This blog is my attempt to reconnect with the world of chemistry. I have a PhD in Inorganic Chemistry and make a living doing research for a large company in Michigan. As times have changed, that company has changed its focus and I no longer have as much chance to do the basic, fundamental research which I most enjoy. Through this blog, I am hoping to recapture the magic which I felt during my graduate (and undergraduate) days in college. Expect topics on chemistry and alchemy along with some non-chemistry related items which I think might be interesting.

"The chymists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasure among smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I would change places with the Persian King."

Johann Joachim Becher (phlogistonist)
Acta Laboratorii Chymica Monacensis, seu Physica Subterranea, (1669).

Friday, April 18, 2008

Adventures in Time

Yesterday, I visited the John King bookstore, a well known (at least around here) used bookstore in downtown Detroit. It consists of a four story building absolutely filled with old books. The first time I visited this store years ago, the organization of books was fairly nonexistent. You would ask for the science section and the employees would tell you to “search the 3rd floor.” It has since become much better organized and the employees can tell you exactly where to find chemistry books, which was my target. I enjoy reading old chemistry books. Why? Because they discuss aspects of chemistry which are often neglected in today’s chemistry books. If a modern book spent 10 pages describing the chemistry of an element, only 2 pages would be spent describing the fundamental properties while eight pages would be spent on its organometallic chemistry or its cluster chemistry. Books from 50 years ago will spend 5 pages describing its basic chemistry (including obscure reactions I didn’t know about) and another 5 pages on the industrial processes and usage. Of course, it’s also funny to read some of the “facts” which have since been corrected in the past 30 to 50 years. Here are a few thoughts which occurred to me as I searched through the stacks of books.

1) It’s amusing to see a book with a title like “Modern Aspects of Chemistry” and then find out the book is 60 years old.

2) There are a whole lot of quantitative analysis books available out there. I guess gravimetric analysis and colorimetric analysis just isn’t the “in” thing anymore.

3) There were not many books devoted to just one element. Fluorine had 2, indium (indium!?) had one, and boron had like 5 or 6. What’s the deal with boron?

4) There were several bound volumes of Ph.D. theses. One was from the University of Wisconsin. Have no idea how it came to be at a bookstore and even less of an idea who would ever buy it.

5) Plenty of CRCs for sale.

I also like to pick up books on alchemy, they can be quite interesting to read, but unfortunately none were available. I did buy a couple of books on chemistry, with the best of the lot being a pharmaceutical formulary book from the 1930s. Latin names were used for the various powders and potions described therein, giving this book a definite Harry Potter feel. For example, a prep for Acidum Nitrohydrochloricum (aqua regia) was described. Not sure why a pharmacist would be making aqua regia or why it has a dosage listed (0.2 ml), but it's still fun to page through this book. If anyone else has any books to suggest, please let me know.

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