YInMn Blue, the First Shade of Blue Discovered in 200 Years, Is Now Available for Artists

Pho­to via Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty

“Col­or is part of a spec­trum, so you can’t dis­cov­er a col­or,” says Pro­fes­sor Mas Sub­ra­man­ian, a sol­id-state chemist at Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty. “You can only dis­cov­er a mate­r­i­al that is a par­tic­u­lar color”—or, more pre­cise­ly, a mate­r­i­al that reflects light in such a way that we per­ceive it as a col­or. Sci­en­tif­ic mod­esty aside, Sub­ra­man­ian actu­al­ly has been cred­it­ed with dis­cov­er­ing a color—the first inor­gan­ic shade of blue in 200 years.

Named “YIn­Mn blue” —and affec­tion­ate­ly called “Mas­Blue” at Ore­gon State—the pig­men­t’s unwieldy name derives from its chem­i­cal make­up of yttri­um, indi­um, and man­ganese oxides, which togeth­er “absorbed red and green wave­lengths and reflect­ed blue wave­lengths in such a way that it came off look­ing a very bright blue,” Gabriel Rosen­berg notes at NPR. It is a blue, in fact, nev­er before seen, since it is not a nat­u­ral­ly occur­ring pig­ment, but one lit­er­al­ly cooked in a lab­o­ra­to­ry, and by acci­dent at that.

The dis­cov­ery, if we can use the word, should just­ly be cred­it­ed to Subramanian’s grad stu­dent Andrew E. Smith who, dur­ing a 2009 attempt to “man­u­fac­ture new mate­ri­als that could be used in elec­tron­ics,” heat­ed the par­tic­u­lar mix of chem­i­cals to over 2000 degrees Fahren­heit. Smith noticed “it had turned a sur­pris­ing, bright blue col­or [and] Sub­ra­man­ian knew imme­di­ate­ly it was a big deal.” Why? Because the col­or blue is a big deal.

In an impor­tant sense, col­or is some­thing humans dis­cov­ered over long peri­ods of time in which we learned to see the world in shades and hues our ances­tors could not per­ceive. “Some sci­en­tists believe that the ear­li­est humans were actu­al­ly col­or­blind,” Emma Tag­gart writes at My Mod­ern Met, “and could only rec­og­nize black, white, red, and only lat­er yel­low and green.” Blue, that is to say, didn’t exist for ear­ly humans. “With no con­cept of the col­or blue,” Tag­gart writes, “they sim­ply had no words to describe it. This is even reflect­ed in ancient lit­er­a­ture, such as Homer’s Odyssey,” with its “wine-dark sea.”

Pho­to via Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty

Sea and sky only begin to assume their cur­rent col­ors some 6,000 years ago when ancient Egyp­tians began to pro­duce blue pig­ment. The first known col­or to be syn­thet­i­cal­ly pro­duced is thus called Egypt­ian blue, cre­at­ed using “ground lime­stone mixed with sand and a cop­per-con­tain­ing min­er­al, such as azu­rite or mala­chite.” Blue holds a spe­cial place in our col­or lex­i­cog­ra­phy. It is the last col­or word that devel­ops across cul­tures and one of the most dif­fi­cult col­ors to man­u­fac­ture. “Peo­ple have been look­ing for a good, durable blue col­or for a cou­ple of cen­turies,” Sub­ra­man­ian told NPR.

And so, YIn­Mn blue has become a sen­sa­tion among indus­tri­al man­u­fac­tur­ers and artists. Patent­ed in 2012 by OSU, it received approval for indus­tri­al use in 2017. That same year, Aus­tralian paint sup­pli­er Derivan released it as an acrylic paint called “Ore­gon Blue.” It has tak­en a few more years for the U.S. Envi­ron­men­tal Pro­tec­tion Agency to come around, but they’ve final­ly approved Yln­Mn blue for com­mer­cial use, “mak­ing it avail­able to all,” Isis Davis-Marks writes at Smith­son­ian. “Now the authen­ti­cat­ed pig­ment is avail­able for sale in paint retail­ers like Gold­en in the US.”

