Tag Archives: Mark Lorch

Celebrate the 150th anniversary and International Year of the Periodic Table of Elements in 2019

The 150th anniversary of the Periodic Table of Elements has occasioned its own International Year as declared by the United Nations (UN) and, hopefully, a revival of the ‘elements cupcake’ craze which seems to have had its heyday in 2011/12. (I wrote about the cupcakes here in a March 21, 2012 posting ‘Periodic table of cupcakes, a new subculture?‘)

As for IYPT 2019, let’s get started with Mark Lorch’s (professor of Science, Communication, and Chemistry at the University of Hull) January 2, 2019 essay for The Conversation (h/t phys.org), Note: Links have been removed,

The periodic table stares down from the walls of just about every chemistry lab. The credit for its creation generally goes to Dimitri Mendeleev, a Russian chemist who in 1869 wrote out the known elements (of which there were 63 at the time) on cards and then arranged them in columns and rows according to their chemical and physical properties. To celebrate the 150th anniversary of this pivotal moment in science, the UN has proclaimed 2019 to be the International year of the Periodic Table

But the periodic table didn’t actually start with Mendeleev. Many had tinkered with arranging the elements. Decades before, chemist John Dalton tried to create a table as well as some rather interesting symbols for the elements (they didn’t catch on). And just a few years before Mendeleev sat down with his deck of homemade cards, John Newlands also created a table sorting the elements by their properties.

Mendeleev’s genius was in what he left out of his table. He recognised that certain elements were missing, yet to be discovered. So where Dalton, Newlands and others had laid out what was known, Mendeleev left space for the unknown. Even more amazingly, he accurately predicted the properties of the missing elements.

You can find the website for the International Year of the Periodic Table here and it’s still possible to attend the Opening Ceremony in Paris (from the Announcement for the Opening Ceremony Registration page),

November 14, 2018 | Today the registration opened for the launch of the 2019 International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements (IYPT2019). This Opening Ceremomy will take place on Tuesday the 29th of January 2019 from 10 a.m. till 7 p.m. in Paris, France at the UNESCO House. It promises to be an exciting day with inspiring speakers and exhibitions.

Some of the speakers will be Professor Ben Feringa (Nobel Laureate in Chemistry 2016), Professor Youri Oganessian (Author of the Element 118 – Oganesson) and sir Martyn Poliakoff (Lead presenter of the Periodic Table of Videos).

More information about the programme and a link for registration can be found here.

International Year of the Periodic Table
The United Nations General Assembly during its 74th Plenary Meeting proclaimed 2019 as the International Year of the Periodic Table of Chemical Elements. The IYPT2019 was adopted by the UNESCO General Conference at its 39th Session (39 C/decision 60) to highlight the contributions of chemistry and other basic sciences to the implementation of the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development.

The IYPT2019 is an IUPAC initiative and administered by a Management Committee consisting of representatives of the initiating organizations, UNESCO and a number of other supporting international organizations.

The founding partners of IYPT2019 are the International Union of Pure and Applied Chemistry, the European Chemical Society (EuChemS), the International Science Council (ISC), the International Astronomical Union (IAU), the International Union of Pure and Applied Physics (IUPAP) and the International Union of History and Philosophy of Science and Technology (IUHPST).

I checked and registration still seems to be open. Plus, they have listings for the events taking place all over the world.

