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Periodic Table


Periodic Table Ceiling, Elemental Pups

by Linda Wang
April 30, 2012 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 90, Issue 18


When students in Scott Byrum’s high school chemistry class at North Sand Mountain School, in Higdon, Ala., need some inspiration, all they have to do is look up. Byrum has installed a massive periodic table of the elements on the ceiling of his classroom, which doubles as a lab.

Credit: Allie Knight
Look Up: Byrum points out that the elements are everywhere.
Scott Byrum points to a periodic table on the ceiling.
Credit: Allie Knight
Look Up: Byrum points out that the elements are everywhere.

“I’m having to compete with all the Xboxes and the Nintendos, so I have to keep my sword sharp,” Byrum says. “Unless I can keep my classroom hopping and keep it exciting, I will lose the students in a matter of moments. This periodic table on the ceiling almost engages their minds visually like a game.”

Byrum began assembling his giant periodic table last year while his classroom was being renovated. “The ceiling tiles are squares, which is the perfect geometry for the way the periodic table is lined up,” he says. Byrum got a local company to create the vinyl lettering for the tiles, and he and his students affixed the letters to them.

Solid elements are in black lettering, liquids are in blue, and gases are in red. The table is extremely accurate, except for one small deviation, Byrum says. “I had to move one element over because of where the architects had installed a smoke detector,” he admits. If a new element is discovered, all he needs to do is annotate a new ceiling tile.

“My students love it,” Byrum says of his new ceiling. “It makes them feel more connected to my instruction.” The artwork is also an instant conversation starter. “Even faculty members, when they walk in and see it,” want to talk about it, he says.

Byrum no longer worries about his students daydreaming in class. When their minds start to wander, and they look up at the ceiling, well, there’s the periodic table. “Even though they may be daydreaming, they’re daydreaming science,” he says.

Elsewhere in the country, the periodic table has inspired Brent Sass, owner of Wild & Free Mushing, in Fairbanks, to name his Alaskan husky pups after the elements. Sass trains dogs for mushing, or the sport of dogsledding.

Credit: Courtesy of Brent Sass
Awfully Cute: The latest element pups.
Pups with elemental names.
Credit: Courtesy of Brent Sass
Awfully Cute: The latest element pups.

Over the past three years, Sass has bred three litters of element-named pups. There’s Carbon, Cobalt, Copper, Merc (mercury), and Nickel, which are three years old. Then there’s Argon, Krypton, Neon, Radon, and Xenon, which are nine months old. The most recent additions are Beryl (beryllium), Bo (boron), Flo (fluorine), Iron, Ox (oxygen), and Tin, which were born a month ago. All the pups are offspring of a husky named Silver and his mate, Chicken.

The idea to name the dogs after elements came to Sass as he was searching for a theme for his pups. Since silver is the name of an element, Sass decided to continue with the elements.

He admits that his naming system is pretty random. “I wait until they’re at least a couple weeks old and then sit down with the periodic table and match each dog up with a name,” he says. “There’s really no pattern. Don’t ask me how it works, but by the end the names are a good fit for the dog.”

Only Silver’s pups carry the elemental monikers, but Sass’s other dogs have eclectic names. There’s Corvette, Guillermo, Jwow, and Squid, just to name a few. Sass doesn’t expect to run out of element names for Silver’s pups anytime soon, though: “I’ll have way too many dogs if that happens!”


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