Pho­to via Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty

The new blue solves a num­ber of prob­lems with oth­er blue pig­ments. It is non­tox­ic and not prone to fad­ing, since it “reflects heat and absorbs UV radi­a­tion.” YIn­Mn blue is “extreme­ly sta­ble, a prop­er­ty long sought in a blue pig­ment,” says Sub­ra­man­ian. It also fills “a gap in the range of col­ors,” says art sup­ply man­u­fac­tur­er Georg Kre­mer, adding, “The pure­ness of YIn­Blue is real­ly per­fect.”

Since their first, acci­den­tal col­or dis­cov­ery, “Sub­ra­man­ian and his team have expand­ed their research and have made a range of new pig­ments to include almost every col­or, from bright oranges to shades of pur­ple, turquoise and green,” notes the Ore­gon State Uni­ver­si­ty Depart­ment of Chem­istry. None have yet had the impact of the new blue. Learn much more about the unique chem­i­cal prop­er­ties of YIn­Mn blue here and see Pro­fes­sor Sub­ra­man­ian dis­cuss its dis­cov­ery in his TED talk fur­ther up.

via Hyper­al­ler­gic

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Behold One of the Ear­li­est Known Col­or Charts: The Table of Phys­i­o­log­i­cal Col­ors (1686)

A 900-Page Pre-Pan­tone Guide to Col­or from 1692: A Com­plete Dig­i­tal Scan

Werner’s Nomen­cla­ture of Colour, the 19th-Cen­tu­ry “Col­or Dic­tio­nary” Used by Charles Dar­win (1814)

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The First American Cookbook: Sample Recipes from American Cookery (1796)

Image via Wiki­me­dia Com­mons

On the off chance Lin-Manuel Miran­da is cast­ing around for source mate­r­i­al for his next Amer­i­can his­to­ry-based block­buster musi­cal, may we sug­gest Amer­i­can Cook­ery by “poor soli­tary orphan” Amelia Sim­mons?

First pub­lished in 1796, at 47 pages (near­ly three of them are ded­i­cat­ed to dress­ing a tur­tle), it’s a far quick­er read than the fate­ful Ron Cher­now Hamil­ton biog­ra­phy Miran­da impul­sive­ly select­ed for a vaca­tion beach read.

Slen­der as it is, there’s no short­age of meaty mate­r­i­al:

Calves Head dressed Tur­tle Fash­ion

Soup of Lamb’s Head and Pluck

Fowl Smoth­ered in Oys­ters

Tongue Pie

Foot Pie

Mod­ern chefs may find some of the first Amer­i­can cook­book’s meth­ods and mea­sure­ments take some get­ting used to.

We like to cook, but we’re not sure we pos­sess the where­with­al to tack­le a Crook­neck or Win­ter Squash Pud­ding.

We’ve nev­er been called upon to “per­fume” our “whipt cream” with “musk or amber gum tied in a rag.”

And we wouldn’t know a whortle­ber­ry if it bit us in the whit­pot.

The book’s full title is an indi­ca­tion of its mys­te­ri­ous author’s ambi­tions for the new country’s culi­nary future:

Amer­i­can Cook­ery, or the art of dress­ing viands, fish, poul­try, and veg­eta­bles, and the best modes of mak­ing pastes, puffs, pies, tarts, pud­dings, cus­tards, and pre­serves, and all kinds of cakes, from the impe­r­i­al plum to plain cake: Adapt­ed to this coun­try, and all grades of life.

As Kei­th Stave­ly and Kath­leen Fitzger­ald write in an essay for What It Means to Be an Amer­i­can, a “nation­al con­ver­sa­tion host­ed by the Smith­son­ian and Ari­zona State Uni­ver­si­ty,” Amer­i­can Cook­ery man­aged to strad­dle the refined tastes of Fed­er­al­ist elites and the Jef­fer­so­ni­ans who believed “rus­tic sim­plic­i­ty would inoc­u­late their fledg­ling coun­try against the cor­rupt­ing influ­ence of the lux­u­ry to which Britain had suc­cumbed”:

The recipe for “Queen’s Cake” was pure social aspi­ra­tion, in the British mode, with its but­ter whipped to a cream, pound of sug­ar, pound and a quar­ter of flour, 10 eggs, glass of wine, half-teacup of del­i­cate-fla­vored rose­wa­ter, and spices. And “Plumb Cake” offered the striv­ing house­wife a huge 21-egg show­stop­per, full of expen­sive dried and can­died fruit, nuts, spices, wine, and cream.

