My sister Charlotte loves chemistry. She reads books about the elements, watches chemistry videos involving crème Easter eggs, and has a random, but interesting fact about most, if not all of the elements.
In contrast, I was never very good at chemistry, despite once wanting to be a doctor. I liked the videos, but the theory was very much beyond me. It was as much as I could do to remember the names of the first six elements on the periodic table. Biology was fun. Chemistry…not so much.
One Christmas, Charlotte received a puzzle as one of her gifts. And, being the chemist of the family, it was a full colour puzzle of the periodic table of elements, complete with illustrations. One thousand pieces big, it was the perfect puzzle for a brainy girl like herself.
I wasn’t the brainy chemist, but I was the puzzle champion. Who else had the patience to put together a one thousand piece puzzle consisting of nearly identical sweets? So the moment the chemistry puzzle came out, I was there to help. True, I didn’t know the first thing about most of those elements, but I was good at puzzles. And that had to count for something, right?
“Which is this element?” I asked Charlotte, holding up a puzzle piece. It was a silver coloured element, not that that helped. Over half of them seemed to be silver.
She squinted at it and then said with complete certainty, “Tungsten.”
“But the symbol is W,” I protested. Tungsten didn’t begin with that letter. Even I knew that much.
“It’s the first letter of its name in German,” she said, before placing the piece in the right area of the periodic table.
Finding the right place on the periodic table was a problem for me too. Ok, so I knew where some of the elements went, like Carbon and Helium, but where did Gallium go? Or Manganese? With unfailing patience, Charlotte directed me to the right places. Doing this puzzle was harder than I thought it would be. But at least I was learning something. Working on the puzzle with Charlotte was like having a chemistry lesson, only better.
Hang on, here was an element I knew. I pulled the piece out and cried, “Hey, I found Kryptonite.”
Charlotte rolled her eyes. “Silly. Kryptonite isn’t an element. It’s made up. That’s Krypton and it’s a noble gas. Goes on the right side of the periodic table.”