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Learning Some Science, At Last

I have some blogging topics queued up (as is generally the case) but I can’t resist this one, which showed up in my Twitter feed this morning. It’s an update from Rupert Pennant-Rea in the UK – former editor of The Economist, former deputy governor of the Bank of England, and many other positions besides. Last fall, he announced that since he had never had any sort of scientific education whatsoever, he was going to sit down and learn some at the age of 70. Growing up in what was the Rhodesia, his boy’s school put him to studying ancient Greek instead of learning anything about science, and his later education at Trinity College (Dublin) and Manchester Univ. had no such requirements, either:

I am already enchanted by the topics in the syllabus — photosynthesis, molecules, membranes, ionic bonding, halogens, electrostatic force, ultraviolet, the list goes on — all of which I have heard other people mention, and now at last I will find out what they mean.

I also have a secret weapon: my wife. She is a proper scientist, who sees the world in ways I have begun to dream of. When we met a few years ago, she was appalled by my ignorance. Things came to a head when she told me I was a mammal and I thought she was joking. It is high time I returned to my childhood and started again. It is never too late.

Well, I’m also appalled that someone can get to his level without knowing the first thing about any of these, naturally, but then I’m a scientist. At the same time, I’m extremely happy that he’s doing what he’s doing. Pennant-Rea quotes from C. P. Snow’s famous “Two Cultures” essay/lecture, as well he should (the part about asking people about the Second Law of Thermodynamics, which as Snow put it is the scientific equivalent of asking them if they’ve ever read any Shakespeare). And he agrees with Snow. He’s well aware that there’s a major gap in his education and his picture of the world, and he’s doing something about it, so good for him. Update: see Neil Withers‘ timeline on Twitter for a host of British reactions to the article!

But is that ever some gap. In the latest article, this is what immediately caught my eye (and made me catch my breath):

My particular favourite is the periodic table, which I had never even heard of a year ago. In its layers of engrossing detail it resembles a great painting or symphony, and Dmitri Mendeleev, who created the grid of elements, surely deserves to be as well known as Rembrandt or Beethoven.

Emphasis added, as if it needed any. I’ll bet that even C. P. Snow would have felt wobbly after hearing that one. I’m still getting over the idea that a well-educated pillar of the British establishment could have made it so long without ever hearing word of the periodic table. Actually, my bet is that he’d heard it mentioned over the years, but that he had a long-trained reflex to let any scientific references wash over him without retention, as if you occasionally came across people speaking a language that you didn’t know and had no need to ever learn. Even common phrases in Icelandic or Khmer wouldn’t ring a bell with me.

But I can’t resist sharing this opinion of chemistry – which needless to say, I share:

So far I have found physics relatively straightforward, because (at this level anyway) it has a lot of maths in it. Biology is not far behind, as it seems to be mainly about animals and plants. But chemistry, always mysterious to me, is pure revelation. It is making me look at so many everyday phenomena with far more interest and, yes, even understanding. A few weeks ago my tutor, John Harris, handed me a proper white overall and we spent a happy hour in his kitchen mixing acids and alkalis with the juice from a cooked red cabbage. Elementary stuff, but to me it felt like grown-up research.

Again, good for him. This is exactly what learning some science does for a person, and why it really is an essential part of any good set of mental furniture. The topic has come up here a couple of times of just how much chemistry (and how much science in general) the average person needs to knowm, or at least to have had taught at them. And while there is room to argue about where that line should be drawn, I hope that people will agree that it should be somewhere past “Never having heard of the periodic table”. I’m very happy that Rupert Pennant-Rea has chosen to fill in his knowledge of science, and that he’s finding it interesting and revealing. I love the stuff myself, and there’s no one who doesn’t feel happy seeing someone else discover and enjoy something that they enjoy themselves. Here’s a standing offer: Mr. Pennant-Rea, should you find yourself over in the Boston-Other Cambridge area, I will be happy as a chemist to say hello and show you the labs. Welcome to the club!

62 comments on “Learning Some Science, At Last”

  1. Belgian PhD student says:

    Good for him. I wonder how his leadership, conducting business and living life in general will be changed by this.

    1. Dionysius Rex says:

      I heard his new career has somewhat stalled as he’s already been let go before starting his first day due to a site closure.

      1. Emjeff says:

        You win, Rex!!