Then—mere pages away—sat john­ny­cake, fed­er­al pan cake, buck­wheat cake, and Indi­an slap­jack, made of famil­iar ingre­di­ents like corn­meal, flour, milk, water, and a bit of fat, and pre­pared “before the fire” or on a hot grid­dle. They sym­bol­ized the plain, but well-run and boun­ti­ful, Amer­i­can home. A dia­logue on how to bal­ance the sump­tu­ous with the sim­ple in Amer­i­can life had begun.

(Hamil­ton fans will please note that the cake for the 1780 Schuyler-Hamil­ton wed­ding leaned more toward the for­mer than any­thing in the john­ny­cake / slap­jack vein…)

Amer­i­can Cook­ery is one of nine 18th-cen­tu­ry titles to make the Library of Con­gress’ list of 100 Books That Shaped Amer­i­ca:

This cor­ner­stone in Amer­i­can cook­ery is the first cook­book of Amer­i­can author­ship to be print­ed in the Unit­ed States. Numer­ous recipes adapt­ing tra­di­tion­al dish­es by sub­sti­tut­ing native Amer­i­can ingre­di­ents, such as corn, squash and pump­kin, are print­ed here for the first time. Sim­mons’ “Pomp­kin Pud­ding,” baked in a crust, is the basis for the clas­sic Amer­i­can pump­kin pie. Recipes for cake-like gin­ger­bread are the first known to rec­om­mend the use of pearl ash, the fore­run­ner of bak­ing pow­der.

Stu­dents of Women’s His­to­ry will find much to chew on in the sec­ond edi­tion of Amer­i­can Cook­ery as well, though they may find a few spoon­fuls of pearl ash dis­solved in water nec­es­sary to set­tle upset stom­achs after read­ing Sim­mons’ intro­duc­tion.

Stave­ly and Fitzger­ald observe how “she thanks the fash­ion­able ladies,” or “respectable char­ac­ters,” as she calls them, who have patron­ized her work, before return­ing to her main theme: the “egre­gious blun­ders” of the first edi­tion, “which were occa­sioned either by the igno­rance, or evil inten­tion of the tran­scriber for the press.”

Ulti­mate­ly, all of her prob­lems stem from her unfor­tu­nate con­di­tion; she is with­out “an edu­ca­tion suf­fi­cient to pre­pare the work for the press.” In an attempt to side­step any crit­i­cism that the sec­ond edi­tion might come in for, she writes: “remem­ber, that it is the per­for­mance of, and effect­ed under all those dis­ad­van­tages, which usu­al­ly attend, an Orphan.”

Read the sec­ond edi­tion of Amer­i­can Cook­ery here. (If the archa­ic font trou­bles your eyes, a plain­er ver­sion is here.) A fac­sim­i­le edi­tion of Amer­i­can Cook­ery can be pur­chased online.

Lis­ten to a Lib­riVox audio record­ing of Amer­i­can Cook­ery here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

An Archive of 3,000 Vin­tage Cook­books Lets You Trav­el Back Through Culi­nary Time

His­toric Mex­i­can Recipes Are Now Avail­able as Free Dig­i­tal Cook­books: Get Start­ed With Dessert

Recipes from the Kitchen of Geor­gia O’Keeffe

Ayun Hal­l­i­day is an author, illus­tra­tor, the­ater mak­er and Chief Pri­ma­tol­o­gist of the East Vil­lage Inky zine. She most recent­ly appeared as a French Cana­di­an bear who trav­els to New York City in search of food and mean­ing in Greg Kotis’ short film, L’Ourse.  Fol­low her @AyunHalliday.

The Great Gatsby Is Now in the Public Domain and There’s a New Graphic Novel

If you’ve ever dreamed about mount­ing that “Great Gats­by” musi­cal, or writ­ing that sci-fi adap­ta­tion based on Gats­by but they’re all androids, there’s some good news: as of Jan­u­ary 1, 2021, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s clas­sic nov­el final­ly entered the pub­lic domain. (Read a pub­lic domain copy here.) Cre­atives can now do what they want with the work: reprint or adapt it any way they like, with­out hav­ing to nego­ti­ate the rights.

