In producing this show, I collect research from a wide variety of sources, both online and from the local library. (These sources are provided in the show notes for each episode!) They range from the chemistry and history textbooks you would expect to personal correspondence and Shakespeare’s plays. Collected here are some of the books and websites that I refer to most frequently, for anyone interested in doing their own research.
Update 2019-12-17: I’ve added links to where you can purchase the books that I list below. I don’t earn a commission off those links, I’d just like to make it easier for you to find them. If you’re able, I’d recommend you buy from Indiebound. When you do, you’re supporting your community’s bookstore, which often does much more than sell books. Amazon is cheap, but you can’t browse the shelves or meet an author.
First and foremost, it’s very helpful to have a periodic table to reference when working on a show about chemistry, and it can provide some good context while listening, too! Ptable.com is my favorite on the internet, presenting a dynamic table that looks good on practically any device. It’s also straight to the point when you just need a quick visual reference, but offers a truly shocking depth of information, too. Practically any data you could want to know about an element, you’ll be able to find on Ptable.
Chances are good that if you’re here, you’re already familiar with Brady Haran’s legendary series of chemistry lessons, Periodic Videos. Professor Martyn Poliakoff is the truly delightful host of the series and is at least as fascinating as any of the subjects he’s presenting. Haran, meanwhile, is an astonishingly prolific video creator, with several other series worth checking out.
Here is a website that deliberately includes no scientific data whatsoever about any chemical element — but a wealth of information about their names. This is the single most comprehensive and exhaustive source on that particular subject I’ve found anywhere, whether online or in print. This website claims that it was last updated in 2016, but it includes information at least as recent as 2018. Regardless — this is a great source.
Maxim Bilovitskiy is an Estonian video blogger who creates some amazing work showcasing the elements and various chemical reactions for his YouTube channel, Thoisoi. Graciously, he caters to his English-speaking audience by translating all his videos and posting them to his Thoisoi2 channel. He often provides fascinating information that can’t be found in many other places. Bilovitskiy insists that he’s not a chemist, but I suppose to disagree would be to get rather philosophical, wouldn’t it?
This isn’t as robust a resource as some of the others here, but it does one thing very well: It illustrates the ways in which every element is put to use. Granted, not every element can be put to use, so those are left blank.
I’ve written a more complete review of this book on the blog, but in short, I find it to be a valuable resource approaching the subject of chemistry’s history from a unique perspective. Don’t be fooled by its subtitle, “How The Elements Were Named.” While it is about that, it’s also much more.
The book manages to stand well apart from the other books on this list, bringing plenty of new information to the table for those with an interest in language or science.
Amazon | Barnes & Noble | Indiebound
Above all, this book consists of gorgeous photography. I’ve found it a great starting place to find inspiration and jumping-off points for my research, and it’s an essential read for any aspiring element collector. Gray’s website offers much of the same information for free, if you’re more concerned with research than aesthetic enjoyment.
Sam Kean’s book was incredibly popular upon publication in 2010, and part of my job in creating The Episodic Table of Elements is to ensure I produce a show that stands apart from similar works. The Disappearing Spoon casts a long shadow, but for good reasons. It’s thoroughly entertaining and readable, and Kean was able to dig up a lot of stories that other writers might have missed.
Despite being published within a year of The Disappearing Spoon, and covering a largely similar subject matter, this book stands on its own with the tales it tells. I take this as a good sign that there are simply so many stories to tell in this arena that no single work can hope to cover them all. At any rate, Periodic Tales is a great companion to Kean’s book, and hopefully, this podcast, too.
This is an excellent resource on the chemical elements, more encyclopedic than narrative driven. It’s also arranged in alphabetical order, which can be more convenient when looking for information on a specific element. This book is chock-full of scientific data and interesting trivia.
If you’re in the mood for something that’s not meant for a research project, I recommend the following.
Both this and the next entry are books of poems by Mala Radhakrishnan, a professor and researcher at Wellesley College. This collection is a lot of fun, putting to verse such topics as stoichiometry, the element carbon, and an imagined family portrait of the periodic table.
Radhakrishnan’s second collection of poetry consists entirely of couplets that focus on everyday life’s joys and troubles… through the lens of chemistry. It’s a lot of fun.
I got the opportunity to speak with Radhakrishnan about her work, and you can read more about that if you’d like.
Who knew so many chemists were poets? Originally, this work took the form of a webpage for Science Magazine, but now it’s a book you can have on your shelf, too. Each element gets its own haiku, which are all quite thoughtful, and it’s fun to flip through and see which one you’ll get.