The Chemical Educator, Vol. 12, No.6, Media Reviews, © 2007 The Chemical Educator

Media Reviews

Medicinal Applications of Coordination Chemistry. By Chris J. Jones and John R. Thornback. RSC Publishing; The Royal Society of Chemistry: Thomas Graham House, Science Park, Milton Road, Cambridge CB4 0WF, UK, 2007. In some countries the book is available through Springer: Telephone: 1-(212) 460-1719; Fax: 1-(212) 647-1898; xv + 353 pp. $169.00; £89.95. ISBN 978-0-85404-596-9.

My interest in and contact with the medical applications of coordination compounds arose in a purely fortuitous manner. Beginning in the late 1950s my students and I were attempting to separate isomers of metallic coordination compounds by column chromatography, a technique commonly employed with organic isomers but uncommon in the inorganic realm. One of the isomer pairs that we chose was that of cis- and trans-diamminedichloroplatinum(II), [PtCl2(NH3)2], which played an important role in the historical development of Werner's coordination theory, being the earliest examples proposed for his square planar configuration for platinum(II) [1].  In 1987 the Institute for Scientific Information (ISI) designated our synthesis of these isomers [2], a "Citation Classic"—"one of the most frequently cited works in its field" [3]. Our synthesis undoubtedly owed its frequent citation in the literature to the fact that the cis isomer ("cisplatin") found increasingly important use in the treatment of cancer since Barnett Rosenberg's pioneering work [4], which will be discussed in more detail below. Ironically, we found these isomers to be unsuitable in developing our separation method because of their limited solubilities in nonpolar solvents.

The use of metals or their compounds in medicine can be traced back to ancient times. Copper(II) sulfate and alums were used by the ancient Egyptians, while Chinese and Arabian physicians used preparations of gold as early as 2500 B.C.E. