The Color That May Have Killed Napoleon: Scheele’s Green

“Either the wallpaper goes, or I do.” —Oscar Wilde

Looking to repel bed bugs and rats?

Decorate your bedroom à la Napoleon’s final home on the damp island of Saint Helena.

Those in a position to know suggest that vermin shy away from yellowish-greens such as that favored by the Emperor because they “resemble areas of intense lighting.”

We’d like to offer an alternate theory.

Could it be that the critters’ ancestors passed down a cellular memory of the perils of arsenic?

Napoleon, like thousands of others, was smitten with a hue known as Scheele’s Green, named for Carl Wilhelm Scheele, the German-Swedish pharmaceutical chemist who discovered oxygen, chlorine, and unfortunately, a gorgeous, toxic green pigment that’s also a cupric hydrogen arsenite.




Scheele’s Green, aka Schloss Green, was cheap and easy to produce, and quickly replaced the less vivid copper carbonate based green dyes that had been in use prior to the mid 1770s.

The color was an immediate hit when it made its appearance, showing up in artificial flowers, candles, toys, fashionable ladies’ clothing, soap, beauty products, confections, and wallpaper.

A month before Napoleon died, he included the following phrase in his will: My death is premature. I have been assassinated by the English oligopoly and their hired murderer…”

His exit at 51 was indeed untimely, but perhaps the wallpaper, and not the English oligopoly, is the greater culprit, especially if it was hung with arsenic-laced paste, to further deter rats.

When Scheele’s Green wallpaper, like the striped pattern in Napoleon’s bathroom, became damp or moldy, the pigment in it metabolized, releasing poisonous arsenic-laden vapors.

Napoleon’s First Valet Louis-Joseph Marchand recalled the “childish joy” with which the emperor jumped into the tub where he relished soaking for long spells:

The bathtub was a tremendous oak chest lined with lead. It required an exceptional quantity of water, and one had to go a half mile away and transport it in a barrel.

Baths also figured in Second Valet Louis Étienne Saint-Denis‘ recollections of his master’s illness:

His remedies consisted only of warm napkins applied to his side, to baths, which he took frequently, and to a diet which he observed from time to time.

Saint-Denis’s recall seems to have had some lacunae. According to a post in conjunction with the American Museum of Natural History’s Power of Poison exhibit:

In Napoleon’s case, arsenic was likely just one of many compounds taxing an already troubled system. In the course of treatments for a variety of symptoms—swollen legs, abdominal pain, jaundice, vomiting, weakness—Napoleon was subjected to a smorgasbord of other toxic substances. He was said to consume large amounts of a sweet apricot-based drink containing hydrocyanic acid. He had been given tarter emetic, an antimonal compound, by a Corsican doctor. (Like arsenic, antimony would also help explain the preserved state of his body at exhumation.) Two days before his death, his British doctors gave him a dose of calomel, or mercurous chloride, after which he collapsed into a stupor and never recovered. 

As Napoleon was vomiting a blackish liquid and expiring, factory and garment workers who handled Scheele’s Green dye and its close cousin, Paris Green, were suffering untold mortifications of the flesh, from hideous lesions, ulcers and extreme gastric distress to heart disease and cancer.

Fashion-first women who spent the day corseted in voluminous green dresses were keeling over from skin-to-arsenic contact. Their seamstresses’ green fingers were in wretched condition.

In 2008, an Italian team tested strands of Napoleon’s hair from four points in his life—childhood, exile, his death, and the day thereafter. They determined that all the samples contained roughly 100 times the arsenic levels of contemporary people in a control group.

Napoleon’s son and wife, Empress Josephine, also had noticeably elevated arsenic levels.

Had we been alive and living in Europe back then, ours likely would have been too.

All that green!

But what about the wallpaper?

A scrap purportedly from the dining room, where Napoleon was relocated shortly before death, was found by a woman in Norfolk, England, pasted into a family scrapbook above the handwritten caption, This small piece of paper was taken off the wall of the room in which the spirit of Napoleon returned to God who gave it.

