Science Poetry

Act of Learning

Astronomer, learnéd… expounding
Through proofs, figures: dense and confounding.  
The student, receptive
To nature’s perspective,
Will exit the lecture resounding.  

This week’s poem is a non-Twitter one; I had initially drafted it during the summer, when I was focused on a series of posts inspired from lines from works of literature, as a limerick-framed restatement of some of the images and themes of Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer.”  However, as this poem is primarily a paraphrase, it did not seem to fit as well with the others, which used direct quotes or allusions to initiate the new verses and essays, so I tabled it for a few weeks.

Astronomer, learnéd… expounding
Through proofs, figures: dense and confounding.  

Walt Whitman’s “When I Heard the Learn’d Astronomer” famously describes a speaker’s encounter with a lecture from a renowned scientist.  The speaker first notes the overwhelming amount of data presented in the auditorium: “When the proofs, the figures, were ranged in columns before me, / When I was shown the charts and diagrams, to add, divide, and measure them…

I teach many content-heavy chemistry courses.  I appreciate their roles in various disciplinary curricula, but I am also aware that the first presentations undoubtedly seem “dense and confounding” to new students.    

The student, receptive
To nature’s perspective,
Will exit the lecture resounding.  

Whitman’s poem concludes with lines describing how the speaker seeks refuge from the information-dense presentation in a primary encounter with astronomical observation: “[R]ising and gliding out I wander’d off by myself, / In the mystical moist night-air, and from time to time, / Look’d up in perfect silence at the stars.”  

The student is clearly open to appreciating the subject matter at hand (in the limerick phrasing: “receptive / [t]o nature’s perspective”), but via a direct, self-initiated study: the truest example of active learning

I expect that the limerick form might seem trivializing here, but I had intended this verse as a tribute.  Whitman’s poem is one I remember when teaching, where my goal is primarily that students progress toward becoming independent life-long learners, regardless of their responses to the chemistry content presented.  In reading, I find the effect of the speaker’s shift from the passive voice (“When I was shown”) to the active observation (“I… [l]ook’d up in perfect silence at the stars”) to be unfailingly moving.   

Science Poetry

Isolation Incident

“A simplified Chem situation,
Analysis by isolation:
One species in excess 
So rate law is expressed 
In pseudo-nth-order notation.”

The 22 October 2021 Twitter limerick was the last in the poetic series for National Chemistry Week 2021.  It summarized a technique called the isolation method, which (as with other approaches highlighted in the last few poems) is a technique used by chemists to simplify a complicated rate law.  

“A simplified Chem situation, /
Analysis by isolation…”

The first two lines note that this is another simplifying scenario in the discipline of chemistry, pertaining to kinetics.  

Isolation method” is a phrase that came to mind often in 2020’s early days of the pandemic, as the terms “social distancing” and “isolation guidelines” suddenly were added to everyone’s lexicon.  In the chemistry setting, though, the approach allows an investigator to examine the kinetic role of one reactant at a time as it affects a rate law.

“One species in excess /
So rate law is expressed /
In pseudo-nth-order notation.”

The last three lines summarize a typical example.  One experiment I cite often in class involves the fading of a pink-colored solution over time, where the solution takes on a vibrant color because excess base is present (a case of “one species in excess”) with a chemical indicator (phenolphthalein).  By monitoring the fading of the pink color, students determine information about how the reaction depends specifically on the presence of the phenolphthalein.  

Rate laws are typically classified as first-order, second-order, etc. with respect to a given reactant.  When the isolation method is used, the phrasing changes to pseudo-first-order, etc., acknowledging that this is a finding that has yet to be fully clarified to explore the role of the excess reactant.  “Pseudo-nth-order” means the value of n is under investigation (and is a phrase that fits neatly into a metric rhythm!).

In the case of the experiment described above, the experimental finding is that the rate law is pseudo-first-order with respect to phenolphthalein.  When the entire rate law is determined, it is first-order with respect to both phenolphthalein and the base, so second-order overall. 

Science Poetry

Coordinating Events

“Reactant and product, by
Way of transition state…
Progress reactive in
Graph summarized:  
Ornate coordinate,
Relative energies,
Here analyzed.”  

To my chagrin, I realized last week that I had accidentally set two essays to post at the exact same time!  That means that I am suddenly a bit less ahead of the writing process here than I like to be.  However, I also cannot help but find it fitting that this misstep happened in the midst of a set of poems devoted to kinetics, given how concepts of timing and (at the molecular level!) collisions are so pertinent to this theme.   