Or you could, just like Min­neapo­lis-based artist K. Wood­man-May­nard adapt the work into a beau­ti­ful graph­ic nov­el, pages of which you can glimpse here. Her ver­sion is all light and pas­tel water­col­ors, with a lib­er­al use of the orig­i­nal text along­side more fan­tas­tic sur­re­al imagery, mak­ing visu­al some of Fitzgerald’s word play. At 240 pages, there’s a lot of work here and, as if it needs repeat­ing, no graph­ic nov­el is a sub­sti­tute for the orig­i­nal, just…a jazz riff, if you were.

But Wood­man-May­nard was one of many wait­ing for Gats­by to enter the pub­lic domain, which apart from Dis­ney prop­er­ty, will hap­pen to most record­ed and writ­ten works over time. Many authors have been wait­ing for the chance to riff on the nov­el and its char­ac­ters with­out wor­ry­ing about a cease and desist let­ter. Already you can find The Gay Gats­by, B.A. Baker’s slash fic­tion rein­ter­pre­ta­tion of all the sup­pressed long­ing in the orig­i­nal nov­el; The Great Gats­by Undead, a zom­bie ver­sion; and Michael Far­ris Smith’s Nick, a pre­quel that fol­lows Nick Car­raway through World War I and out the oth­er side. And there are plen­ty more to come.

Copy­right law stip­u­lates that any work after 95 years will enter the pub­lic domain. (Up until 1998, this used to be 75 years, but some lawyers talked to some con­gress­crit­ters).

As of 2021, along with The Great Gats­by, the pub­lic domain gained:

Mrs. Dal­loway — Vir­ginia Woolf

In Our Time — Ernest Hem­ing­way

The New Negro — Alain Locke (the first major com­pendi­um of Harlem Renais­sance writ­ers)

An Amer­i­can Tragedy — Theodore Dreis­er (adapt­ed into the 1951 film A Place in the Sun)

The Secret of Chim­neys — Agatha Christie

Arrow­smith — Sin­clair Lewis

Those Bar­ren Leaves — Aldous Hux­ley

The Paint­ed Veil — W. Som­er­set Maugh­am

Now, the thing about The Great Gats­by is that it is both loved by read­ers and hard to adapt into oth­er medi­ums by its fans. It has been adapt­ed five times for the screen (the Baz Luhrmann-Leonar­do DiCaprio ver­sion is the most recent from 2013) and they have all dealt with the cen­tral para­dox: Fitzger­ald gives us so lit­tle about Gats­by. The author is inten­tion­al­ly hop­ing the read­er to cre­ate this “great man” in our heads, and there he must stay. The nov­el is very much about the “idea” of a man, much like the idea of the “Amer­i­can Dream.” But film must cast some­body and Hol­ly­wood absolute­ly has to cast a star like Leonar­do DiCaprio or Robert Red­ford. A graph­ic nov­el, how­ev­er, does not have those con­ces­sions to the mar­ket. Woodman-Maynard’s ver­sion is not even the first graph­ic nov­el based on Fitzgerald’s book—-Scribner pub­lished a ver­sion adapt­ed by Fred Ford­ham and illus­trat­ed by Aya Mor­ton last year—-and it cer­tain­ly will not be the last. Get ready for a bumper decade celebrating/critiquing the Roar­ing ‘20s, while we still fig­ure out what to call our own era.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

What’s Enter­ing the Pub­lic Domain in 2021: The Great Gats­by & Mrs. Dal­loway, Music by Irv­ing Berlin & Duke Elling­ton, Come­dies by Buster Keaton, and More

The Great Gats­by and Wait­ing for Godot: The Video Game Edi­tions

The Wire Breaks Down The Great Gats­by, F. Scott Fitzgerald’s Clas­sic Crit­i­cism of Amer­i­ca (NSFW)

The Only Known Footage of the 1926 Film Adap­ta­tion of The Great Gats­by (Which F. Scott Fitzger­ald Hat­ed)

Ted Mills is a free­lance writer on the arts who cur­rent­ly hosts the Notes from the Shed pod­cast and is the pro­duc­er of KCR­W’s Curi­ous Coast. You can also fol­low him on Twit­ter at @tedmills, and/or watch his films here.

