This week kicked off our summer chemistry class, and we got things off on the right magical science foot by transforming copper into silver. (Or did we? More on that as our understanding of the situation develops.)
Chemistry can be a tough sell for students because a lot of classes dive right into the math without explaining why it’s interesting or important, so we’re taking the opposite approach: By focusing on the philosophy of chemistry and doing experiments where we deduce what’s happening instead of going in looking for a particular outcome, I’m hoping this class will give students a real, nuanced understanding of matter — and an interest in chemistry that goes deeper than wanting to get the right answers on a multiple choice test. So this week, we watched part of The Man in the White Suit (an old-school film that’s all about how chemists can invent new kinds of matter), used dubious jelly beans to explore the history of atomic theory, and reviewed chemical warning label symbols of doom. Our element of the week was antimony — I’ll let your student explain to you why antimony laxatives not infrequently featured in medieval wills — and Maria Goeppert Mayer, a.k.a. “San Diego Mother,” was our scientist of the week. She won the Nobel Prize in 1963 for her work developing the theory of stable nuclei.