In any event, the next Twitter poem was posted on 21 October 2021, and it described the concept of a reaction energy diagram; this is an efficient way for chemists to communicate information related to both the thermodynamics and kinetics of a chemical reaction of interest.      

“Reactant and product, by /
Way of transition state… /
Progress reactive in /
Graph summarized…”

A reaction energy diagram is a graphical depiction of the relative energies of the distinct species involved in a chemical mechanism.  I’ve highlighted such chemical communication here before, noting another common title of potential energy surface (when such a PES is considered in two dimensions).  

The reaction energy diagram described here cites “reactant and product, by way of transition state.”  This essentially will look like a hill, with the transition state at the peak in the middle.  The height of the hill is called the activation energy, or activation barrier, of the chemical reaction: the higher it is, the greater the barrier that must be overcome, and the longer this process takes.  These concepts are related through the Arrhenius equation, which states:

k  = A * e [-Ea/(RT)]

The rate constant (k) depends on a “pre-exponential factor” (A), which can be dissected into information about the mechanism, multiplied by an exponential term in which the activation energy (represented here as Ea), the gas constant (R), and the temperature (T) are all involved.  

Equations can look complex, but again, the two big ideas communicated here are that: first, the greater the activation energy is, the longer the reaction will take; second, the lower the temperature is, the longer the reaction will take.  The former concept is discussed by this poem.                

“Ornate coordinate, /
Diagrammatical; /
Relative energies, /
Here analyzed.”  

The last lines acknowledge that a reaction energy diagram is sometimes called a reaction coordinate.  This “ornate coordinate” is a diagram that provides an efficient analysis of the relative energies of the reactant, transition state, and product of a chemical reaction.   

Science Poetry

Steadying Influence

“Ready?  State steady-state
Approximation (the
Famous, eponymous 
Calc step involved):
Key intermediate’s
Change over time shows a 
Rate law resolves.”

The 20 October 2021 Twitter poem was another posted in National Chemistry Week 2021.  This poem highlighted another simplifying technique commonly used in chemical kinetic analyses, called the steady-state approximation, and it did so via a pseudo-double-dactyl structure.  

“Ready?  State steady-state /
Approximation (the /
Famous, eponymous / 
Calc step involved)…”

The biggest challenge with this week of poems was identifying potential rhymes related to these often-math-centric concepts!  The first line here grew out of considering the phrase “steady state.”  The steady-state approximation takes its name from the “eponymous calc step involved”: a mathematical simplification relying on the idea that the concentration of a given reaction mechanism’s intermediate remains relatively consistent (steady).     

“Key intermediate’s /
Change over time shows a /
Negligibility; /
Rate law resolves.”

In this simplified mechanism, a reactant forms an intermediate, which forms a product:  

Reactant → Intermediate → Product

To monitor this reaction’s rate, we consider the appearance of the product over time. Without going too equation-heavily into the details, we can look at the big ideas. 

The intermediate is typically in what is called a steady state: once the reactant forms an intermediate, that intermediate forms the product.  The intermediate’s concentration stays relatively steady: relatively constant.  Stepping briefly into calculus, the derivative of a mathematical function represents the change of that function over time.  For a constant function, the derivative is zero.  

Thus, the steady-state approximation is that the change in concentration of this intermediate over time is roughly equal to zero.  Chemists use this approach and the steps that ensue to derive a rate law, finding the rate of the appearance of the product over time.  The change in concentration of the intermediate over time is approximated as zero (it “shows a negligibility”), so the rate law is more easily calculated.     

(This poem and essay obviously approximate several mathematical steps of their own; however, ideally, they provide an introduction to another kinetic concept useful to chemists.) 

Science Poetry

Determining Factors

“Consider a scheme mechanistic; 
Apply explanation simplistic:
The rate of step slowest
Determines how ‘goest’
The rate of whole process logistic.”  

The 19 October 2021 Twitter limerick expressed the concept of the “rate-determining step,” a common approach used by chemists to simplify analyses and determine kinetic information.   

“Consider a scheme mechanistic; / 
Apply explanation simplistic…”

In chemistry, a mechanism is a description of how a starting chemical species (reactant) is transformed into a different one (product).  Often, a “scheme mechanistic” takes multiple steps, so its kinetic rate law would be tricky to monitor precisely.  Simplifying approaches provide more efficient determinations of rate laws; this poem will describe one such “explanation simplistic.”  

“The rate of step slowest /
Determines how ‘goest’ /
The rate of whole process logistic.” 

One simplifying approach assumes that the rate of the slowest step of a multi-step chemical process is roughly equivalent to the rate of the process overall. 

For instance, if a commute takes ten minutes, and nine of them are devoted to waiting for an infuriatingly slow stoplight that cannot be bypassed, then the stoplight step would be considered “rate-determining.”  The  rate of the commute could be approximated as the rate of that step: the rate of the “step slowest,” here caused by the unavoidable stoplight, determines how “goest” (adjusting vocabulary slightly to fit the rhyme!) the rate of the commute.     

For a chemical example, in a reaction called a unimolecular nucleophilic substitution (abbreviated as SN1), two main steps occur.  First, a bond breaks and a “leaving group” originally on the reactant molecule departs, creating a space on the main part of the reactant in which a new bond can form.  Second, an incoming nucleophile (electron donor) forms that new bond: the net result is that the nucleophile substitutes where the leaving group had been.  The bond-breaking step is far slower than the nucleophilic-attack step, so the rate of the entire SN1 reaction is approximated as the rate of the bond-breaking step. 

Science Poetry

Quick Start

“Contemplate, calculate
Progress methodical,
Motions molecular, 
Pathways refined;
Speeding towards heeding 
The week’s celebration:
Kinetic endeavors in
Chem frame of mind.”  

Another academic year is off to its start as of Monday, and I’ll also aim to keep up with these weekly posts during the fall semester.  This 18 October 2021 Twitter poem marked the start of National Chemistry Week 2021, which celebrated the theme, “Fast or Slow, Chemistry Makes It Go.”  

“Contemplate, calculate /
Progress methodical, /
Motions molecular, /
Pathways refined…”

This poem adopts the pseudo-double-dactyl structure that’s been useful on several occasions.  The first four lines commemorate some concepts related to chemical kinetics and reaction rates (i.e., answering the question: how quickly does a reaction occur?).  Reaction progress, steric effects (which can have an impact on “motions molecular”), and mechanistic pathways are all chemistry-related terms that have implications for a chemical reaction’s rate.  

It is always an interesting statement to my chemistry students that a spontaneous reaction can occur very slowly; this tends to defy many “everyday” definitions of spontaneity, in which the word suggests an abrupt, last-minute action or decision.  However, in a chemical setting, a spontaneous reaction is simply one that occurs naturally, as predicted by the laws of thermodynamics; it does not have a meaning related to time.  By contrast, a reaction’s rate or timescale is explored via the field of chemical kinetics.  

These are concepts that can be both “contemplate[d]” and “[calculate[d]”; fully exploring a problem in chemical kinetics generally involves considering the route by which molecules interact at the particulate level, as well as completing overall quantitative examinations of how reaction rate (speed) depends on concentrations of various reactants, via a reaction’s rate law.     

“Speeding towards heeding /
The week’s celebration…” 

The next two lines note the National Chemistry Week occasion more directly, with a kinetics-themed internal rhyme: “[s]peeding towards heeding / [the] week’s celebration.”     

“Kinetic endeavors in /
Chem frame of mind.” 

Kinetic” is a term that can be used in many different disciplines, and the final two lines reiterate that, in this instance, the academic setting of interest will be chemistry. 

Science Poetry

Window of Opportunity

A wish for a summer extending;
A challenge with deadlines impending…
With projects in limbo,
A look out the window
Makes pliant, time seeming-unbending.  

This last July post builds on another line from literature to address some complexities with respect to academic life (and indeed, with respect to managing any schedule). 

I have had a chance to read Anna Quindlen’s Write for Your Life this summer and found it greatly rewarding.  Each chapter begins with a quote from another renowned writer, and it is one from Alice Munro that inspired this final summer essay:

“I can’t play bridge.  I don’t play tennis.  All those things that people learn, and I admire, there hasn’t seemed time for.  But what there is time for is looking out the window.”  

Alice Munro, quoted in Anna Quindlen’s Write for Your Life  

This reflection on the value of an intentional pause struck a chord this week, as the list of autumn-term tasks began accumulating in earnest.

A wish for a summer extending; /
A challenge with deadlines impending…

The timing of summer has always been a challenge, since beginning my academic career.  The comically aspirational to-do list of May and June would require a “summer extending” to truly accomplish; it quickly crumbles into a set of a few must-complete tasks in late July, as the “deadlines impending” take back over. 

