People we wish had been our high school chemistry teachers
1. Oliver Sacks
2. Walter White
In 1945 the Science Museum in London reopened (it had been closed for much of the war), and I—a boy of twelve with a passion for metals and numbers—first saw the giant periodic table displayed there. The table itself, covering a whole wall at the head of the stairs, was a cabinet made of dark wood with ninety-odd cubicles, each inscribed with the name, the atomic weight, and the chemical symbol of its element. And in each cubicle was a sample of the element itself (all of those elements, at least, that had been obtained in pure form, and that could be exhibited safely). It was labeled “The Periodic Classification of the Elements—after Mendeleeff.”
My first vision was of metals, dozens of them in every possible form: rods, lumps, cubes, wire, foil, discs, crystals. Most were gray or silver, some had hints of blue or rose. A few had burnished surfaces that shone a faint yellow, and then there were the rich colors of copper and gold.