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Tools Of The Trade

March 31, 2014 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 92, Issue 13

I thoroughly enjoyed Peter Atkins’s exploration of the basis of chemistry in “The Periodic Kingdom” and have referred it to several students as supplementary reading. After reading Rudy Baum’s review of Atkins’s “What Is Chemistry?” I am very much looking forward to adding this to my to-read pile (C&EN, Dec. 16, 2013, page 28).

Baum critiques the book with his doubts that “most general readers really care that much about the basics of spectroscopy and spectrometry.” Given the roles that these techniques have played in shaping the science of chemistry and the study of matter in general, a chapter devoted to the tools that chemists use to identify the composition, structure, and properties of materials seems crucial to defining what chemistry is.

If the general public knows nothing about the tools of the trade, they are more easily “blinded by science,” and their perceptions about who chemists are and what they do are rooted more in the 19th century than the 21st. It’s one thing for a society to appreciate the fruits of science and technology; it’s better when a society can appreciate how those fruits were developed and delivered to us today.

Timothy Herrmann
Adams, Mass.


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