In 1980, she contacted chemist David Jones, whom she had recently heard on BBC Radio discussing vaporous biochemistry and Victorian wallpaper. She agreed to let him test the scrap using non-destructive x-ray fluorescence spectroscopy. The result?

.12 grams of arsenic per square meter. (Wallpapers containing 0.6 to 0.015 grams per square meter were determined to be hazardous.)

Dr. Jones described watching the arsenic levels peaking on the lab’s print out as “a crazy, wonderful moment.” He reiterated that the house in which Napoleon was imprisoned was “notoriously damp,” making it easy for a 19th century fan to peel off a souvenir in “an inspired act of vandalism.”

Death by wallpaper and other environmental factors is definitely less cloak and dagger than assassination by the English oligopoly, hired murderer, and other conspiracy theories that had thrived on the presence of arsenic in samples of Napoleon’s hair.

As Dr. Jones recalled:

…several historians were upset by my claim that it was all an accident of decor…Napoleon himself feared he was dying of stomach cancer, the disease which had killed his father; and indeed his autopsy revealed that his stomach was very damaged. It had at least one big ulcer…My feeling is that Napoleon would have died in any case. His arsenical wallpaper might merely have hastened the event by a day or so. Murder conspiracy theorists will have to find new evidence! 

We can’t resist mentioning that when the emperor was exhumed and shipped back to France, 19 years after his death, his corpse showed little or no decomposition.

Green continues to be a noxious color when humans attempt to reproduce it in the physical realm. As Alice Rawthorn observed The New York Times:

The cruel truth is that most forms of the color green, the most powerful symbol of sustainable design, aren’t ecologically responsible, and can be damaging to the environment.

Take a deeper dive into Napoleon’s wallpaper with an educational packet for educators prepared by chemist David Jones and Hendrik Ball.

via Messy Nessy

Related Content: 

Why Is Napoleon’s Hand Always in His Waistcoat?: The Origins of This Distinctive Pose Explained

Napoleon’s English Lessons: How the Military Leader Studied English to Escape the Boredom of Life in Exile

Napoleon’s Disastrous Invasion of Russia Detailed in an 1869 Data Visualization: It’s Been Called “the Best Statistical Graphic Ever Drawn”

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.

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

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

Interactive Periodic Table of Elements Shows How the Elements Get Used in Making Everyday Things

“The discovery of the periodic system for classifying the elements represents the culmination of a number of scientific developments, rather than a sudden brainstorm on the part of one individual,” writes Eric Scerri at Scientific American. And yet, while several scientists over the course of the nineteenth century invented systems for classifying the elements, “ask most chemists who discovered the periodic table and you will almost certainly get the answer Dmitri Mendeleev,” notes the Royal Society of Chemistry.  That’s for good reason, since the basis of the table we know today came from the design Mendeleev created in 1869.

This past March saw the 150th anniversary of his achievement, which has hardly remained a historical artifact. Every generation has its table. Mendeleev’s rudimentary beginnings have taken on new shape and have been supplemented with annotations and illustrations in eye-catching color in textbooks and on classroom walls around the world. It’s only fitting, then, that the 21st century has its digital versions of the table, like the interactive design by Boeing software engineer Keith Enevoldsen.




The Interactive Periodic Table of the Elements, in Pictures and Words, adapts itself to different learning styles while providing students of chemistry, of all ages and levels, instant facts about each of the elements it illustrates. Click on Palladium, for example, and you’ll learn about its role in pollution control. The non-corroding hard metal absorbs hydrogen and is used in labware, electric contacts, and dentistry. Rhenium, we learn, is a dense metal used in rocket engines, heater coils, and electric contacts, among other things.

Other “seemingly obscure” elements we may never have heard of, like Gallium and Tantalum, influence our daily lives “quite a bit, it turns out,” as Lacy Cooke writes at Inhabit, serving as components in LEDs and mobile phones. We gather such facts at a glance, as well as the other endlessly useful functions of the table. Enevoldsen further adapts his designs for home or classroom use with printable PDFs, including a version with only words and a simplified table with only pictures. Beginning students may be thrilled to find print-your-own elements cards, as well as other periodic-table-related visual aids like Atomic Orbitals, a color-coded chart that “shows what atoms look like.”