On other fronts, the American Chemical Society (ACS) has a dedicated page for the IYPT 2019, which includes, amonst other things, a section on the Latest News,

Latest News
How far does the periodic table go?
First IYPT Event took place in India on January 2
Join the IUPAC periodic table challenge quiz! Which element will you choose?
Nature Chemistry‘s January 2019 issue celebrates the periodic table

As for what Canadians might be doing, I have contacted the Chemical Institute of Canada [CIC], (an umbrella organization representing the Canadian Society for Chemistry [CSC]; the Canadian Society for Chemical Engineering [CSChE]; and the Canadian Society for Chemical Technology [CSCT]) and they’re busily preparing to highlight the 2019 IYPT according to one of Peter Mirtchev, one of the organizers (Conference Technical Programs Officer) for the 102nd Canadian Chemistry conference,

… at the 2019 Canadian Chemistry Conference and Exhibition (CCCE2019), we will organize an event called Chemistry Across the Periodic Table, whereby we will highlight a single element from every abstract submitted. We’re printing the highlighted elements on the
name badges of our attendees in the hope of facilitating conversation and networking throughout the conference.

Since things can change, I suggest that you keep an eye on the CCCE 2019 website to track the progress of their plans. I’m sure they hope to organize more 2019 IYPT celebratory moments at the conference, which will be held in Québec City, Québec from Monday, June 3, 2019 to Friday, June 7, 2019. You might also want to keep an eye on the
Chemical Institute of Canada (CIC} and its affiliated organizations for other 2019 IYPT events in Canada.

What colour is your diagnosis?

Mark Lorch has written an April 16, 2015 piece for The Conversation (h/t the Guardian’s April 17, 2015 posting) about a very appealing approach to diagnostics (Note: A link has been removed),

If you’ve ever sat opposite a doctor and wondered what she was scribbling on her notepad, the answer may soon not only be medical notes on your condition, but real-time chemical preparations for an instant diagnostic test.

Thanks to the work of a team of researchers from California Polytechnic State University, recently published in the journal Lab on a Chip, chemicals formed into pencils can be made to react with one another by simply drawing with them on paper. The team may have taken inspiration from colouring books for their take on a chemical toolkit, but their approach could make carrying out simple but common diagnostic tests based on chemical reactions – for example diabetes, HIV, or tests for environmental pollutants – much easier.

Here’s a picture of the pens,


Courtesy: Lab on a Chip

Lorch provides a good description of the technology giving descriptions of reagents and paper-based microfluidics, as well as, describing how the researchers turned the concept of colouring pencils into a diagnostic tool.

Lorch also provides a description of a specific test (Note: Links have been removed),

The team demonstrated a potential use of the reagent pencil technique by using it in place of a common test used by diabetics to check their blood glucose levels, which involves reacting a pinprick blood sample with a chemical solution and examining the result.

One pencil was constructed with a mixture of enzymes, one called horseradish peroxidase (HRP) and the other glucose oxidase (GOx). A second pencil contained a reagent called ABTS. When combined in the presence of glucose these react together to give a blue-coloured product. Comparing the results from their pencils on the pad with the more traditional dropper method used by diabetics the team found the results were identical.

This new ‘pencil kit’ diagnostic technology is easy to use and features a big improvement over the current diagnostic tests,

This is of course extremely easy to set up. Traditional diagnostic tests require training, while this pad and pencil system requires no more than skill than required to colour within the lines. The reagents are extremely stable once made into pencils – usually they would degrade in a matter of days as liquids, limiting how and where the tests can be made. However the reagent pencils showed no sign of degrading after two months.

Being able to use the pencils for two months as opposed to liquids that remain viable for a few days? That’s a huge jump and it makes me wonder about using these kits in harsh conditions such as desert climates and/or emergency situations. Materials that don’t need to be refrigerated and could be used for up to two months and don’t require intensive training could be very helpful. Lorch suggests some other possibilities as well,

… There’s scope to monitor environmental pollutants, carry out diagnostic tests in remote locations – not to mention teach chemistry in primary schools.

Here’s a link to and a citation for the study on the ‘colouring pencil kit’,

Reagent pencils: a new technique for solvent-free deposition of reagents onto paper-based microfluidic devices by Haydn T. Mitchell, Isabelle C. Noxon, Cory A. Chaplan, Samantha J. Carlton, Cheyenne H. Liu, Kirsten A. Ganaja, Nathaniel W. Martinez, Chad E. Immoos, Philip J. Costanzo, and Andres W. Martinez. Lab Chip, 2015, Advance Article DOI: 10.1039/C5LC00297D First published online 08 Apr 2015

This paper is open access but you do have to register on the site unless you have another means of access.

