Tag Archives: Chemistry

Sam Kean’s “The Disappearing Spoon” — One Heck Of A Mind Expanding Book.

by Anura Guruge

Click to access Amazon listing.

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Click to access my post.

This is one heck of a book. I was going to say it was mind blowing, but that was, I realized, the wrong description. It is mind expanding. It is filled, chock-a-block with fascinating information and insights on every page. I learnt so much.

I already did two posts on subjects I learnt from this book: silver (and Argyria) & iodine.

I had never heard of him until this last March. Then, on a Sunday, on NPR, they read excerpts from his book “The Violinist’s Thumb“. I was hooked. I wanted to read the whole book. I went looking for it on Amazon and found all three of his books. As is my wont, when it comes to authors, I ordered all three.

I decided to start with the ‘Spoon‘ because I do have an affinity to elements.

Wow. I wish this book had been around 50-years ago when I was studying chemistry. I would have learnt so much more.

It should be a MUST READ for all high school kids doing chemistry. It will make chemistry that much more real.

Though well and amusingly written, it is NOT an easy book to read. It is technical and some of his very technical explanations are not as clearly explained by Sam. I ended up doing more research on my own.

If you like chemistry, do yourself a favor and read this book. It will enrich your life and expand your mind.

Sam Kean responded to this post on Twitter.

Click to ENLARGE. On my Twitter feed: @RealAnuraGuruge

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by Anura Guruge

March 31 Is ‘National Bunsen Burner Day’ & March 30 ‘National Pencil Day’.

by Anura Guruge


Click to ENLARGE and read here. From Wikipedia. See link in image.


The quintessential lab scene from my youth in the 1950s & 1960s. Flask on a stand bubbling away atop a Bunsen Burner. Click to ENLARGE and enjoy.


Click to ENLARGE and view. Labs of my ERA c. 1960. You can see 2 Bunsen Burners in the foreground — right — with flasks, with multiple tubes emanating, above them. I truly can relate to this THOUGH the labs I attended were not as crowded and ALAS had NO girls.

Yes, March 31 is designated ‘National Bunsen Burner Day‘ — March 31, 1811 having been the birthday of its eponymous inventor.

Bunsen Burners are very much an evocative part of my teen years, in Ceylon and Britain. The British education system, also used in Ceylon (now Sri Lanka), was BIG on hands on chemistry labs starting when you were around 11. Ananda College, in Colombo, with close to 6,000 kids had, for the time, impressive and well equipped labs. Though I, for winning all those educational prizes, was granted a small chemistry lab in my room at home, replete with bench, sink and ‘kit’, I could not have a Bunsen Burner because we didn’t have ‘the gas’. So the best I could do at home was alcohol burners that can’t match a Bunsen for heat.

Well, happy ‘Bunsen Burner’ Day.

[Here is my ‘National Pencil Day‘ Post.]

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by Anura Guruge

Ananda College, Colombo, Ceylon: 1960 to 1967 List Of Prizes Won By Anura W.P. Guruge.

Anura Guruge December 2014 thumbnail.
by Anura Guruge

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>> Ananda College prize giving 1969.

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Doing the post on June 7, 2015 about Udeni Wijegunaratne receiving a prize (in this case a pile of books) at the 1969 Ananda College, Colombo, Ceylon (now Sri Lanka) annual Prize Giving definitely got me thinking.

I knew I I had won a fair number of prizes. How could I forget. Winning prizes was one of the many things that was expected of me. I also knew that I had a document from August 1967, just prior to me leaving Ceylon, of all the prizes I had won. My adoptive father, a professional educator, believed that all these documents that I received an education in Ceylon would be necessary to get me into a public school in Buffalo, New York. Little did he know. I don’t think anybody ever looked at these documents.

Anywho … I wanted to capture and preserve that document for posterity. Now I have. I counted the prizes (and awards). 39.

To me, and to YOU (if you are interested at all), only two things in this list really count.

The Challenge Cups (highlighted in yellow) and the ABSENCE of Grade VI.

I did NOT attend Grade VI — the 1st year of Middle School when you start learning Algebra, Geometry, Trigonometry, Chemistry, Physics and Biology. I was, for my SINS, given a DOUBLE PROMOTION. School year in Ceylon started in January. We had the whole month of December off. My adoptive father told the school that he would make sure that I would learn a WHOLE YEARS worth of all those subjects in a month — and to top it all I got measles or mumps during that month. That did not deter my adoptive father. I was taught, tutored, beaten and punished 12 hours a day UNTIL I learnt all of what I had to — that I was sick, very sick, was not an excuse. This is why working 14, 16, 18 hours a day is a piece of cake for me. Plus now there is nobody who beats me if  I don’t work. And I was 12 years old.

So that was the Double Promotion.

The other BIG thing that was demanded of me was to WIN the damn Challenge Cup EVERY year. Yes, it was a silver cup BUT I never got to keep it. It was for my adoptive parents ego. I see that there was, on average 39 students, in each of my early classes. There were typically 6 classes per grade. So roughly 230 to 240 kids per grade. The Challenge Cup said that when all the grades, and this was the British system where grades are numeric, 0 to 100, were added up I had the HIGHEST aggregate score. First in Class is what they would say in the U.S.

Well as you can see I won that damn Challenge Cup every damn year other than in Grade 3. I think I actually set out to NOT win it. Because I, probably given all the beatings and punishment I took, was quite a devil, already. Well I got beaten to a pulp. All of 1964, and I was 11, UNTIL I won the Challenge Cup again was hell. But what the heck. It made me what I am. My life now is walk in the park. When you had the life I had as a kid you grow up rather immune to most hardships.

Well it gets better. Remember that Double Promotion. Learn a year’s worth of 6 subjects in a month. I was EXPECTED to win the Challenge Cup after that! I think I won one Challenge Cup in Grade VII AFTER the Double Promotion BUT not THE cup. But, I did the following year! And for the WHOLE Middle School. That one was MY doing. After the Double Promotion I was the youngest in the class. I took my stick. So I wanted to stick it to all of them. OH, I got an air rifle, as a present, for winning that! That was big. We had to go to India to get one. You couldn’t get them in Ceylon.

So that was my life in Ceylon. It was hard. I wasn’t allowed a dog or any pets. I wasn’t allowed a bike. (I WONDER whether this has anything to do with why I am surrounded by dogs and toys, like Jags). My life was to study, study, win prizes and most of all the DAMN Challenge Cup. It wasn’t all bad. I had plenty of food, all the books I ever wanted, my own chemistry lab and a fair amount of toys. I also got to travel.

But it has stood me in good stead. So I don’t regret it. I would never dream of imparting what my life was to my kids. I took enough punishment for a few generations.

And SOME people wondered why I did not attend my adoptive father’s funeral (last year) and actually was on a cruise of the day of his funeral.