Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Conversations with Henry

Henry: Back in my day there were still holes and notches in the Periodic Table.
Henry sketched:

Me: But aren't the notches just from how we think about things?

Henry: Meaning?

Me: Meaning that the "notch" in the s- and p-blocks are because hydrogen and helium don't really belong to either block?

Henry: That's bullshit.  They certainly do belong with those other elements.

Me:  OK. So the notches come from discontinuities. Hydrogen and helium are completely s in character--and so are lithium and beryllium.

Henry: So why is helium parked over the p-block?

Me: Exactly! It really shouldn't be there.

Henry: Bullshit.  Helium is a noble gas. Of course it belongs there. Duh.
Henry looks at his cards and frowns.

Henry: I'll take two.
He discards two cards and I give him two more.


  1. Dude, did you change your handle again? I am seeing comments form chicklit which I think are you. What gives?

  2. I did change it! from chickenlittle to El Pollo to chickelit. The reason I did this is because my twitter handle is chickelit and I wanted to consolidate things and be "whole"

  3. But the blog will still always be El Pollo Real.

  4. I'm digging these conversations with Henry. I'm not understanding them but I'm digging them.

  5. I'm not understanding them but I'm digging them.

    Pete: Sorry about the opacity. By way of background, I worked for a small company in the Bay area in the late 90s. The company had a part-time consultant named Henry Taube. Henry was 80-something by that time and was emeritus Stanford faculty. Aside from winning the Nobel prize in 1983 for figuring out metals and other non-carbon atoms get oxidized and reduced (electron transfer in the parlance) he was an incredibly curious and tireless scientist all the way until the end of his life. We were working together, trying to crack one of the holy grails of chemistry-how to oxidize methane to methanol--i.e., to not simply burn it to CO2, but to partially oxidize it to liquid so as to use it as a liquid fuel.
    My supervisor at the time (I was a new hire) encouraged us to talk freely with him on our progress and problems. We were searching the periodic table for the right combinations, "recipes" to solve the problem. Mostly this was weekly group meetings but occasionally we met off-site at his campus office at Stanford. We took a real liking to each other and we had many, many conversations, mostly all about chemistry. Henry was a dyed-in-the-wool liberal and at the time I suppose I was considerably less conservative than I am now. These "conversations" are just meant to capture some of the topics, people, and events we talked about--"embellished" somewhat of course to fit the times.

  6. I find the conversations charming. What's a puzzlement is the near-and-dear-to-you subject matter. As I've said before, you make chemistry sexy but the subject is still a mystery to me.

    (My experience with chemistry was only with a chemistry set when I was a kid. Then, I only wanted to make blue ink or a secret formula to give me super powers. I was successful with making ink; the results of the secret formula must remain, for the sake of the safety of my loved ones, a secret.)