Good chemicals, bad chemicals, everything is chemical: the cry of the lonely chemist

The UK’s Sense about Science folks (first mentioned here in an Aug. 9, 2012 posting) have launched (today, May 19, 2014) a campaign/book, Making Sense of Chemical Stories with an eye catching and thought provoking poster,

]downloaded from http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/may/19/manmade-natural-tasty-toxic-chemicals]

]downloaded from http://www.theguardian.com/science/blog/2014/may/19/manmade-natural-tasty-toxic-chemicals]

That’s right, pears contain formaldehyde. (BTW, A courgette in Canada and the US is commonly known as a zucchini.) The poster accompanies a book, Making Sense of Chemical Stories, and is referenced in a passionate Guardian science blogs May 19, 2014 posting by chemist, Mark Lorch (Note: Links have been removed),

Chemicals are bad, right? Otherwise why would so many purveyors of all things healthy proudly proclaim their products to be “chemical-free” and why would phrases such as “it’s chock full of chemicals” be so commonly used to imply something is unnatural and therefore inherently dangerous?

On one level these phrases are meaningless – after all, chemicals are everywhere, in everything. From the air that we breathe to the pills we pop, it’s all chemicals. Conversely, many would argue (the Advertising Standards Agency included) that we all know perfectly well what “chemical-free” means and those who rail against the absurdity of the phrase are just being pedantic.

… The point is that every time anti-chemical slogans are used people are being misinformed. The implication is always that the terms “chemical” and “poison” are interchangeable. This is a perception that permeates our subconscious to the extent that chemists themselves have been guilty of exactly the same lazy language.

As a result of this common usage of “chemicals” the whole subject has been tainted with unpleasant connotations. And while physics and biology have their celebrity scientists extolling the wonders of bosons, bugs and big bangs, chemists are left floundering in their wake or are left completely unrepresented in the mainstream media (where’s the Guardian’s chemistry blog?).

Lorch makes a good point when he notes that biologists and physicists get more attention. Frankly, I’d add mathematicians and, possibly, engineers to the list of those with better outreach programmes.

Here’s more about the book, Making Sense of Chemical Stories, from its webpage on the Sense about Science website (Note: Links have been removed),

The new edition of our public guide, Making Sense of Chemical Stories, was published by Sense About Science today with support from Royal Society of Chemistry.

People are still being misled by chemical myths. This needs to stop. We urge everyone to stop repeating misconceptions about chemicals. The presence of a chemical isn’t a reason for alarm. The effect of a chemical depends on the dose.

In lifestyle commentary, chemicals are presented as something that can be avoided, or eliminated using special socks, soaps or diets, and that cause only harm to health and damage to the environment.

The public guide flags up the more serious misconceptions that exist around chemicals and suggests straightforward ways for people to evaluate them.

People needn’t be scared by chemical stories. The reality boils down to six points:

You can’t lead a chemical-free life
Natural isn’t always good for you and man-made chemicals are not inherently dangerous
Synthetic chemicals are not causing many cancers and other diseases
‘Detox’ is a marketing myth
We need man-made chemicals
We are not just subjects in an unregulated, uncontrolled environment, there are checks in place

The poster was designed by Compound Interest (from the About page),

‘Compound Interest’ is a blog by a graduate chemist & teacher in the UK, creating graphics looking at the chemistry and chemical reactions we come across on a day-to-day basis.

I found a few tidbits in their May 19, 2014 post which describes a (new to me) condition and which highlights one of the other graphics Compound Interest has created for the Making Sense of Chemical Stories book/campaign,

The term ‘chemophobia’ has been used on social media amongst chemists with increasing regularity over the past year. Defined as ‘a fear of chemicals’, more specifically it refers to the growing tendency for the public to be suspicious and critical of the presence of any man-made (synthetic) chemicals in foods or products that they make use of.

I think this campaign/book is a good reminder to check our assumptions even for those of us (moi) who fancy ourselves as being thoughtful, critical readers. I got my first reminder (comeuppance) earlier this year in a Jan. 26, 2014 article by Melinda Wenner Mayer for Slate.com (Note: Links have been removed),

I want to start off by saying that this column is not about whether organic agriculture is worth supporting for its environmental benefits (I think it is) or whether we as a society should care about the chemicals found in our foods and household products (I think we should).

So let’s focus on that other major claim about organic food—that is it’s healthier, particularly for kids, because it contains fewer pesticides. First, let’s start with the fact that organic does not mean pesticide-free. As scientist and writer Christie Wilcox explains in several eye-opening blog posts over at Scientific American, organic farmers can and often do use pesticides. The difference is that conventional farmers are allowed to use synthetic pesticides, whereas organic farmers are (mostly) limited to “natural” ones, chosen primarily because they break down easily in the environment and are less likely to pollute land and water. (I say “mostly” because several synthetic chemicals are approved for use in organic farming, too.)

The assumption, of course, is that these natural pesticides are safer than the synthetic ones. Many of them are, but there are some notable exceptions. Rotenone, a pesticide allowed in organic farming, is far more toxic by weight than many synthetic pesticides. The U.S Environmental Protection Agency sets exposure limits for the amount of a chemical that individuals (including kids) can be exposed to per day without any adverse effects. For Rotenone, the EPA has determined that people should be exposed to no more than 0.004 milligrams per kilogram of body weight per day. Let’s compare this toxicity to that of some commonly used synthetic pesticides, like the organophosphate pesticide Malathion. The nonprofit Pesticide Action Network calls organophosphates “some of the most common and most toxic insecticides used today.” (Sarin, the nerve gas used in two Japanese terrorist attacks in the 1990s, is a potent organophosphate.) Yet the EPA has deemed it safe, based on animal tests, for humans to be exposed to 0.02 milligrams of Malathion per kilogram of body weight per day. This is five times more than the amount deemed safe for Rotenone. In other words, by weight, the natural pesticide Rotenone is considered five times more harmful than synthetic pesticide Malathion. [emphasis mine]


Following through logically, one wants to know what dosages of Rotenone are used in farming and how much of that is later found in one’s fruits and vegetables. Getting back to where this post began, ‘The Dose Makes the Poison’.

Over 100,000 images from Wellcome Trust made available for download

Earlier this month there were notices about the UK’s Wellcome Trust making their images freely available which I promptly forgot about. Thanks to Mark Lorch’s Jan. 30, 2014 post on the Guardian science blogs I’ve been reminded (Note: Links have been removed),

The UK’s leading medical research charity, the Wellcome Trust, has donated a treasure trove to the world: more than 100,000 images covering the history of all aspects of medicine, science and technology are now freely available to any and all.

The database contains pictures of weird and wonderful medical instruments, copies of historical documents and stunning examples of science-related works of art, from Van Goghs to cartoons. It’s a joy just to peruse the library, jumping from one fascinating image to the next.But, being a chemist, I was of course particularly drawn to the documents and apparatus depicting the history of my chosen field. …

Lorch includes a number of images including a copy of what appears to be some graffiti written by James Crick (of Watson & Crick & the double helix) but my favourite is this periodic table of elements model (Note: A link has been removed),

Model showing the periodic elements of chemistry Photograph: Wellcome Images

Model showing the periodic elements of chemistry Photograph: Wellcome Images

Finally, the mundane but no less fascinating. How about a cunning 3D representation of the periodic table lovingly mounted in a jam jar!