      2. 124 says:

        Agree. Unfortunately, the education is equated with job; even meritorious students do not follow their interests or strengths. Some body is very at chemistry, however, they want to go to medschool for it pays off at the end than a PhD in CHM!

      3. 138 says:

        Agree. Unfortunately, the education is equated with job; even meritorious students do not follow their interests or strengths. Some body is very at chemistry, however, they want to go to medschool for it pays off at the end than a PhD in CHM!

      4. Nick K says:

        Cynical but very funny!

  2. johnnyboy says:

    My wife is a humanities type professional, but she has recently started a MSc, and as such as had to take basic Research Methods and Statistics courses, all of which was completely novel to her. One day she announced she’d had an epiphany of sorts, as she was listening to some pseudo-science on the radio and for the first time being able to discern how crap it was – wide-eyed she said “I finally understand how you feel all the time hearing all this crap !” But she struggled to understand how I could possibly remain calm while knowing that 99% of what I heard in the media about basic science matters is utter shite. With age comes acceptance I suppose…

  3. RandomWok says:

    He didn’t need Science before all this – he was an economist and Central Banker. His copy of Atlas Shrugged gave him all the tools he needed. It worked for Greenspan and Friedman.

    1. Chad Irby says:

      A man who works in a place like that would only have disdain for Rand, Objectivism, or any financial thing that didn’t start with “the Government needs to control…”

      1. Some guy says:

        Even as a mild conservative I have nothing but disdain for Rand’s thoughtless drivel, as should anyone who’s made it past their “enlightened-freshman” stage.

        1. Bagger Vance says:

          Wow, edgy stuff taking on Rand guys. How will the right ever recover?

          We’re up to Julius Evola, Alexander Dugin and Jean Raspail out here. Let us know when you catch up.

          1. Derek Lowe says:

            Man, if there was ever any doubt, you can definitely drop me from that “we” if that’s the company you’re keeping.

          2. b says:

            If those are the intellectual titans of the right then that explains a lot

  4. Chemist turned Banker says:

    As a Brit, I would wager there were more unicorns on the Bank of England payroll than scientists in his day, and much the same could be said of most of government.

    I would note, however, that our greatest peacetime Prime Minister read Chemistry at Oxford so all is not lost…

    1. justanothersheep says:

      Cue the Thatcher lynch mob?

    2. ex-London Chemist says:

      Her only paper, I believe:

      https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1002/jsfa.2740020904

      Was shown this in a lecture by Dr Mary Archer (guess who she’s married to….)

  5. navarro says:

    i’ve been a teacher for 24 years and although i’m currently teaching financial math to juniors and seniors i spent the ten years prior to this teaching science to 6th graders. the curriculum allows me to talk about elements, compounds, and mixtures with not much more detail than that. i was also allowed to have them understand the structure of the periodic table and the differences between metals, nonmetals, and metalloids. some of my students wanted ever so much more. i taught a few how to balance equations. i had one girl who memorized the first 90 or so elements on the table in the correct order. she also memorized the first 100 places of pi to impress the math teacher on my team. most of the students liked the periodic table for its utility. a few of them looked into things on their own and told me about reactivity trends and radioactivity. that part of the year was always one of my favorites.

    1. Orvan Taurus says:

      Pa had two chemistry books he left around the house (along with a few other textbooks). The college text almost started with the periodic table, but that made sense if there had been an HS chemistry foundation. The HS textbook I had was similar, which did NOT make sense. The HS chemistry textbook Pa had, well that was “Descriptive Chemistry” and one got a ‘feel’ for how things worked… and when the Periodic Table was eventually presented, it was not this fearsomely complicated chart as it might have first appeared, but instead the glorious simplification as intended. But this was an Ancient thing even then, for the chapter on nitrogen and its compounds included a section on explosives and the only disclaimer was, roughly, “Don’t be stupid.”

  6. A Nonny Mouse says:

    Brings back the school days when I was taught by Catholic brothers and we had to do either Latin or biology in second year. Only 30 out of about 120 were allowed to do biology, so the more clever ones (not me, sadly) failed their Latin in classic style at the first year exams.

    The British system also worked in reverse in the old days; you had to have 2 languages (preferably German and French) to do chemistry at anywhere decent which is why some very capable chemists (eg, Steve Ley) had to go to lesser establishments which did not have this requirement.

