Thanks to my friend, Dr. Dan Fortenbacher, for pointing out the latest Oliver Sacks piece – My Periodic Table, appearing in the New York Times Sunday Opinion today. Although I identify with Oliver in numerous ways, I can only aspire to the clarity and artistic nature of his writing.
Sacks relates to the elements in a very intimate way, and he introduced us to his love of chemistry in general and the periodic table in particular through Uncle Tungsten. I recall as a school child being enamored with chemistry. My mother, who would buy me anything, took me to a toy store in Center City Philadelphia to purchase a primo chemistry set. I still have correspondence somewhere that I received from DuPont in response to a letter I wrote them asking a question about the periodic table. This prompts me to dredge it up.
Sacks personalizes the periodic table in today’s Times essay by using the elements’ numbers to represent his recent birthdays, an organic gematria of sorts. Regrettably his ability to code these milestones will soon be coming to an end. His penchant for observation will live on through the beautiful writings he has left behind.