Superheavy by Kit Chapman

3 out of 5 stars

I did chemistry at school but didn’t do that well at it for a variety of reasons. However, chemistry is a big thing in our household, my other half teaches it and my youngest daughter is aiming to study it at university in the Autumn. There are copies of Chemistry World around the house and there are various chemistry conversations about all manner of things over dinner.

Even though I am not very good at it, I still find the subject fascinating, hence why I picked this book up. Kit Chapman writes about the metals that appear in the bottom rows of the periodic table and the stories behind how they were found, who discovered them and the challenges in finding these heavy metals.

The story begins with the atomic bomb and the research that led up to us discovering a foolproof way of completely eradicating the entire planet of life as we know it… This is cutting edge science and to make the metals that were needed to make these weapons. They had to develop the machines to do it including the wonderfully named cyclotron. Even though these are some of the heaviest elements, they are elusive, and often the only way of detecting that they have been made by the machine if looking at the decay trails detected by the sensors.

The guys who make these heavy metals were characters in their own right. Chapman has the opportunity to meet a number of them as he travels to all the labs in America, Russia, Germany and Japan and talks to some of the people who have that rare honour of finding an element that is new to science.

I quite liked this book overall. It does venture very close to the line that separates popular science from academic papers and occasionally ventures across it. That said, Chapman has done his research well and managed to hold together a cohesive narrative about the search for these elusive heavy metals.

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2 Comments

  1. Helen Williams

    Sounds good, Paul. I am a chemist and am fascinated by the discovery of new elements! One to add to the list.

    • Paul

      It would be right up your street then, Helen

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