12. Magnesium: White Light/White Heat

Magnesium makes for quite a fireworks display, whether inside your body or out.

Featured above: A nighttime water-skier holds the tow line with his teeth while waving bright magnesium flares in either hand.

Show Notes

A Book And A Soak: The Russian author Fyodor Dostoevsky liked to relax with a bath at the mineral springs of a town called Staraya Russa — coincidentally, the “minerals” in these springs happened to be high in magnesium. This lends a savory taste to the salt that you can still buy from that town today. Anyway, Dostoevsky liked the town so much that his book The Brothers Karamazov takes place in a town suspiciously similar to Staraya Russa, and he wrote much of the book while staying there.

Show Me What A Scientist Looks Like: There’s a sadly defunct website dedicated entirely to busting stereotypes of what a scientist looks like over at This Is What A Scientist Looks Like.

The stereotype of a middle-aged white man in a lab coat is one that’s ingrained early, as evidenced by seventh-grade American children who visited Fermilab. They drew their mental image of a scientist before and after the visit to see what changed. Personally, my favorite image is by Dan S., who apparently learned that scientists are still middle-aged white men, but with 100% more disappointment and boredom. But seriously, it’s pretty encouraging to see young girls writing things like, “Who knows? Maybe I can be a scientist.” (The entire collection is really worth thumbing through, a mix of kids who already had a good idea and kids who think a “normal person” apparently has the job of Atlas.)

And it’s not just limited to that class of students. Kids are increasingly drawing women as scientists, and that kind of internalization is important in encouraging kids to become excited about the sciences.

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  1. Education In Chemistry, Magnesium. John Emsley, July 1, 2008.
  2. Epsom And Ewell History Explorer, Epsom Spa.
  3. Science History Institute, Science & Celebrity: Humphry Davy’s Rising Star. T. K. Kenyon, Winter 2008-2009.
  4. Elementymology & Elements Multidict, Magnesium. Peter van der Krogt.
  5. Chemical Nomenclature, pp. 46-47. K. J. Thurlowe, 1998.
  6. Further resources on the physics of race car driving are available at the Allen Berg Racing Schools website and The Science Classroom wiki.
  7. Los Angeles Times, Driving a Race Car Takes Strength and Stamina : These Athletes Travel in Fast Lane but Keep Fit. Associated Press, May 19, 1985
  8. And at one point, NASA considered race car drivers as potential astronauts. See here for more on how they did choose the guys with the right stuff.
  9. Apparently, the thought occurred to the Virginia Air & Space Museum, as well.
  10. Mike Hawthorn & the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans: The Cause and the Effect, Jeremy McMullen. Normally I wouldn’t link to a source like “concept carz dot com,” but Mr. McMullen does cite his primary sources. I mark it as trustworthy!
  11. Jalopnik, Just How Horrifying Was The Worst Crash In Motorsports, Le Mans ’55? Raphael Orlove, June 14, 2014.

4 Replies to “12. Magnesium: White Light/White Heat”

  1. While the pics that kids grew were interesting for their gender changes, I note the kids thought scientists were somehow exclusively lily white, both before and after.

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