A January 20, 2014 Wellcome Images news release provides more details about their newly available offerings,

Over 100,000 images ranging from ancient medical manuscripts to etchings by artists such as Vincent Van Gogh and Francisco Goya are now available for free download as hi-res images on our website.

Drawn from the historical holdings of the world-renowned Wellcome Library, the images are being released under the Creative Commons-Attribution only (CC-BY) licence. This means that all the historical images can be downloaded here to freely copy, distribute, edit, manipulate, and build upon as you wish, for personal or commercial use as long as the source Wellcome Library is attributed.

The historical collections offer a rich body of historical images including manuscripts, paintings, etchings, early photography and advertisements. The earliest item is a 3000 year old Egyptian prescription on papyrus, and treasures include exquisite medieval illuminated manuscripts and anatomical drawings, ranging from delicate 16th century fugitive sheets, whose hinged paper flaps reveal hidden viscera, to Paolo Mascagni’s vibrantly coloured etching of an ‘exploded’ torso.

From the beauty of a Persian horoscope for the 15th-century prince Iskandar to sharply sketched satires by Rowlandson, Gillray and Cruikshank, the collection is sacred and profane by turns. Photography includes Eadweard Muybridge’s studies of motion, John Thomson’s remarkable nineteenth century portraits from his travels in China and a newly added series of photographs of hysteric and epileptic patients at the famous Salpêtrière Hospital.

Simon Chaplin, Head of the Wellcome Library, says “Together the collection amounts to a dizzying visual record of centuries of human culture, and our attempts to understand our bodies, minds and health through art and observation. As a strong supporter of open access, we want to make sure these images can be used and enjoyed by anyone without restriction.”

Catherine Draycott, Head of Wellcome Images says, “Wellcome Images is an invaluable visual resource for anyone interested in themes around medicine and the wider history of health and we are delighted to make our growing archive of historical images freely available to all, and provide the mechanism for direct access to them. We hope that users, both personal and commercial take full advantage of the material available.”

Our specialist team of researchers at Wellcome Images are available to advise and assist with sourcing and searching for images and can be contacted at images@wellcome.ac.uk.

All of those references to Van Gogh piqued my curiosity. Here’s one of the images you’ll find if you search Van Gogh,

Credit: Wellcome Library, London Paul Ferdinand Gachet. Etching by V. van Gogh, 1890.

Credit: Wellcome Library, London
Paul Ferdinand Gachet. Etching by V. van Gogh, 1890.

Here’s the story provided by the Wellcome staff,

Paul-Ferdinand Gachet (1828-1909) was a maverick physician who practised what later came to be called complementary or alternative medicine. He had a consulting room in Paris to which he commuted from his house in Auvers-sur-Oise outside the city. He was an art lover, being an amateur artist, an art collector, and a friend of many artists, one of them being the Dutchman Vincent Van Gogh. Gachet and Van Gogh only knew each other for a couple of months, from 20 May 1890 when Van Gogh arrived to stay in a lodging house in Auvers, to 27 July 1890, when he shot himself. Van Gogh, suffering from a form of mania, was producing one painting a day at that time, but, with Gachet’s help, was able to draw this etched portrait to be printed on Gachet’s printing press, probably after Sunday lunch at Gachet’s house on 15 June 1890. Gachet’s moist-eyed portrayal reflects Van Gogh’s impression that Gachet was “sicker than I am”, but it could in turn result from the fact that the sitter was looking at the artist and contemplating his lamentable mental state. This impression of the print was bought by Henry S. Wellcome from Gachet’s son, Paul Louis Gachet, in 1927, together with many other items of Gachet personalia. The cat in the bottom margin is the stamp certifying the print’s provenance from Paul-Louis Gachet.

It is a fascinating image resource although you may find, as I did, some of it is a bit creepy, e.g., the tattoo section brought up images of tattoos on excised human skin amongst the paintings of tattooed individuals and images of patterns used in tattoos.