The groupings on the periodic chart so familiar to us today came about when Mendeleev “realized that, by putting [the elements] in order of increasing atomic weight, certain types of element regularly occurred,” the Royal Society points out. But his “real genius… was to leave gaps for undiscovered elements. He even predicted the properties of five of these elements and their compounds.” Enevoldsen’s interactive table makes for an easy format to update. When new elements are named, he adds them to his charts immediately.

Periodic tables like Enevoldsen’s may only barely resemble Mendeleev’s spare original, but the Russian chemist’s classification system still provides the organizing principles by which we understand the fundamental elements that make up the material world. View and download PDF copies of all of these highly informative, and up-to-date periodic tables here. Or purchase posters/prints here.

via Inhabit

Related Content:

The Map of Chemistry: New Animation Summarizes the Entire Field of Chemistry in 12 Minutes

A Periodic Table Visualizing the Year & Country in Which Each Element Was Discovered

The Periodic Table of Elements Presented as Interactive Haikus

The Periodic Table of Endangered Elements: Visualizing the Chemical Elements That Could Vanish Before You Know It

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

Anatomy of a Fake: Forgery Experts Reveal 5 Ways To Spot a Fake Painting by Jackson Pollock (or Any Other Artist)

In the old days, determining an art forgery was mostly a matter of narrative deduction, a la Sherlock Holmes.

Thiago Piwowarczyk and Jeffrey Taylor, founders of New York Art Forensics, employ such techniques to establish provenance, tracing the chain of ownership of any given work back to its original sale by researching catalogues, title transfers, and correspondence.




But they also bring a number of high tech tools to the table, to further prove—or in the case of the alleged Jackson Pollock drip painting above, disprove—a work’s authenticity.

In the WIRED video above, these experts, whose pedigree includes degrees in Chemistry, Forensic Science, and Comparative History, a Visual Arts Management textbook, and two Frick Collection Fellowships, break the sleuthing process down to five critical steps:

1. Establish provenance

Obsolete technology has a place in the process too, in the form of a highly unreliable fax, allegedly sent in 1997. It purports to be a photocopy of a typewritten letter from 1970, written by a gallery owner who talked one of the artist’s former girlfriends into parting with a number of works after his death.

Unfortunately for the painting’s current owner, Piwowarczyk and Taylor could find no proof that the gallery or its owner ever existed. The letter also botches Pollock’s death date and oddly, there’s a blank where the sender’s number would normally be.

Due diligence reveals nothing resembling this painting in the catalogue raisonné of Pollock’s work.

2. Close up visual analysis

This can be accomplished with tools as simple as the flashlight and plastic caliper Taylor uses to examine the staple holes found at regular intervals along the unsigned canvas’ edges. In the 1940s, artists started gravitating toward staples over tacks as a method for securing their canvases to stretcher bars, but would Pollock have done so? Likely not, to hear him tell it:

I hardly ever stretch my canvas before painting. I prefer to tack the unstretched canvas to the hard wall or the floor. I need the resistance of a hard surface.

Piwowarczyk and Taylor draw on their other senses, too, when performing this in-depth visual inspection. A deep sniff reveals that teabags were used to discolor the canvas, in hope of making it appear older than it is.

3. Photography with a multispectral imaging camera 

This camera’s ability to see the Ultra-Violet spectrum allows our forensic experts to spot restorations, underdrawing, and pentimenti. Here, the camera revealed an underlying painting whose geometric layout is uncharacteristic of Pollock, as well as a suspiciously amateurish patch job on the back of the canvas, another attempt to make the painting appear older than it is.

4. Examination with an X-ray fluorescence spectrometer

It looks like a cool Star Wars prop, and allows the examiners to identify elements in the pigment. Here, our “Pollock” gets a pass. There’s titanium (as in Titanium White) in evidence, but that’s permissible for anything painted from the 30s onward.

5. Molecular Imaging and Analysis by Raman Spectroscopy

The forger might have gotten away with it if it weren’t for those meddling kids and their Raman Spectroscope! The minuscule samples of paint Piwowarczyk harvests from the canvas reveal all sorts of organic debris that have no place in a Pollock, such as drywall dust and an acrylic that didn’t come into use ‘til the 1960s.

