Chemical change and creativity - The chemistry of almost everything (25/31)

Uploaded by OUlearn on 03.09.2009

For a chemist like me it's all very frustrating.
Chemistry and creativity? No-one wants to know.
Well, almost no-one.
A nail that I buy at the store
is related to a metal that I may find
having gone through chemical changes
that become rust.
I love chemistry because on one level,
on the level of chemical reactions,
it is about transformation, about change, it's A going to B.
Within each area, physicist, chemist, painter,
there are always some who have followed that,
what I think is an ancient quest for knowledge.
Chemistry affects the way that I look at things.
It enriches it.
Sometimes some people criticise science
with respect to, let's say poetry,
they say scientists shoot dead birds.
What they mean is that knowledge of the innards of the working of a bird
somehow takes away from the poetry of flight
and of watching a bird in nature.
I don't think so. I think it enriches it.
Knowing how a bird homes in on where it lived,
knowing the behavioural patterns, knowing the enzymes at work
in a living organism doesn't take away from the poetic knowledge
and my feeling for the bird,
it's freedom, its ability to soar,
its metaphorical standing for something in human nature,
the close connection, it just enriches it.
In fact what I would like to do
is to teach the poet about the mechanics of the flight of the bird.
It makes it much more interesting.
Tiger, tiger, burning bright
In the forests of the night,
What immortal hand or eye
Could frame thy fearful symmetry?
This is a copy of the first draft of William Blake's poem, The Tiger.
It's exciting because you can actually see the poet at work.
You can sense how he's struggling for the right word.
Replacing, improving, iterating.
But most of all, creating something that didn't exist before.
So what's this got to do with chemistry?
Well, 50 years after Blake we've got the work of a Russian chemist,
Dmitri Ivanovich Mendeleev.
This is the first ever draft of his periodic table.
This is chemistry in the making.
But it's a different sort of creation,
identifying families of chemical elements
that share similar properties.
It even predicted the existence and the properties
of elements that had yet to be discovered.
It takes its time to get right, just like The Tiger.
In each of the crossings out,
in the elements being moved from place to place,
we see a living piece of work, an act of creation.
The human mind at play.