    1. Dr. Manhattan says:

      I remember vividly back in the early 1960’s when the Catholic elementary schools started to introduce science. The nuns were in way over their heads. I did a report in the aviation & flight section on the X-15 rocket plane (then a topic in the news). In the report I mentioned that the X-15 used hydrogen peroxide for its attitude thrusters in near outer space. A nun told me that it couldn’t possibly be peroxide, as that “was hair dye for hussies!”

    2. AlphaGamma says:

      When I was applying to Cambridge there was officially a requirement that all students *regardless of subject* had to have studied a foreign language up to the age of 16, though by then this requirement could be waived (and often was). They got rid of it soon after.

      I have heard that if you go back a few more decades, you had to have Latin.

    3. Nile says:

      The requirement for German was outdated, but it had at one time been essential to the study of Chemistry at postgraduate level.

      It wasn’t *quite* true that all the papers were in German – though I have heard that assertion more than once – but you could not make any meaningful study of the literature if you did not read technical German well.

      A related point: the Chemistry department at any British research university that did not *insist* on German had a reliable source of paid work for a student who could translate German-language papers.

      Historically, the necessity out in the nineteen-fifties: this was the aftermath of ‘Operation Paperclip’, an unprecedented effort by the government and universities of America to catalog and publish the entirety of the scientific and engineering literature on aerodynamics and rocketry, which had been acquired in the collapse and conquest of the Third Reich.

      I would speculate that several chemistry graduates, perhaps with a mathematical aptitude, became aerodynamicists in 1946 and 1947.

      That effort was largely completed in the late nineteen-forties, but the resources marshalled in it were not scattered to the four winds: a systematic effort was directed to the untranslated libraries of your Chemistry departments.

      Nowadays, publication in an English-language journal is the default, and German is no longer a prerequisite for the advanced study of Chemistry: everybody here takes this for granted, but it would have astonished your professors’ predecessors, seventy years ago.

      1. Freeflight says:

        Thank you for that little history lesson!
        I was aware of operation paperclip, but completely unaware about the German edge on Chemical research/application and how it even influenced the British curriculum, very interesting.

        Any further reading you could suggest on that topic?

  7. Vader says:

    Splendid. I agree that someone who knows nothing of science cannot be regarded as properly educated. I do find it peculiar (and perhaps peculiarly British) that he finds physics relatively straightforward *because* of its math content. Evidently he has had training in math.

    It is perhaps worth noting, in passing, that it works the other way, too. Fortunately, every (English-speaking) scientist I know has had some exposure to Shakespeare. We’re right to insist that an educated person ought to be familiar with the Second Law of Thermodynamics, but let’s not drop the requirement that they know some Shakespeare as well.

    1. Davd says:

      Have you ever looked at an Economics degree syllabus? If done properly it should have a very heavy mathematical element. In my field of computational chemistry, one of the best mathematicians I have worked with had a bachelor’s degree in economics. He did all the maths in the paper linked in the handle, for example.

    2. AlphaGamma says:

      The following is a question from an English exam (the paper on Shakespeare) at Cambridge University in 2008:

      ” 24. ‘But what is so great about Shakespeare anyway?’ (Emmanuel Levy, French student, Science PhD)

      Write a reply to Emmanuel”

      Dr. Levy is now the head of a lab at the Weizmann Institute of Science.

      1. Derek Lowe says:

        I know you’re not asking for one, but my own response would be something like: “Because he had the ability to illustrate so many human behaviors and personalities, in ways that are still give the shock of recognition after over four hundred years. And he did so across the range of emotions, with tragedies that still have lines in them that you can’t help but laugh at, and comedies that occasionally catch you with how sad parts of them can be. And he did all this in iambic pentameter, and in a strange but recognizable more-than-human form of the English language that is as compressed with meaning and allusion as the speech of angels might be, if we could listen to them. English has never recovered from the impact, when you consider how many words and phrases people use without even realizing that they’re quoting. . .”

  8. Peter S. Shenkin says:

    This reminds me of my third-grade teacher at PS 106, Miss O’Connell, an Irish (obviously) spinster, who, with a certain amount of reticence, finally deigned to pronounce the word “mammal” in a biology lesson and give a few examples. She asked if anyone in the class could give other examples.

    I raised my hand and said “Humans are mammals.”

    She called my parents in. As they related it, Miss O’Connell told them, “He knows too much.” (That’s an exact quote.) My parents, to their credit, came home giggling.