PBS American Masters Archive Releases 1,000+ Hours of Uncut, Never-Before-Seen Interviews: Patti Smith, David Bowie, Neil Young & More

When we think of Amer­i­can mas­ters, we don’t think of David Bowie, who despite being a mas­ter was also the most Eng­lish rock star ever to live. But an inter­view with Bowie, nev­er before seen in full, nonethe­less appears in the new­ly opened Amer­i­can Mas­ters archive, hav­ing been shot for the long-run­ning PBS series’ 1997 doc­u­men­tary on Lou Reed — if not the most Amer­i­can rock star ever to live, then sure­ly the most New York one. “For me, New York was always James Dean walk­ing out in the mid­dle of the road, and it was always the Fugs, the Vil­lage Fugs. It was the Beats and it was SoHo. It was that kind of bohemi­an intel­lec­tu­al extrav­a­gance that made it so vibrant for some­one like me, grow­ing up in quite a gray, sub­ur­ban, ten­e­ment-filled South Lon­don envi­ron­ment.”

As with any soci­ety or cul­ture, it takes an out­sider to see things most clear­ly, or at any rate most vivid­ly. But then, cer­tain Amer­i­can-born Amer­i­cans also have pret­ty vivid impres­sions of their own. No less a New York icon than Pat­ti Smith, for instance, also sat for an inter­view about Lou Reed — as well as Bob Dylan, Andy Warhol, the Chelsea Hotel, poet­ry, labels, impro­vi­sa­tion, John Coltrane, Jack­son Pol­lock, CBGB, and much else besides.

Smith’s full inter­view runs 44 min­utes, much longer than the brief clip above, but even it con­sti­tutes just a small frac­tion of the over 1,000 hours of sim­i­lar­ly uncut inter­view footage now made avail­able, com­plete with search­able tran­scripts, in the Amer­i­can Mas­ters archive.

Since its debut in 1986 Amer­i­can Mas­ters has pro­filed cul­tur­al fig­ures from Maya Angelou to Aretha Franklin, Ernest Hem­ing­way to Edgar Allan Poe, Mae West to Mar­i­lyn Mon­roe, Car­ol Bur­nett to Mel Brooks. Those last episodes include inter­views with the late Carl Rein­er, a tow­er­ing Amer­i­can come­di­an in his own right. In addi­tion to Rein­er’s half-hour on Bur­nett and hour on Brooks, you’ll also find in the archive four dif­fer­ent inter­views of Brooks him­self, as well as a sol­id three and a half hours with Bur­nett her­self. Neil Young on David Gef­fenWilliam F. Buck­ley on Wal­ter Cronkite, Cybill Shep­herd on Jeff Bridges, and Quin­cy Jones on Sid­ney Poiti­er — as well as, in two inter­views total­ing near­ly four hours, on Quin­cy Jones. Like all the best Amer­i­can lives, his con­tains many more sto­ries than one can tell at a sit­ting. Enter the the Amer­i­can Mas­ters archive here.

via Kot­tke

Relat­ed Con­tent:

A New Online Archive Lets You Lis­ten to 40 Years Worth of Ter­ry Gross’ Fresh Air Inter­views: Stream 22,000 Seg­ments Online

How Dick Cavett Brought Sophis­ti­ca­tion to Late Night Talk Shows: Watch 270 Clas­sic Inter­views Online

The New Studs Terkel Radio Archive Will Let You Hear 5,000+ Record­ings Fea­tur­ing the Great Amer­i­can Broad­cast­er & Inter­view­er

Free Archive of Audio Inter­views with Rock, Jazz & Folk Leg­ends Now on iTunes

Library of Con­gress Releas­es Audio Archive of Inter­views with Rock ‘n’ Roll Icons

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

The Life Cycle of a Cup of Coffee: The Journey from Coffee Bean, to Coffee Cup

Do you think you would rec­og­nize a cof­fee plant if you came across one in the wild? Not that it’s like­ly out­side the so-called “cof­fee belt,” the region of the world most rich in soil, shade, mild tem­per­a­tures, and copi­ous rain­fall. Farmed cof­fee plants “are pruned short to con­serve their ener­gy,” the Nation­al Cof­fee Asso­ci­a­tion notes, but they “can grow to more than 30 feet (9 meters) high. Each tree is cov­ered with green, waxy leaves grow­ing oppo­site each oth­er in pairs. Cof­fee cher­ries grow along the branch­es. Because it grows in a con­tin­u­ous cycle, it’s not unusu­al to see [white] flow­ers, green fruit and ripe [red] fruit simul­ta­ne­ous­ly on a sin­gle tree.”

