Some days ago I was at the dentist office with this teenager that looks like he´s living in our house, while the doctor was explaining the fluoride treatment she was going to apply after his teeth cleaning. We all know that the dentist’s chair is very intimidating because the question he asked immediately was: “But, is it going to hurt? The dentist explained it was just a liquid to protect his teeth. Then, that wonderful chart that we have studied so many times in school appeared in my mind: “The Periodic Table? Don’t you remember Fluoride?” The dentist grinned, but the patient ignored me, he was not very excited about recalling his Chemistry classes. The truth is that when we got home I saw him leafing through the book we want to talk about: Wonderful Life with the Elements, the Periodic Table Personified by Japanese artist Bunpei Yorifuji (No Starch Press, 2012).
We are usually introduced to the Periodic Table of Elements at school. At some point you have to memorize it and start working with it, but I have always had the feeling that we just don’t understand how important it is. From the stars to the planets, the water, animals, humans beings and all the objects around us; just everything is made by the elements in the Periodic Table. That list of weird names is literally everywhere. Considering that, it makes sense that they put so much effort into teaching the table, but it seems that we usually remember it as a series of abstract names without too much connection to the real world. This is one of the best books I have seen in which these strange symbols are linked to real life while explaining their importance, all this in a fun way.
This is how the author explains his goals about the book:
“In this book, I´ve tried to distill these seemingly abstract little things into something that might be easier to grasp”
“I don’t think there is any real point in trying to remember everything about every element, but I hope that you’ll learn a little about each and every one of them -and have fun- by reading this book.”
The artist has transformed the elements into cartoon characters to help us understand them better and, in turn, to explain the meaning and arrangement of the periodic table. He has drawn each of the chemical elements as a unique character, giving visual characteristics to the properties that classify them, just as they have in the table. The hair style for instance refers to the chemical properties, this organizes the elements according to the Families in the table; the body type attends to the element state of matter and the clothing to the way it is used.
He also shows us the elements we have around today. If we compare them with those around us millions of years ago we see how the amount has increased in the last 50 years. We have in our living room now elements from all corners of the world.
“When we say ‘global’, most people think of the economy, or maybe politics. But there is probably nothing as ‘global’ as the basic elements. We are always connected to the rest of the world through the elements of our technology.”
Out of the 118 elements that are in the table now (that number is not accurate since scientists apparently disagree with some of the new elements) our body is made up of approximately 34, we are one third of the table! Although the human body is basically made up of oxygen, carbon, hydrogen and a few others, since 28 of the 34 elements only reach 1% of our mass; we have to include in our food about 17 dietary minerals that are essential for our lives.
Some of the chemical elements that are most used nowadays are scarce or difficult to extract or process, and so Yorifuji tells us about the Crisis of the Elements and the importance of the use and reuse we make of some of them. Our lives today depends a lot on several elements of the periodic table so we should at least try to understand them better.
“If we could get everyone to take an interest in the elements that make up our world and apply that knowledge in their daily lives, this looming crisis may never come to pass. I would be honored if you decided to adopt a more rare metal-aware lifestyle after reading this book.”
If you are still interested in learning more about the Periodic Table you can watch this video from Minute Physics, where they reimagine the table by cutting it out and putting it back together, to a spiral shape! We would also like to share this Asap Science song where all the elements are recited to the rhythm of Offenbach’s popular can-can from the opera Orpheus in the Underworld. It can come in handy if you have to memorize it.