By Sharon Kane
I knew I was going to like Justin P. Lomont and Ian C. Stewart’s teaching style when I read the following in the Introduction to The Handy Chemistry Answer Book (2013: Visible Ink Press): “We think that you’ve probably wondered … what sodium laureth sulfate is doing in your shampoo, but maybe never had the chance to ask. We are interested in explaining these things in plain language, and we’ve kept a conversational tone throughout the book” (p. xi). I confirmed that their teaching philosophy is consistent with mine when, after saying they’ve used a simplified drawing system to show chemical structures, they advise, “Take what you can from these abstract drawings, but don’t dwell on them. Focus on the stories we’re trying to tell” (p. xi).
Students were responsible for many of the queries in the book, so your own students might also be curious as to the answers to authentic questions as varied as: “What makes metals feel colder than air to the touch?” (p. 37); “Why can some batteries be recharged and others cannot?” (p. 107); “How is the presence of illegal narcotics detected?” (p. 109); “What is my credit card made of?” (p. 171); “When I get an MRI, what is the machine actually measuring?” (p. 196); “How do painkillers know what part of the body to target?” (p. 204); “Why does asparagus make pee smell weird?” (p. 211); and “How do ants know how to organize their colonies so efficiently?” (p. 215).
For answers to these questions and more, check out the book. You’ll also find whole chapters on sustainable “green” chemistry, kitchen chemistry, and experiments that can be done at home.
I loved reading this book. My favorite new knowledge is: “There are six types of quarks, which are referred to as different ‘flavors.’ These are named up, down, top, bottom, charm, and strange” (p. 153). Who knew?
Appropriate for middle and high school