Oliver Sachs – My Periodic Table

imageIt was with sadness that I read that Oliver Sachs has terminal cancer. He wrote a very candid piece in the New York Times last week entitled ‘My Periodic Table’.


Oliver Sacks is Professor of Neurology in NYC School of Medicine and a noted author. So where does the Periodic Table link in ? Sacks has written a memoir called ‘Uncle Tungsten’ that details his childhood obsession with Chemistry. The joy of Sack’s writing is that he brings chemistry alive and he can see the Periodic Table as a living, breathing thing of beauty. Below are a few quotes from the book:
‘And I often dream of chemistry at night, dreams that conflate the past and the present, the grid of the periodic table transformed to the grid of Manhattan. […] Sometimes, too, I dream of the indecipherable language of tin (a confused memory, perhaps, of its plaintive “cry”). But my favorite dream is of going to the opera (I am Hafnium), sharing a box at the Met with the other heavy transition metals—my old and valued friends—Tantalum, Rhenium, Osmium, Iridium, Platinum, Gold, and Tungsten.’

I love the description of the transition metals as grey haired academics, with maybe Gold the Noble prize winner among them, meeting up for Opera. Sacks talks in his NY Times article about his friends celebrating his birthdays with elements and how he knows he will never see polonium (and how that may be a good thing!). That reminded me of a cake I had made for a fellow chemist recently, I’m sure Professor Sacks would approve !



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