  9. luysii says:

    I actually heard C. P. Snow give the lecture in Memorial Hall at Harvard in the fall of 1960. Unfortunately my memory is one of acute embarrassment, as some young punk pulled the typical Harvard gambit of ‘telling a question’, in which the question really isn’t a question at all, but a wordy exercise in demonstrating just how brilliant the questioner is. I wanted to sink through the floor.

  10. milkshake says:

    just wait, he is going to start igniting stink-and-smoke bombs (prepared from mixtures of household chemicals) on his veranda in no time.

  11. Uncle Al says:

    A manager is not lying if she knows nothing about what she manages versus the real world.
    (Diversity!)

  12. Li says:

    Derek raises an interesting point, indirectly. What chemistry/physics/science should everyone learn? I strongly disagree that the periodic table is worthy of making the list. It is, imho – admittedly I am *not* nor ever have been a teacher – useless except as pedagogic device. What chemistry makes the list? hmmm, off the top of my head would be atoms, bonds, (stoichiometric (and non-)) reactions, electromagnetic radiation absorption&emission spectra, polymers, catalysts, purification (solubility, melting.boiling pt, conductivity), what am I missing? temperature & pressure & states of matter (but those may be more physics) surface energy? crystals? maybe. chemical examples of the already learned 4 laws of thermodynamics would be great. But the not even approximately periodic nature of atomic electronic structure? not a bit.

    1. angrygecko says:

      When I was 7, a friend of my parents, who worked at Fisher Scientific, gave me a periodic table.

      That chart, on my bedroom wall, peaked my curiosity. Why are the elements arranged like that? What’s special about the nobel gasses? Why aren’t atomic masses nice round integers? Great stuff.

      I can’t imagine not starting with the periodic table.

  13. Vader says:

    “useless except as pedagogic device”

    That’s an exception you could drive an eighteen-wheeler through.

  14. Anonymous says:

    I am looking for help from readers about a particular story (1-2 pages in a novel). The setting is definitely England, early to mid 1900s, maybe up to the 1960s. The main character (aspiring chemist) is at a party or get together at the college. One of the well known profs there is a very old humanist who speaks ignorantly of science and says something like, “Oh, I could learn science in a fortnight if I wanted to take the time.” The chemist-hero mutters to himself something like, “Too bad you haven’t been able to find the time in the last 50 years.” Except it was a lot funnier in the original. Anybody?

    It might have been from The Search (CP Snow), or Lucky Jim (K Amis), or The Stuggles of Albert Woods (W Cooper) or something similar. There are many other such novels about becoming a scientist or doing research (Arrowsmith, CS Lewis) that describes a lot of the crap (e.g., fraud) that we discuss here, In the Pipeline. I have gone back to look for the “couldn’t find a fortnight in the past 50 years” story several times w/o success. If anyone recognizes it, please give me the reference! Thanks, in advance.

    I also lament scientific illiteracy. And, I suppose, I am now jealous of the innumerate BA poetry majors who walked off into high paying jobs in banking and finance (pre-1990s) through their powerful networks and became extremely wealthy (just by churning in some cases).

    1. Derek Lowe says:

      It’s not “Lucky Jim” (or another other Amis novel, and I’ve read nearly all of them more than once). I haven’t read Snow’s series of books, so it might well be in there. I hope someone has it!

  15. dearieme says:

    Wife: “Rupert, you are a mammal.”

    Rupert: “Beloved, what do you mean?”

    Wife: “My dear, you are being a bit of a tit.”

    1. El Gorrion says:

      She’s wrong – Paridae are birds …

      1. Vader says:

        And, in U.S. schools, a lecture on tits is likely to result in tittering.

  16. Anon says:

    I had never heard of a credit default swap until 2008, but arguably they had a bigger impact on society than the periodic table. Just sayin’

    1. SP123 says:

      Arguably the periodic table was necessary for knowing how to make the components of the computers used to execute the credit default swaps.

  17. Kai Lowell says:

    I think the world would be much better served if more people could approach chemistry, or science in general, with that sort of childlike wonder.

    1. Phil Thompson says:

      Indeed. I was just thinking that he should read Oliver Sacks’ “Uncle Tungsten” to get a flavor of that sense of wonder for chemistry.

      1. Matthew K says:

        Or Primo Levi’s (ahem) “The Periodic Table” of course.

  18. Barry says:

    The best way to learn a foreign language (if one has not learned it in childhood) is through a romantic affair.
    Turns out, that”s as true at seventy as at seventeen.