In conclusion, exercise caution and consult the experts before purchasing a high value drip painting this holiday season! According to Piwowarczyk, the fakes—over 100 and presumably still counting—outstrip the number of drip paintings Pollock created throughout his lifetime.

Related Content:

How an Art Conservator Completely Restores a Damaged Painting: A Short, Meditative Documentary

The Art of Restoring a 400-Year-Old Painting: A Five-Minute Primer

How a Book Thief Forged a Rare Edition of Galileo’s Scientific Work, and Almost Pulled it Off

Ayun Halliday is an author, illustrator, theater maker and Chief Primatologist of the East Village Inky zine.  Join her in NYC from December 6 – 20 for the 10th anniversary production of Greg Kotis’ apocalyptic holiday tale, The Truth About Santa, and the next monthly installment of her book-based variety show, Necromancers of the Public Domain. Follow her @AyunHalliday.

The Illustrated Medicinal Plant Map of the United States of America (1932): Download It in High Resolution

Two years ago, we highlighted collector David Rumsey’s huge map archive, which he donated to Stanford University in April of 2016 and which now resides at Stanford’s David Rumsey Map Center. The opening of this physical collection was a pretty big deal, but the digital collection has been on the web, in some part, and available to the online public since 1996. Twenty years ago, however, though the internet was decidedly becoming an everyday feature of modern life, it was difficult for the average person to imagine the degree to which digital technology would completely overtake our lives, not to mention the almost unbelievable wealth and power tech companies would amass in such short time.

Similarly, when the above 1932 Medicinal Plant Map of the United States (see in a larger format here) first appeared—one of the tens of thousands of maps available in the digital Rumsey collection—few people other than Aldous Huxley could have foreseen the exponential advances, and the rise of wealth and power, to come in the pharmaceutical industry.




But the pharmacists had a clue. The map, produced by the National Wholesale Druggists’ Association, “was intended to boost the image of the profession,” writes Rebecca Onion at Slate, “at a time when companies were increasingly compounding new pharmaceuticals in labs,” thereby rendering much of the drug-making knowledge and skill of old-time druggists obsolete.

Although the commercial pharmaceutical industry began taking shape in the late 19th century, it didn’t fully come into its own until the so-called “golden era” of 1930-1960, when, says Onion, researchers developed “a flood of new antibiotics, psychotropics, antihistamines, and vaccines, increasingly relying on synthetic chemistry to do so.” Over-the-counter medications proliferated, and pharmacists became alarmed. They sought to persuade the public of their continued relevance by pointing out, as a short blurb at the bottom left corner of the map notes, that “few people realize the extent to which plants and minerals enter into the practice of pharmacy.”

The map appeared during “Pharmacy Week” in October, when “pharmacists in Anglo-Saxon countries” promote their services. Losing sight of those important services, the Druggists’ Association writes, will lead to suffering, should the traditional pharmacist’s function “be impaired or destroyed by commercial trends.” Thus we have this visual demonstration of competence. The map identifies important species—native or cultivated—in each region of the country. In Kentucky, we see Nicotina tabacum, whose cured leaves, you guessed it, “constitute tobacco.” Across the country in Nevada, we are introduced to Apocynum cannabinum, “native of U.S. and Southern Canada—the dried rhizome and roots constitute the drug apocynum or Canadian hemp.”

The better-known Cannibus sativa also appears, in one of the boxes around the map’s border that introduce plants from outside North America, including Erythroxylon coca, from Bolivia and Peru, and Papaver somniferum, from which opium derives. Many of the other medications will be less familiar to us—and belong to what we now call naturopathy, herbalism, or, more generally, “traditional medicine.” Though these medicinal practices are many thousands of years old, the druggists try to project a cutting-edge image, assuring the map’s readers that “intense scientific study, expert knowledge, extreme care and accuracy are applied by the pharmacist to medicinal plants.”

