Public Release: 

Chemical & Engineering News 80th anniversary issue highlights periodic table

American Chemical Society

It will be a celebration of the periodic table, from hydrogen to darmstadtium and beyond, from the elements that have magical and practical properties to cure disease, create high-tech materials and enhance our standard of living, to others that cause disease and pollute our rivers. This is the theme of a special issue of Chemical & Engineering News, due out Sept. 8, which also celebrates the 80th anniversary of the newsmagazine of the American Chemical Society, the world's largest scientific society.

The issue will include 89 essays on the entire Periodic Table of the Elements, written by luminaries from across the chemical enterprise -- industrial, academic and government. Among the essayists are Nobel Prize winners, chief executive officers of major chemical and pharmaceutically oriented companies, literary lights such as Oliver Sacks ("Uncle Tungsten" and "The Man Who Mistook His Wife for a Hat") and Alan Lightman ("Einstein's Dreams" and "Reunion"). Among the authors will be those who helped discover elements.

Overall, the issue will examine elements that play key roles in everyday life from the TV screens we watch to the food we eat. It will be a personal exploration of the elements at a glance, in a style appropriate for high school-age students. Each essay also contains pertinent technical information about the elements.

This entire special issue of C&EN will be available on the Web at no charge. To access it go to and click on the special icon.

"This issue is a very fresh look at the periodic table," says Madeleine Jacobs, C&EN editor-in-chief. "This special issue really brings chemistry to life. We see how something as abstract as a chemical element can play a fundamental role in our everyday life."

To C&EN managing editor Rudy M. Baum, "the Periodic Table is nature's Rosetta Stone." He says that while to most people it is just 100 plus numbered boxes, each containing one or two letters, the table reveals the organizing principles of matter to chemists. "At a very fundamental level, all of chemistry is contained in the periodic table."

Among the essays and their authors in the special issue are:

  • Silicon. While abundance of silicon in the earth's crust is second only to oxygen, its real potential wasn't realized until the later 20th century when it began to play a key role in the burgeoning electronics and computer industries. Roald Hoffmann, Frank H. T. Rhodes Professor of Humane Letters at Cornell University and a Nobel Prize winner in chemistry.
  • Chlorine. An element with a good side and bad side. It continues to be an excellent disinfectant for swimming pools and water supplies and its compounds are used in plastics such as polyvinyl chloride. But too much chlorine gas is being released into the atmosphere. Cynthia Burrows, a chemistry professor at University of Utah and senior editor of ACS's Journal of Organic Chemistry
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  • Gold. This element is found free in nature, with two-thirds of the world's supply coming from South Africa. Gold is the most malleable metal, is not affected by air, and is a good conductor of heat and electricity. Used in dental fillings, printed circuit boards and electrical connectors, it is, of course, used to make some of the most prized pieces of jewelry. Alan Lightman, physicist and novelist and adjunct professor of humanities at Massachusetts Institute of Technology.
  • Beryllium. This element has excellent electrical and thermal conductivities when combined with copper and nickel. But it is also considered one of the most toxic elements, which can sicken some 20 percent of those working with it and condemn them to a lifelong, incurable respiratory illness. Lee S. Newman, professor of medicine and head of the Division of Environmental & Occupational Health Services, National Jewish Medical & Research Center and a professor at the University of Colorado School of Medicine, Denver.


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