    1. A Nonny Mouse says:

      That was Barton’s statement as well (when he got a French wife); “the best place to learn a language is in bed” [he said that at our 3rd year end party- organic only- which I organised and where he bought the barrel of beer].

  19. Chrispy says:

    It always baffled me that science was offered up in college in dumbed down versions: Rocks for Jocks, Chemistry for Poets, etc. They don’t have Shakespeare for the Illiterate.

    People are missing a lot of the beauty of the world that it took a good deal of effort to uncover.

    1. Bill Burns says:

      When I was at Leeds University for my degree course in Electrical & Electronic Engineering (1965-68), all the engineers had to take a class called “Social Aspects of Technology.” However, there was no equivalent class to give those on arts courses any knowledge at all of science.

  20. Daniel Barkalow says:

    This reminds me that I took freshman biology from the same professor as the Dalai Lama did, although not at the same time.

  21. Curious Wavefunction says:

    “A few weeks ago my tutor, John Harris, handed me a proper white overall and we spent a happy hour in his kitchen mixing acids and alkalis with the juice from a cooked red cabbage.”

    That’s nice, and kudos to Mr. Pennant-Rea for his late but chipper education. But if this doesn’t motivate him to try one of Gwyneth Paltrow’s alkaline diets it’s all been in vain.

    1. Gloop says:

      I’d sooner see him try one of her jade eggs.

  22. Always considered it to be just as important for those who have been immersed in science and technology through school, university and work to actively broaden their sphere of knowledge. Appalled at my own ignorance, I plunged into history after my PhD, then English literature, and have been an Economist subscriber for over 30 years.

    All rewarding in their own right and provided common ground with my English Lit studying son.

  23. Nick K says:

    I would very much like to hear from him once he has a grounding in the basic concepts of Chemistry, Physics and Biology. I am certain his entire outlook on the World will be radically transformed.

  24. luysii says:

    Think you know some science? Like pro football? Try this on for size.

    Now that every team in the NFL has its own molecular biologist and antiVirologist, you might be interested in knowing how it all started. Like most technologies affecting our lives it had a military origin.

    The escape of the Taiwanese pacifist virus started it all –https://luysii.wordpress.com/2018/11/19/a-science-fiction-story-for-the-cognoscenti-answer-to-the-puzzle-and-a-bit-more.

    The technology of infectious gene transfer by recombinant adeno-associated virus (AAV) was well advanced long before there were garage molecular biologists.

    The NFL wars began with the New England Patriots, (who else?), they of deflategate and other nefarious ways to win.

    Tom Brady was getting all set to win superbowl LVII in 2023 at age 45 when the first counterattack was successful.

    His wife, the beautiful Gisele, hated the idea of him playing so long, being very worried about dementia pugilista from all the head trauma. Tom had agreed to yearly PET scans with Pittsburgh compound B, an uncharged derivative of thioflavin T which gets through the blood brain barrier and which stains senile plaques. They showed no evidence of plaques (although plenty of demented people don’t have them) so he kept on playing behind Belichick’s not so secret weapon — 400 pound linemen. Even though he’d lost a step or two, his eye and arm were still good and the linemen gave him plenty of time to throw.

    Football players have always been bulking up. Even the early experience with extra testosterone (which causes testicular atrophy in high doses) didn’t dissuade them. Newer anabolic steroids had somewhat fewer testicular effects. Eventually players took to using HCG to help normalize things, but some testicular atrophy was a price they were willing to pay. The cheerleaders felt a lot safer around those using them.

    So how did the Patriots have 400 pound linemen when no one else did? The answer goes back to Piedmontese and Belgian Blue cattle which were bred for their large muscles. They turned out to have inactivating mutations in the gene for myostatin, a protein which causes muscles to stop growing.

    Boston isn’t known as the home of biotech for nothing, and Belichick contracted with an as yet un-named biotech firm (their depositions having been sealed by the court) to come up with a small molecule (compound M) absorbable through the skin which inhibited myostatin.

    No one caught on why Belicheck had separate showers installed for the lineman and defensive backs, but they had to use them and got dosed that way. Testing for performance enhancing drugs was always negative. The linemen loved it, as their testicles grew back to normal size. The cheerleaders didn’t.

    So there the Patriots were, about to play the Arizona Cardinals, a team only winning 3 games in 2018 in superbowl LVII. No one understood how the Cardinals turned around and how they got those very slippery running backs.