While pharmacists today are highly-trained professionals, the part of their jobs that involved the making of drugs from scratch has been ceded to massive corporations and their research laboratories. The druggists of 1932 saw this coming, and no amount of colorful public relations could stem the tide. But it may be the case, given changing laws, changing attitudes, the backlash against overmedication, and the devastating opioid epidemic, that their craft is more relevant than it has been in decades, though today’s “druggists” work in marijuana dispensaries and health food stores instead of national pharmacy chains.

View and download the map in a high resolution scan at the David Rumsey Map Collection, where you can zoom in to every plant on the map and read its description.

via Slate

Related Content:

Download 67,000 Historic Maps (in High Resolution) from the Wonderful David Rumsey Map Collection

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

A Periodic Table Visualizing the Year & Country in Which Each Element Was Discovered

On the “Data is Beautiful” subreddit, a user named Udzu posted a visualisation of the Periodic Table of Elements that highlights the year and country in which each element was discovered. You can view it in a larger format here. Elaborating on how the graphic was made, he adds (his words, not mine, follow):

  • The year and country of discovery are taken from Wikipedia and are based on when the element was first observed or predicted rather than when it was first isolated.
  • The priority for the discoveries is often contentious. The visualisation uses the listings currently in the Wikipedia article, with no claim as to their accuracy.
  • The country is typically both the citizenship of the discoverer and the location of discovery. Exceptions include Hafnium (discovered by a Dutch and Hungarian duo in Copenhagen) and Radon (discovered by a British and American duo in Montreal); these are listed under location.
  • Countries and flags are of the modern equivalents when appropriate: e.g. Russia rather than the USSR, UK rather than England/Scotland, and Mexico rather than New Spain.
  • The etymologies are also taken from Wikipedia.
  • The legends contain summary counts of the data. Good work, Sweden.

Ranked in order, the UK could lay claim to 19 elements, Sweden and Germany to 18 each, France to 16, and Russia and the United States to 11 each.

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Infographics Show How the Different Fields of Biology, Chemistry, Mathematics, Physics & Computer Science Fit Together

Ask anyone who’s pursued a career in the sciences what first piqued their interest in what would become their field, and they’ll almost certainly have a story. Gazing at the stars on a camping trip, raising a pet frog, fooling around with computers and their components: an experience sparks a desire for knowledge and understanding, and the pursuit of that desire eventually delivers one to their specific area of specialization.

Or, as they say in science, at least it works that way in theory; the reality usually unrolls less smoothly. On such a journey, just like any other, it might help to have a map.




Enter the work of science writer and physicist Dominic Walliman, whose animated work on the Youtube channel Domain of Science we’ve previously featured here on Open Culture. (See the “Related Content” section below for the links.)

Walliman’s videos astutely explain how the subfields of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science relate to each other, but now he’s turned that same material into infographics readable at a glance: maps, essentially, of the intellectual territory. He’s made these maps, of biology, chemistry, mathematics, physics, and computer science, freely available on his Flickr account: you can view them all on a single page here along with a few more of his infographics..

As much use as Walliman’s maps might be to science-minded youngsters looking for the best way to direct their fascinations into a proper course of study, they also offer a helpful reminder to those farther down the path — especially those who’ve struggled with the blinders of hyperspecialization — of where their work fits in the grand scheme of things. No matter one’s field, scientific or otherwise, one always labors under the threat of losing sight of the forest for the trees. Or the realm of life for the bioinformatics, biophysics, and biomathematics; the whole of mathematics for the number theory, the differential geometry, and the differential equations; the workings of computers for the scheduling, the optimization, and the boolean satisfiability.

Related Content:

The Map of Biology: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Biology Fit Together

The Map of Computer Science: New Animation Presents a Survey of Computer Science, from Alan Turing to “Augmented Reality”

The Map of Mathematics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Math Fit Together

The Map of Physics: Animation Shows How All the Different Fields in Physics Fit Together

The Map of Chemistry: New Animation Summarizes the Entire Field of Chemistry in 12 Minutes

The Art of Data Visualization: How to Tell Complex Stories Through Smart Design

Based in Seoul, Colin Marshall writes and broadcasts on cities and culture. His projects include 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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