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Science Communication


Book covers and Disney characters—there’s a periodic table for everything

by Linda Wang
July 11, 2020 | A version of this story appeared in Volume 98, Issue 27


Covering the elements

Photo of Nick Thomas with his Periodic Table of Element Books.
Credit: Courtesy of Nick Thomas
Cover to cover: Nick Thomas with his Periodic Table of Element Books

Looking for some reading inspiration this summer as you ride out the COVID-19 pandemic at home? Look no further than Nick Thomas’s Periodic Table of Element Books.

Thomas, a chemistry professor at Auburn University at Montgomery, has assembled a periodic table in which each element is represented by a book containing the element’s name in its title.

Many of the books Thomas has included are not about science. For example, there’s a collection of poems called Iridium, a business book called The Francium Rule, and a book called Mercury that’s not about the element, but about the late British rock star Freddie Mercury.

One criterion Thomas uses for inclusion is that the book cover needs to be eye-catching so that his completed table would appeal to a broad audience. Academic books “tend to have very boring covers,” he says.

Thomas tells Newscripts the idea to assemble a periodic table of books came to him when he was a teenager. While other kids collected coins, stamps, and baseball cards, Thomas collected chemistry books. “I remember thinking, ‘Wouldn’t it be fun to get a book that had each element in its title and arrange them in a giant periodic table on the floor?’ ” He finally completed his childhood dream this past spring.

“It’s turned out to be a fun way to combine some chemistry and literature that most anyone can appreciate even without knowing too much about the periodic table,” Thomas says.

He reveals that one book cover does not contain the name of the element. Instead, the title nods at the Greek phrase that inspired the element’s name. Can you find it? Hint: it’s twice as green.

View Thomas’s Periodic Table of Element Books at


Disney’s character chemistry

Kit Chapman with his Disney Periodic Table.
Credit: Kit Chapman
Matching up: Kit Chapman has a vast knowledge of both Disney characters and elements of the periodic table.

Across the pond, in the UK, science writer Kit Chapman has assembled a periodic table filled with characters from Disney movies. Chapman, who is both a Disney fanatic and a periodic table expert—tells Newscripts it only took him a weekend to put the collection together. Chapman is author of Superheavy, a book about the discovery of the elements beyond lawrencium.

In the Disney Periodic Table, the element iron, for example, is represented by Captain Hook from the film Peter Pan because the villain has an iron hook for a hand. The element hafnium is represented by Ariel in The Little Mermaid because hafnium is named after Copenhagen, where the fairy tale’s author Hans Christian Andersen lived. And the element osmium, which derives its name from the Greek word for smell, is represented by Tarzan from the movie Tarzan because, Chapman explains, “let’s be honest, there’s no way Tarzan doesn’t smell.”

Fans of the movie Finding Nemo won’t find the characters Nemo and Dory on Chapman’s periodic table. “They represent all the elements we haven’t found yet,” he quips.

Explore Chapman’s Disney Periodic Table at

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This story was updated on July 13, 2020, to correct Nick Thomas's affiliation. Thomas is not a chemistry professor at Auburn University, which is in Auburn, Alabama. Rather, he's a professor at Auburn University at Montgomery.



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