    No one, except the molecular biologist they hired. But that’s for next time.

    1. Anonymous says:

      I was going to tell Tom Brady that I had seen his wife in her underwear (and I was prepared to offer him picture proof) but I thought better of it.

  25. charlesj says:

    “[the periodic table] resembles a great painting or symphony, and Dmitri Mendeleev, who created the grid of elements, surely deserves to be as well known as Rembrandt or Beethoven.”

    It’s a telling comment – while the names Rembrandt and Beethoven are still well known, I suspect that their works are much less familiar these days than they were to Pennant-Rea’s generation.

  26. Scott says:

    It would be a lot easier to get people to call the media on statistical shenanigans if it didn’t take until about halfway through your second semester of stats before it suddenly made sense. (I had told my business stats prof that, finally, stats were making sense, and her reply was that everyone gets them about that point in time) *Nobody* wants to spend that much time confused.

    I don’t know if there is a better way to teach stats, so that they make sense sooner. Say, halfway through your first semester would make a huge improvement. If we can, then we can start requiring ALL college grads to take statistics.

  27. Mitchell says:

    Perhaps some explicit expectation management might be helpful?

    Science education… is not in a happy place. But we usually fail to explain that to students, with assorted negative impacts. Chemistry education research characterizes pre-college chemistry education content using adjectives like “incoherent”, leaving both students and teachers steeped in misconceptions. Physics professors quip “why would any introductory physics students be interested in pursuing physics… when they’re never shown any”. First-tier college introductory biology courses set low bar objectives, like students having a firm grasp of central dogma, and struggle to reach them. Size and scale are taught in all these areas, with pervasive lack of success (eg, first-tier medical school graduate students often have no clue how big cells are). Despite astronomy’s unusual focus on terminal introductory courses, I’ve found first-tier astronomy graduate students are pervasively and confidently mistaken about something as basic as the color of the Sun. And of the few exceptions, many learned it studying astronomy _education_ (common misconceptions in), not from their own, very atypically extensive, study of astronomy. And yet science students are commonly left to assume their failures and frustrations are their own, or a characteristic of science, rather than of how they were taught.

    So while a desire to learn some science is admirable, we’re just not set up for that yet. Perhaps it would help to have a more realistic goal. Perhaps a kind of educational tourism, where the emphasis is on enjoyment, maybe with a bit of personal growth, but with no expectation that anything “learned” is correct, important, remembered, or transferable? Hmm, or as counter argument, maybe all that is implicit in “learn some science”? As doing better is so rare. (Sorry for the negative tone. I’m working on some content, which requires looking at status quo content, and… what can one say… much of it is… breathtaking).

    1. Anonymous says:

      “Science education… is not in a happy place.” – Just wondering what you or others in the field think about teaching science to non-science majors at the high school level based on current events. Space station news: how does gravity “work”, how do rockets work, what are they doing up there, etc.. Energy news: where does oil come from, how does electricity get from oil or gas to the outlet in the wall, how do we get nuclear energy, etc.. Weather (not climate) news: where does the weather come from, etc.. I think it would create more informed non-scientist citizens who will become voters after they graduate.

      (In some places, you will need about 5 years to get a curriculum change approved and another 5 years to agree on the syllabus and textbook, by which time the once-current teaching opportunity event is history.)

      1. Mitchell says:

        I know it’s been done. I don’t know how well it worked. Or how that was evaluated. Though I’ve a very fuzzy recollection of work on testing for ‘citizen skills for understanding of societal science issues’. And a fuzzy impression is that uncertainty over objectives is a common issue in “science for poets” at a college level. But all this is very not my field – sorry.

  28. Anna Keppa says:

    The first Periodic Table I remember seeing was in the one-room schoolhouse I attended in rural Pennsylvania back in 1951.

    Eight grades with 32 students made up the entire student body, with one teacher to deal with them for seven hours a day. The school had electricity and a big coal stove, but no running water and no indoor plumbing. The outhouses were out back.

    So…we were poor. How poor, you ask?

    Well, that Periodic Table on our school’s wall had only the Alkali Metals and the Actinide Series!

  29. C4DDM4n says:

    The talk of C P Snow reminded me of the Flanders and Swan recording about the 2nd law of thermodynamics and how you should talk to scientists.. A recommended listen for anyone who likes the elements song by Tom Lehrer

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