Hey, ACS, Where’s My Comic Book?
Jun11

Hey, ACS, Where’s My Comic Book?

If you read this blog with any regularity (I know there’s at least one of you out there, two tops), you’ll remember a post I wrote awhile back bemoaning the lack of chemistry coloring books. I had just come across a supercool version about biology—filled with stem cells and neurons and viruses, oh my!—and was wondering what a chemistry version (perhaps produced by the American Chemical Society) might look like. Well, that coloring book still hasn’t materialized, and now I’m even more miffed: The physicists have comic books. And notice that I didn’t say “a” comic book. They have many of them. I spotted a few of these at the American Physical Society (APS) national meeting, held in Baltimore, back in March. One called “Nikola Tesla and the Electric Fair” caught my eye, as well as a S-E-R-I-E-S of books about the original laser superhero Spectra (you know how it goes: She discovers her powers after a class on lasers and winds up being able to cut through metal and play CDs … just your typical teenage drama). These educational aids for middle school classrooms are distributed by APS. But I wouldn’t even say they’re just for middleschoolers. I read all the way through the story of Telsa: It brings to life the epic battle between himself and Thomas Edison over alternating current (AC) and direct current. I guess I never realized that the “War of the Currents” ended when Tesla successfully used AC to light the infamous World’s Fair in Chicago (where the Ferris Wheel also made its debut). Via the comic, I also discovered that Tesla had a fondness (perhaps a little too much fondness) for pigeons. So even I learned something! But it wasn’t until I received a press release about Stephen Hawking’s new comic book that I was pushed over the edge to write this post and point out this educational trend. “Stephen Hawking: Riddles of Time & Space” is produced by Washington-based Bluewater Productions. It chronicles the cosmologist’s life, including how he discovered that he had ALS, also known as Lou Gehrig’s disease, and his dispute with scientist Fred Hoyle over the Big Bang Theory. You can get your print copy of it here for $4.33. Folks making comic books about physics is by no means a bad trend. But I’m once again left wondering, “Where’s the chemistry equivalent?” We may not have Stephen Hawking or Nikola Tesla to brag about, but surely we’ve got someone who’s got an interesting story to relate to the general public? Organic chemist R.B. Woodward, in all his Mad-Men-esque glory? One of the many bearded chemists of yore?...

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A Comic-Book Fanboy’s Take on the Periodic Table
May20

A Comic-Book Fanboy’s Take on the Periodic Table

Earlier this week, a colleague sent me this comic-book take on the periodic table. My initial reaction was to roll my eyes and yawn a little bit. After all, we here at C&EN have seen every manner of periodic table categorizing vegetables, fruits, beer, wine, and even text messages. However, this table doesn’t just put a superhero in each element slot; it seems a little different and worth noting for its sheer entertainment value. “The Elements of A Super-Hero,” as it is called, represents comic-book characters by categorizing their origins (for example, they are a scientist or mutant), physical powers (they can control the weather, have X-ray vision, or my favorite, their arms fall off), and mental abilities (they can perform telepathy). Each of these items has its own element slot. Thus, “Scientist” is Sc—element 8—and “X-ray Vision” is Vx—element 19. So, as the table’s creator points out, Wolverine of the X-men can be represented as XWxHSn (X for mutant, Wx for claws, H for healing, and Sn for super-senses). I thought this was worth pointing out because A) I, too, love superheroes, wanting desperately to be Wonder Woman when I was little, and B) the “Comments” that this table has received are both amazing and amusing. One commenter says that his “inner science nerd” is telling him he’d have liked the table to be a bit more organized like a real periodic table, with similar abilities stacked in vertical rows. For instance, he says, “Vx—X-Ray Vision—and Vh—Heat Vision—should be stacked and not sitting next to one another.” Duh. Currently, the only divisions that appear are that physical powers reside in the spots where metals normally go, mental powers sit in the metalloid area, and origin stories are found in the nonmetal region of the table. Another commenter says that he’s waiting patiently for an addendum with the actinides and lanthanides. “Maybe personality elements (dark & gritty, goofball, robotic, etc.),” he says, could be one series, and “alternate realities (evil version, gender-switched version, animal version)” could be the other. Still other fanboys (and girls) are begging the creator for a poster-sized version that they can display on their walls with pride. Some are trying to puzzle out what certain element symbols are derived from (for example, Rr—element 49, which stands for “stretching”—MUST come from the Fantastic Four’s Reed Richards). Finally, some commenters are expressing their disappointment that certain abilities are missing. For example, one reader misses the “ability to control density (Anissa Pierce)” and the “ability to do weirdo shit with people’s souls (Secret, Raven),” and so on. So, take a look and see what you think is missing...

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