genuine antibacterial drug. This drug obviously has benefits, but its consequences were unexpected. It had become a dangerous fad and was viewed as a sort of elixir. The chapter concludes with an in-depth look at chirality by examining how modern scientists have successfully and disastrously used it to innovate.
Essentially, Kean is trying to explain that “[a]n element toxic in one circumstance can become a lifesaving drug in another”; what may seem bad initially can be good in other situations. However, he also describes how what may at first appear good can have disastrous consequences, as well. Kean’s clear familiarity and passion for the subject give him the ability to explain difficult concepts well, and his casual and lively attitude create an environment in which one feels comfortable learning. The book is formatted in such a way that it reads like a novel, adding to the feeling of a more comfortable environment and making the material easier to comprehend because most student readers are more familiar with novels than they are with...

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