Disappearing Spoon by Sam Keane: A Summary

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Disappearing Spoon
- Chapter 1: Geography is Destiny -

Chapter 1 of The Disappearing Spoon discusses the importance of an element’s location on the periodic table based on the atomic number and type of material, and how this specific area determines its atomic “identity” and relation to other elements. This also includes the reactivity of elements based on their electron configurations. This relates directly to what we have studied in Chapter 5 of our textbook. One example from The Disappearing Spoon was about the halogens group of elements. This group is one of the most reactive of the entire periodic table because the outer shell of electrons in each atom is missing only one electron to be complete, or satiated. According to page 16 of The Disappearing Spoon, “...each level needs a certain number of electrons to fill itself and feel satisfied”. When atoms achieve an appropriate “match” with one or more other atoms that satisfy its electron needs, it becomes more stable. The reactive qualities of elements lie in the all- important electron configurations of the atoms themselves. As we have discovered in Chapter 5 of our text, electrons have fixed energy levels that contain sublevels with specific orbitals. These orbitals contain up to two electrons and are shaped in a variety of ways according to the type of orbital (s,p,d,f,etc.). Sam Kean describes the sublevels on page 16 as follows: “The levels are nested concentrically inside each other...”. S orbitals are spherical while p orbitals are shaped like dumbbells or warped lungs. As the atomic numbers of elements increase (implying an increased electron count) the number of principal energy levels, sublevels, and orbitals also increase to accommodate the extra electrons. Another major portion of Chapter 1 in The Disappearing Spoon is focused on describing the lives and work of a few key scientists who contributed significantly to atomic research. Sam Kean highlights Gilbert Lewis, a scientist who

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