Field of Science

Table Manners in Nature Chemistry

The second issue of Nature Chemistry appeared online today, with my musings about the shapes the periodic table can take, and why I think chemists like to keep their elements in boxes.

"Chemists have created hundreds of variations in search of the perfect periodic table. The periodic table has been mapped onto spirals, circles, triangles and elephants. The first such “alternative” periodic table, based on a sprial, was proposed by Gustavus Hinrichs of the University of Iowa in 1867, two years before Mendeleev published the forerunner to the current blocked tabular form. Still, open 50 random introductory chemistry texts and it is a fair bet that all 50 of them have IUPAC’s standard periodic table inside, or its generic sister. Chemists are stuck in the box." Read the rest of the column here (requires a subscription...).
Or if my Table Manners are not to your taste, this article in the same issue on syntheses of Moebius molecules might be.

All that glitters...may be tin

While medieval alchemists were searching for the secrets of turning base metals, such as lead and tin, into gold, medieval artists had already figured out how to do this. Gold was often applied to manuscripts in medieval Europe and the Middle East to “illuminate” them, an illuminated page would have the functional equivalent of little mirrors scattered across it, making the most of dim interior lighting. In addition to being reflective, gold does not corrode or oxidize, so gold will not discolor with time. There is a fine collection of medieval illuminated manuscripts at a library near me, and as you turn the pages of Book of Hours that is half a millenia old (wearing gloves, of course), the golden decorations wink at you as brightly as the day they were applied.

Gold is expensive, and hard to handle, particularly in the thin sheets necessitated by the cost. One alternative is to use a tin base, then brush on a saffron oil glaze. Polish it up and you might not notice. The glaze blocks out the oxygen and moisture in the air, preventing many of the chemical reactions which can cause the metal to discolor. The resulting preparation is called auripetrum - Peter’s gold. Peter had a good idea - whoever he was.

Does anyone know more about the source of this name? I'd love to know.