The past two academic years have made this contrast quite pronounced.  The constant adjustments and novel reinventions necessary in the time of the pandemic cause each semester to appear particularly daunting, in terms of teaching preparations.     

With projects in limbo, /
A look out the window…

Munro’s thoughtful quote commemorates the value of deliberate observation, a step welcome in any scholarly endeavor: famously the first step of the scientific method, it is crucially present in many other creative discussions, as well.  I’ve been fortunate to teach a course in the overlap of Chemistry and Art in past years, which involves learning an observational technique facilitated by our outstanding area art museum.  This technique separates “observation” out as a first step of engaging with an image or question, distinct from any subsequent interpretation, and focuses on the importance of “careful noticing” as a valuable skill in daily life.  

Taking even a short break to “look out the window,” to contemplate without expectation or assumption, can be a useful addition to the daily routine, often resolving questions or facilitating projects that would otherwise be on pause (“in limbo”).    

Makes pliant, time seeming-unbending.  

The last line of the poem leans heavily on punctuation to make its point within the structure of the limerick; I intend this line to be read as “this approach can help relieve would-be-strict time limits” rather than “this approach appears to calcify one’s previously-flexible time.”  Ideally, the comma placement achieves that! 

While the approaching school year appears daunting and “seeming-unbending,” with its myriad obstacles and unknowns, my hope is that I can find a few steps with which to add some breathing room and creativity into each day.

I’ve written before about how these posts provide a chance to look at chemistry through a lens with a different “focal length.”  On a similarly deliberation-themed note, I expect to start these posts back up as the semester begins: translating past Twitter poems as one concrete way to look through a different window, at least briefly and metaphorically, during the autumn.      

Science Poetry

Charted Waters

Water, water everywhere– 
A molecule abounding; 
Through Gen Chem, common starting point
For studies most compounding.  
Likewise, survey the lit’rature 
For role in tale familiar
With aqueous variety:
Some insights are distilled there.  

In the third of this month’s weekly essays, this poem’s first line echoes a phrase from Samuel Taylor Coleridge’s 1834 work The Rime of the Ancient Mariner

Coleridge was a Romantic poet who collaborated with chemist Humphry Davy to learn about science, using Davy’s public demonstrations to enhance Coleridge’s “stock of metaphors.”  (Another of my favorite Coleridge quotes, perhaps for another time, is his statement: “I shall attack Chemistry– like a shark.”)    

Unlike the last two essays, this post will not build directly on the theme of the referenced quote; instead, I’ve borrowed the memorable line to note water’s prevalence in contexts related to chemistry.

Water, water everywhere– /
A molecule abounding; /
Through Gen Chem, common starting point /
For studies most compounding. 

When I teach General Chemistry, water is typically my “example” molecule.  It is much more familiar to students than many other chemical species in terms of its molecular formula (H2O) and structure (the shape of a letter V), its physical phases (ice, liquid water, and steam), and its real-world behaviors (heating and cooling; phase changes such as freezing and boiling).

Since we often begin with water and build to less familiar chemical species, water is a “common starting point/ [f]or studies most compounding,” to use a perpetual chemical pun.   

Likewise, survey the lit’rature /
For role in tale familiar /

With aqueous variety…

This specific poem arises from the fact that a moment involving water (“aqueous variety”) in the plot of a novel that I read in elementary school (“tale familiar”) has had some interesting resonances in the decades since, in my educational path.

When I was a student learning chemistry, I often was distracted by where scientific definitions and symbols came from, before I could focus on the actual use of these precise terms to communicate regarding calculations and experimental findings. (Why was heat energy abbreviated with the letter Q? Why was R used for the gas constant? Neither seemed to make sense!)

As I progressed in my chemistry career, I gradually became aware of how these terms and notations accumulated over time via consensus in the scientific literature, and I try to at least address these verbal genealogies in passing, when I am teaching. (With the two cases cited above, for instance, these can be remembered a bit more easily when tracing them to terms expressing the quantity of heat energy and the ratio inherent in the gas constant, respectively.)

Sometimes, these etymologies are very compelling! The scientific disputes and disagreements that arise in defining a new chemical species or theory can be significant and rancorous, as scientists seek to find concurrence on these “strange terms for strange things.”

