The Boggess Distinguished Lecture, sponsored by the Murray State University College of science, engineering and technology, featured New York Times bestselling author, Sam Kean, on Tuesday in Jones Hall at the University Science Complex.
Kean’s stories have appeared in The New York Times Magazine, Mental Floss, Slate, Smithsonian Air and Space and The New Scientist among other publications.
He has worked on fellowships in the United States and Europe, and was the national runner up in the National Association of Science Writers’ contest for best young science writer.
The Disappearing Spoon is his first book.
“The title comes from one of the elements Gallium,” Kean said. “It is close to the element Aluminum and shares a lot of its chemical properties, except it melts at around 85 degrees. The title comes about as a classy, nerdy science prank because if you gave someone a spoon made of Gallium to stir their coffee with, it will disappear.”
Kean got interested in the elements through his discovery of mercury when he was a child, he said. He said he was a clumsy child and broke a lot of old mercury thermometers whenever his temperature was taken.
“There were so many stories out there about the elements that we never got to talk about in class, and that was my motivation for writing about these stories; to tell the unknown stories of the elements on the periodic table,” Kean said.
All the stories in his book follow the element through the exposition, complication, climax and resolution.
He wanted to answer the question of whether or not the periodic table could tell a story, he said.
“I think you can learn a lot more about science when the information is presented in a story format,” Kean said.
The lecture allowed Kean to read excerpts from his book and demonstrate to the audience how he turned a simple element on the periodic table into a story. “Another thing I wanted to get at in the book were some of the personalities of the scientists,” Kean said.
As an author, he wanted to share the stories of the elements and the scientists to get people interested in the periodic table.
Sam Kean has another book that will be released this summer entitled, The Violinist’s Thumb, about genetics with DNA and the human genome.