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The Compound Interest Newsletter - Issue #2

Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest
Welcome to the second edition of the Compound Interest newsletter! I’ve amassed a daunting number of subscribers since the first newsletter, so no pressure on making sure this stays entertaining…
This issue has the promised graphic on dahlia colours (and why they aren’t blue), analytical chemistry revealing a hidden side of a painting of one of chemistry’s best known historical figures, some new graphics I’ve collaborated on for the Education Endowment Foundation, and plenty more.

Why don't we see blue dahlias?
Click to view and download on the Ci site
Click to view and download on the Ci site
Dahlias are in bloom here at the moment, so I thought I’d put together a graphic on the chemistry behind their varied colours – and why we don’t see blue dahlias! The biochemical reasons are pretty interesting and it’s worth reading the accompanying article for more detail on the reasons that blue is such a rare flower colour.
Crash Course Organic Chemistry
Towards the end of last year, I was recruited by Crash Course to write some of the episodes for their current Crash Course Organic Chemistry series. The latest of my episodes to be published is on polymer chemistry, touching on non-stick pans, a couple of fortuitous polymer discoveries, and the Challenger disaster. A number of the other episodes in the series are written by Kat Day of The Chronicle Flask fame, and they’re all beautifully animated!
Polymer Chemistry: Crash Course Organic Chemistry #35
Polymer Chemistry: Crash Course Organic Chemistry #35
A history of atomic models
Click to view and download on the Ci site
Click to view and download on the Ci site
The start of the new school year always coincides with a spike in views for this graphic on atomic models, presumably as everyone kicks off teaching about atomic structure. Sharing this on Twitter last week kicked off an interesting discussion on why it’s one of the relatively few areas of chemistry that we teach with a chronological approach.
My suspicion is that it’s a combination of convenience (the more ‘correct’ models become progressively tricker for younger students who are just encountering the atom to understand) and it being a good example of the iterative nature of scientific models: each model assimilates additional information and improves on the model previous to it.
That discussion led me into an interesting research rabbit hole on how atomic structure is taught, and whether the Bohr model is a confusing step on the route to understanding more complex models. Plenty of food for thought if you’re teaching about atomic structure this term!
Hidden depiction of the Lavoisiers revealed
Jacques Louis David’s famous portrait of the Lavoisiers
Jacques Louis David’s famous portrait of the Lavoisiers
This portrait of Antoine Lavoisier and Marie-Anne Lavoisier is arguably one of the most iconic in chemistry history. But, through a neat combination of analytical techniques, it’s been revealed that painting didn’t originally depict them as chemists at all (and also included an incredibly flamboyant hat). There are some great images showing the changes alongside the discussion here, and there’s also a nice article on it from Philip Ball in Chemistry World.
EEF "How I Teach..." graphics
Three graphics produced for the EEF
Three graphics produced for the EEF
This is the last set of a series of graphics I worked on designing with Dr Niki Kaiser relating to the Education Endowment Foundation’s RADAAR planning framework for anticipating misconceptions. The previous sets of graphics have looked at tackling misconceptions and planning for misconceptions.
There’s nothing chemistry-related this time around, sadly, but there are three graphics on how the subject experts who contributed the content teach maths in science, forces, and enzymes, and anticipate misconceptions in these topics. The full graphics are available for download on the EEF site.
Great explanations
I’ve worked with Professor Mark Lorch on some projects previously, including a periodic table of element name origins and graphics for the Secret Science of Superheroes collaborative book. He’s now working on another collaborative book: bringing together well-known science writers, including Dr Kit Chapman, Dr Kat Arney and Prof Adam Hart, to create “an anthology of the most pressing, fascinating and sometimes just plain overlooked topics from the far reaches of science, engineering and maths topped with a smattering of the philosophy and history of science.”
You can back the book now on Unbound and help make it a reality (I admit my eyebrows initially raised at some of the pledge fees, but there is a £15 pledge option that simply gets you a copy of the paperback book further down the page!).
...and finally
I’ve decided I’ll draw these newsletters to a close by sharing some of the chemistry news stories I’ve found interesting, entertaining, or amusing over the past fortnight. Here’s this issue’s selection:
Some wasps’ nests glow green under ultraviolet light | Science News
Water transformed into shiny, golden metal
Ig Nobel for chemists who analysed the smell of cinema audiences
I hope you’ve enjoyed this issue – you shoud have the option to let me know below! And if there’s anything else you’d like to see in these newsletters, you can always get in contact here.
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Andy @ Compound Interest
Andy @ Compound Interest @compoundchem

Topical chemistry graphics and other interesting chemistry-related nuggets from across the web. Sent fortnightly.

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