As I started learning more about such debates, I was strongly reminded of an excellent book I’d read long ago: Natalie Babbitt’s The Search for Delicious. The plot focuses on a kingdom wherein the Prime Minister is drafting a new dictionary. As he arrives at the words beginning with D, he realizes that no one agrees with him on the definition of “delicious,” because each person brings their own favorite food into consideration when defining said word. The disagreement among the citizens of the kingdom becomes more and more acrimonious until, as the story culminates on a hot summer day, everyone realizes that they can indeed agree on the definition of “delicious”: “a drink of cool water when you’re very, very thirsty.” Order is happily restored (at least until the Prime Minister reaches the letter G, and the malleable definition of “golden,” in the closing chapter…).

The pace at which the book’s definitional controversy quickly moves from seemingly trivial to massively contentious came to mind when I learned much later about some of the fascinating stories of the history of science (although rarely was accord achieved so neatly as in Babbitt’s novel!). It’s intriguing to note how water plays a central role in that memorable plotline, as well, and reflecting on that gave rise to this verse.

Some insights are distilled there.  

The poem winds down with another pun, building on the concept of distillation in laboratory and literary settings. Most chemistry textbooks do not discuss the “behind-the-scenes” narratives through which the definitions and discoveries outlined in their pages are derived, and these stories can often be particularly vivid.

Science Poetry

Collage Search

Rain umbrella, machine (sewing), 
On dissecting table, showing
Chance encounters: juxtaposing 
Combinations, spark-disclosing.  

This is the second of a set of July essays beginning from literary quotes and building to some ideas about chemistry.  In this case, I encountered the lines in question as part of a museum exhibit at the Smithsonian Institution several years ago.  As with last week’s post, it’s clearly taken a while for the ideas to crystallize into a more coherent poem and essay!  

Rain umbrella, machine (sewing), /
On dissecting table, showing /
Chance encounters…

I had the chance to attend the Hirschhorn’s outstanding exhibition “Marvelous Objects: Surrealist Sculpture from Paris to New York” in November 2015.  Part of what was most impressive to me was how the exhibition portrayed and celebrated the creative process.  In addition to interactive displays and the fascinating Surrealist artwork itself, the museum referenced multiple famous quotes regarding creativity.  The two highlighted in this poem are from the work of Comte de Lautreamont (“As beautiful as the chance encounter of a sewing machine and an umbrella on a dissecting table”) and Max Ernst (“Creativity is that marvelous capacity to grasp mutually distinct realities and draw a spark from their juxtaposition”).  Both note the creative power arising from unexpected combinations and comparisons.     

juxtaposing / 
Combinations, spark-disclosing.  

I’ve been fortunate in past academic years to team-teach a seminar course about creativity in the sciences and humanities, and a main theme has been the importance of combinatorial creativity: how seemingly unrelated images or concepts or academic disciplines can create new ideas when considered in conjunction with one another (in other words, how “juxtaposing combinations [are] spark-disclosing,” to again paraphrase the literary lines above). 

One of our early discussions often focuses on the commonplace book, a type of book in which writers across the centuries collected images and ideas from other sources that they had found to be uniquely interesting.  Students often quickly link these to modern social media websites, with these sites’ comparable abilities to create records of seemingly randomized ideas and interests. It is interesting to contemplate how documenting these collections– whether in hard-copy or digital form– can help illustrate and preserve the creative process itself.  

Likewise, this summer, I’ve encountered multiple references to the collage art form, in which various disjointed visual images are assembled together to yield a new artwork.  I have read several references about and examples of the “collage essay,” in which disparate pieces are combined to form a cohesive composition of creative non-fiction, in an approach that has appealed to me long before I learned its name.

Moreover, what ultimately catalyzed this piece– via the process of moving from random notes to poem, and from poem to prose– was a association with chemistry.  As with anything involving combination, the parallels between the formation of compounds from their component elements are always interesting to consider (and worth several more essays on their own!).  For the purposes of this specific blog entry, though, I was struck earlier this summer by a thought-provoking quote from renowned chemist Roald Hoffmann, writing about the scientific communication process.  

Hoffman’s essay “Art in Science?” is anthologized in Roald Hoffmann on the Philosophy, Art, and Science of Chemistry.  It includes some pages from one of his many published journal articles, along with the handwritten manuscript pages that preceded them, describing in each case their content and what they represent.  He explains the ways in which experimental narratives and molecular sketches, along with multiple authors’ notes and explanations, combine throughout the scientific writing process, long before a set of experiments is formally typed up and recounted in a chemistry journal article:         

“Articles are the stock-in-trade of the professional scientist… On the basis of these articles my work is evaluated and I make a living. That explains circumstantially… the final printed pages. What about the manuscripts…? Clearly these are collages.”  

