Guest speaker offers closer look at the periodic table


LAWRENCE - A rare evening lecture sponsored by the University of Kansas Department of Chemistry will offer the public an entertaining look at one of modern science’s most recognizable icons, the periodic table. 

The speaker, University of California-Los Angeles lecturer and author Eric Scerri, has studied the periodic table for decades through complementary lenses of history, science education, quantum mechanics and philosophy. This free public lecture will take place at 5:15 p.m. Friday, April 13, at Alderson Auditorium in the Kansas Union.  It will conclude with a book signing. 

“When we think of the periodic table as something that was invented just to tabulate known chemical elements, we relegate it to the same status as any other table in a textbook or on the Internet,” said Roderick Black, a chemistry laboratory director familiar with Scerri’s work.  

Black anticipates a lecture that will make an impact scientists and nonscientists alike.  “The periodic table has many stories to tell.  But even those who are still wondering why it’s called ‘periodic’ should attend Scerri’s lecture.”  

Some scientists find themselves outside of their “comfort zone” in contemplating the scope of the periodic table’s impact. Black believes that scientists are good at applying their thinking to the work of other scientists and engineers, whether in academia or in industrial enterprises. 

“But something that summarizes as much information as the periodic table commands a lot of public attention. We need to move beyond science, into history and philosophy, to appreciate the charm and power of the periodic table,” Black said. 

 Black explained that Aristotle’s fundamental idea that all known substances are composed of a few chemical entities is still with us, and will continue to be. 

“If we discover advanced life elsewhere in the galaxy, they, too, will surely have a system of organizing the building blocks of matter, analogous to our periodic table. If you come to Scerri’s lecture, you’ll be drawn into a saga that has intrigued mankind for millennia,” he said.

The book-signing immediately after the lecture will feature Scerri’s chemistry best-seller “The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance” as well as a brand-new paperback titled “A Very Short Introduction to the Periodic Table.” In addition to his books, Scerri has published more than 100 research articles.

Scerri earned his doctorate from King’s College, University of London, and completed a postdoctoral fellowship at the California Institute of Technology. Before coming to UCLA, he held positions at Bradley University and Purdue University. He has taught chemistry classes and courses in history and philosophy of science in the Chemistry Department at UCLA for 12 years.