That’s a fes­tive image to call to mind when you brew—or a barista brews—your cof­fee bev­er­age of choice. After watch­ing the TED-Ed video above, you’ll also have a sense of the “globe-span­ning process” between the cof­fee plant and that first cup of the morn­ing. “How many peo­ple does it take to make a cup of cof­fee?” the les­son asks. Far more than the one it takes to push the brew but­ton…. The jour­ney begins in Colom­bia: forests are clear-cut for neat rows of shrub-like cof­fee trees. These were first domes­ti­cat­ed in Ethiopia and are still grown across sub-Saha­ran Africa as well as South Amer­i­ca and South­east Asia, where low-wage work­ers har­vest the cof­fee cher­ries by hand.

The cher­ries are then processed by machine, sort­ed, and fer­ment­ed. The result­ing cof­fee beans require more human labor, at least in the exam­ple above, to ful­ly dry them over a peri­od of three weeks. Fur­ther machine sort­ing and pro­cess­ing takes place before the beans reach a pan­el of experts who deter­mine their qual­i­ty and give them a grade. More hands load the cof­fee beans onto con­tain­er ships, unload them, trans­port them around the coun­try (the U.S. imports more cof­fee than any oth­er nation in the world), and so on and so forth. “All in all, it takes hun­dreds of peo­ple to get cof­fee to its intend­ed des­ti­na­tion, and that’s not count­ing the peo­ple main­tain­ing the infra­struc­ture that makes the jour­ney pos­si­ble.”

Many of the peo­ple in that vast sup­ply chain are paid very lit­tle, the video points out. Some are paid noth­ing at all. The his­to­ry of cof­fee, like the his­to­ries of oth­er addic­tive com­modi­ties like sug­ar and tobac­co, is filled with sto­ries of exploita­tion and social and polit­i­cal upheaval. And like the sup­ply chains of every oth­er con­tem­po­rary sta­ple, the sto­ry of how cof­fee gets to us, from plant to cup, involves the sto­ries of hun­dreds of thou­sands of peo­ple con­nect­ed by a glob­al chain of com­merce, and by our con­stant need for more caf­feine.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

Black Cof­fee: Doc­u­men­tary Cov­ers the His­to­ry, Pol­i­tics & Eco­nom­ics of the “Most Wide­ly Tak­en Legal Drug”

How to Make the World’s Small­est Cup of Cof­fee, from Just One Cof­fee Bean

Philoso­phers Drink­ing Cof­fee: The Exces­sive Habits of Kant, Voltaire & Kierkegaard

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

Watch the Pilot of Breaking Bad with a Chemistry Professor: How Sound Was the Science?

Even the grit­ti­est, hard­est-hit­ting TV dra­mas require will­ing sus­pen­sion of dis­be­lief to enjoy. This is espe­cial­ly true if you, the view­er, hap­pen to be an expert on such sub­jects as emer­gency med­i­cine, police pro­ce­dures, crim­i­nal law, FBI pro­fil­ing, crime scene inves­ti­ga­tion, etcetera. Those of us who don’t know any­thing about these fields may have an eas­i­er time of it, pro­vid­ed the writ­ers do their dili­gence and make the actors sound con­vinc­ing. I nev­er much ques­tioned the sci­ence of Break­ing Bad, for exam­ple. Sure­ly, the hit show accu­rate­ly depict­ed how a des­per­ate high school chem­istry teacher would build a meth lab in the desert? How should I know oth­er­wise?

I might watch the show with a chemist, for one thing, like Pro­fes­sor Don­na Nel­son or the Uni­ver­si­ty of Nottingham’s Sir Mar­tyn Poli­akoff, who had him­self refused to watch Break­ing Bad until “one day when I’m old.” That day has come at last: he final­ly sat down with the pilot and dis­cussed his impres­sions on YouTube chan­nel Peri­od­ic Videos. Poli­akoff approached the exper­i­ment with almost no pre­con­cep­tions. He knew the show was about a chem­istry teacher who made “some sort of drug, I didn’t know which one,” and that “there were a lot of episodes.”