Roald Hoffmann, “Art in Science?

The processes by which these chemistry-centric collages spark their own new ideas follow more predictable paths, since the literature review of a journal article has many conventional rules and routines.  Further, the distinction between an artist’s individual effort and a research group’s scientific collaboration is evident, as well. However, it is intriguing to note how the combinatorial record preserving these “chance encounters” is again integral to observing and perpetuating the creative process, this time in a scientific field. That was the connection that ultimately led to this particular post… and a welcome chance to remember the 2015 visit, as museums are particularly auspicious places to encounter interesting juxtapositions, across all disciplines.  

Science Poetry

Rhetorical Devices

If raven’s like a writing desk,
The Table’s like a poem: 
Each metric organizing scheme;
Each elemental locum.  
Atomic number, meter strict,
With properties repeating– 
The metaphors will oft conflate:
Their parallels, intriguing.  

As with last summer, I hope to post a few more expansive essays during July, and I’ll begin here, in an attempt to maintain focus in another challenging season. Last year, my longer July pieces had been rather random, focusing for a few weeks on biographical stories and for a few others on more general discussions of teaching. This year, my goal is that each of these weekly July essays will begin with a previous line from literature and build to some themes from chemistry.

To that end, this poem hasn’t been posted on Twitter previously.  It is one that has taken shape, interestingly, in a few different steps through the past few years.  It doesn’t follow either of the two light-verse forms I use most often (the limerick or the double dactyl), perhaps due to this stepwise formation.

The beginning of the poem has been on my mind since Summer 2019, when I was working on entries for a writing contest I’ve referenced before, but the rest didn’t take on a rhymed structure until this year.      

If raven’s like a writing desk, /
The Table’s like a poem…

The first line here references The Hatter’s famous query in Lewis Carroll’s Alice in Wonderland (“Why is a raven like a writing desk?”).  In the decades since, many have thought of creative and witty answers to the seemingly unanswerable question!  

For instance, in Jasper Fforde’s The Eyre Affair, Thursday Next is a literary detective in an alternate universe awash in fictional allusions.  In stopping at a local bar named The Cheshire Cat, Thursday encounters the Hatter’s riddle as a greeting from the bartender; she responds, “Because Poe wrote on both.”       

Her inspired answer and the resulting imaginative link between furniture and poem came to mind when I was considering possible ideas for 2019’s Periodic Poetry celebration, given both the theme of the contest and the pun possible with chemistry’s most famous of tables. I was finally able to add a few more lines this year to finish the long-persistent thought.  

Each metric organizing scheme; /
Each elemental locum. / 
Atomic number, meter strict, /
With properties repeating
The metaphors will oft conflate… 

Lines 3 through 6 had been conceptually in mind for a while but took a while to find their verse form.  Eventually, I borrowed the end of line 4 from Latin, to find a reasonable rhyme for “poem” that could also serve, appropriately, as a placeholder.   (“Locum” is the Latin word for “place,” although I’m confident I’m overlooking multiple rules about case and declension from coursework many years ago!)      

I’ve written here before of how I’ve seen several interesting parallels between chemistry and poetry.  Here, I address one such specific similarity: between a poet’s fitting together the syllables of a poem written in a strict rhyming meter (“each metric organizing scheme”) and Dmitri Mendeleev’s use of patterns among the elements (“each elemental locum”) to organize the first version of the modern Periodic Table of the Elements (PTE). 

[My chem-professor-self hastens to acknowledge that Mendeleev used the two dimensions of repeating physical properties (columns) and increasing atomic weight (rows) in developing his original chart, while it is the current PTE that is organized by physical properties and atomic number, after an insight by another scientist, Henry Moseley.]

As noted above with “locum,” in writing these light-verse efforts, I often find myself assigning syllabic blanks until I can find an appropriate word or rhyme, an action that consistently reminds me of Mendeleev’s use of the eka elements in building his original table: leaving spaces for new, fitting elements yet to be discovered.

In both cases, the “properties repeating” ultimately yield the overall structure of interest, whether that structure is the poem or the PTE, and so the comparisons “oft conflate.”    

Their parallels, intriguing.  

The poem closes here with a simple acknowledgement of the interest I have in this interdisciplinary overlap, which has remained fascinating throughout these past three years, and which I hope to explore more directly over the next few weeks.