The Stardust That Made Us

The Stardust That Made Us
Colin Stuart and Ximo Abadía
Big Picture Press

Written by Colin Stuart, Fellow of the Royal Astronomical Society, and illustrated in Ximo Abadía’s show-stopping surreal style artwork, this visual exploration of chemistry is the third STEM collaboration by this pair.

Despite chemistry being one of my a-level subjects I was totally bored most of the time and certainly never really got to grips with the periodic table: I certainly could have done with this book back then: the author’s explanations and the visuals really bring the elements and that table to life. I love the way he defines them as ‘ingredients’ in nature’s ‘unseen cookbook full of recipes for making everything …’ from fish to fingernails.’ Now that’s the way to get children intrigued. These ingredients aka chemical elements are currently 118 in number, some of which occur in nature, others – the synthetic ones -26 we read, were made by scientists during experiments.

Nor did anyone ever tell me that the inventor of those bunsen burners we used in so many lessons were invented by Bunsen the German scientist who also discovered two alkaline metals as well as a spectroscope. This information is part of the ‘alkali metals’ spread on which we also read that caesium, one of the elements Bunsen discovered is important in our everyday lives: it plays a crucial role in GPS satellites, and caesium clocks are used in our mobile phones.

All this is getting a bit ahead of things though. The very earliest element came into existence when the Big Bang occurred almost 14 billions years ago, followed very quickly on account the fusion process, by helium, lithium and beryllium.

No matter which spread you read, you’ll surely find something exciting and much of the information is presented with a gentle humour that makes it all the more enjoyable. I laughed at the paragraph about making the synthetic elements being incredibly difficult – ‘Aiming the particles at the target is a hard thing to get right – a bit like trying to throw marshmallows into someone’s mouth.’

Despite the significant part women played in the discovery of elements, only two are named after women, one being curium (after Marie Curie and her husband), the other meitnerium named after Lise Meitner.

This enormously engaging book is an excellent one to give to older primary children and beyond; it will surely inspire them, and who knows where their enthusiasm might lead – perhaps one of them will add a new element to the five heavy elements discovered in the last 20 years; especially once they discover, as the title says, it’s stardust that made us..

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