He also knew that “at some point, HF, hydro­gen flu­o­ride, played a part.” But before the chem­istry cri­tique begins, Poli­akoff notices that Wal­ter White’s pants float­ing through the desert air in the pilot’s icon­ic open­ing are a phys­i­cal impos­si­bil­i­ty giv­en their orig­i­na­tion. Bum­mer. He loved the open­ing sequence spelling out the show’s title with ele­ments from the peri­od­ic table, and even imag­ined how his own name (includ­ing “Sir”) might be spelled the same way.

As you might expect, Poli­akoff has some nits to pick with the les­son White gives his stu­dents in the first few min­utes. For one, White—who shows him­self to be very safe­ty-con­scious, if not risk-averse, lat­er in the episode—wears no safe­ty gear while spray­ing chem­i­cals into an open flame. The direc­tor can be for­giv­en for not want­i­ng to obscure Bryan Cranston’s expres­sive face in this cru­cial scene of char­ac­ter devel­op­ment. But what of the les­son itself? Over­all, he says, it’s “quite good.” He likes White’s def­i­n­i­tion of chem­istry as “the study of change,” but thinks it should more ful­ly be “the way that mat­ter changes.”

The dis­cus­sion prompts Poli­akoff to reflect that no one’s ever asked him to define chem­istry before. (When asked to define “inor­gan­ic chem­istry” in high school, his son answered, “it’s what my dad does.”) We quick­ly begin to see the ben­e­fits of watch­ing a well-craft­ed show like Break­ing Bad with an expert. The dra­ma of the show, and its unusu­al approach to what we nor­mal­ly con­sid­er a dry sub­ject, draws out our chemist’s enthu­si­asm and helps us make con­nec­tions we might not oth­er­wise make, such as Wal­ter White’s resem­blance to well-known British sci­en­tist and sci­ence com­mu­ni­ca­tor Robert Win­ston.

Hear­ing Poli­akoff dis­cuss the Break­ing Bad pilot turns out to be so enter­tain­ing that TV exec­u­tives should take note—this could become a new, easy-to-pro­duce genre when we final­ly run out of shows, pro­vid­ed there are enough emi­nent pro­fes­sors will­ing to offer com­men­tary on hit series of the past. But as we can sur­mise from Pro­fes­sor Poliakoff’s gen­er­al lack of inter­est in TV, and from his thriv­ing career as a chem­istry pro­fes­sor, he’s prob­a­bly busy. He’s already done more than enough to make chem­istry inter­est­ing to us lay­folk by con­tribut­ing to Peri­od­ic Videos for over a decade now.

Fur­ther up, see a fun demon­stra­tion of explod­ing hydro­gen bub­bles (“the title pret­ty much says it”). Just above and below, see Pro­fes­sor Poli­akoff enlight­en us on the prop­er­ties of ele­ments 35 and 56, Bromine and Bar­i­um, and watch Peri­od­ic Videos full series on the peri­od­ic table here.

Relat­ed Con­tent: 

The Sci­ence of Break­ing Bad: Pro­fes­sor Don­na Nel­son Explains How the Show Gets it Right

The Break­ing Bad Theme Played with Meth Lab Equip­ment

How Break­ing Bad Craft­ed the Per­fect TV Pilot: A Video Essay

Josh Jones is a writer and musi­cian based in Durham, NC. Fol­low him at @jdmagness

The Formula for The Coen Brothers/Noah Hawley’s Fargo – Pretty Much Pop: A Culture Podcast #79

Your hosts Mark Lin­se­may­er, Eri­ca Spyres, and Bri­an Hirt are joined by Tam­ler from the Very Bad Wiz­ards pod­cast to con­sid­er the plau­dits and com­plaints heaped on this moral­i­ty-tale-turned-orga­nized-crime-dra­ma that began with the 1006 film and  has con­tin­ued through a 4‑season TV show. We delve into its elab­o­rate style, “tun­dra west­ern” set­ting, dry humor (includ­ing “Min­neso­ta nice”), speechi­fy­ing, gen­der issues, stunt cast­ing, and the role of chance in its plot­ting. Did the show go down­hill in its lat­er sea­sons, and is there alto­geth­er too much rehash involved? Yes, there are spoil­ers, but no, it bare­ly mat­ters.

Check out these resources for more opin­ions and back­ground infor­ma­tion:

Fol­low @tamler. Hear him on The Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life. Check out his book, Why Hon­or Mat­ters.

Hear more of this pod­cast at prettymuchpop.com. This episode includes bonus dis­cus­sion that you can access by sup­port­ing the pod­cast at patreon.com/prettymuchpop. This pod­cast is part of the Par­tial­ly Exam­ined Life pod­cast net­work.

Pret­ty Much Pop: A Cul­ture Pod­cast is the first pod­cast curat­ed by Open Cul­ture. Browse all Pret­ty Much Pop posts.

Watch John Cage Play His “Silent” 4′33″ in Harvard Square, Presented by Nam June Paik (1973)

Have you ever played 4′33″ in pub­lic? Or rather, have you ever not played 4′33″ in pub­lic? Call­ing as its score does for no notes at all over its tit­u­lar dura­tion, John Cage’s sig­na­ture 1952 com­po­si­tion has made many pon­der (and just as many joke about) what it means to actu­al­ly per­form the thing. If music is, by its most basic def­i­n­i­tion, orga­nized sound, then 4′33″ is anti-music, the delib­er­ate absence of orga­nized sound. Yet it isn’t silence: rather, the piece offers a per­for­ma­tive frame for the dis­or­ga­nized sound that occurs uncon­trol­lably in the envi­ron­ment.

In a con­cert hall, 4′33″ encom­pass­es all the non-musi­cal nois­es made by every­one onstage and in the seats, try though they might to make none at all. Nat­u­ral­ly, the piece  sounds com­plete­ly dif­fer­ent when played in, say, the streets of a major city. John Cage did exact­ly that in 1973, sit­ting at a piano in the mid­dle of Boston’s Har­vard Square.

“He flipped open the piano cov­er while traf­fic roared by, and, except for peri­od­i­cal­ly check­ing his stop­watch, did noth­ing for four min­utes and thir­ty-three sec­onds,” writes the Brook­lyn Rail’s Ellen Pearl­man. “Then work­men slow­ly cart­ed the piano off while Cage keened like a dis­tressed Japan­ese monk.” You can wit­ness this pub­lic hap­pen­ing, or at least one minute and 22 sec­onds of it, in the video above.

The clip comes from A Trib­ute to John Cage, the video artist Nam June Paik’s audio­vi­su­al homage to the com­pos­er, who count­ed among his major sources of inspi­ra­tion along with his com­pa­tri­ots in the inter­na­tion­al exper­i­men­tal art move­ment Fluxus. (Just over a decade lat­er, Paik would involve Cage in a much high­er-pro­file project, the New Year’s broad­cast Good Morn­ing, Mr. Orwell.) Here Paik “revers­es John Cage’s pro­pos­al by over­load­ing the screen with mes­sages,” writes Thérèse Beyler at the New Media Ency­clo­pe­dia. “This is Zen for TV,” announces one of his onscreen mes­sages. “Do you hear a crick­et?” asks anoth­er. “… or a mouse.” Unlike­ly, at the inter­sec­tion of Brat­tle and JFK — but then, we can hear any­thing when offered an oppor­tu­ni­ty tru­ly to lis­ten.

Relat­ed Con­tent:

John Cage’s Silent, Avant-Garde Piece 4’33” Gets Cov­ered by a Death Met­al Band

The Curi­ous Score for John Cage’s “Silent” Zen Com­po­si­tion 4’33”

The 4’33” App Lets You Cre­ate Your Own Ver­sion of John Cage’s Clas­sic Work

Enter Dig­i­tal Archives of the 1960s Fluxus Move­ment and Explore the Avant-Garde Art of John Cage, Yoko Ono, John Cale, Nam June Paik & More

Good Morn­ing, Mr. Orwell: Nam June Paik’s Avant-Garde New Year’s Cel­e­bra­tion with Lau­rie Ander­son, John Cage, Peter Gabriel & More

Based in Seoul, Col­in Mar­shall writes and broad­casts on cities, lan­guage, and cul­ture. His projects include the Sub­stack newslet­ter Books on Cities, the book The State­less City: a Walk through 21st-Cen­tu­ry Los Ange­les and the video series The City in Cin­e­ma. Fol­low him on Twit­ter at @colinmarshall or on Face­book.

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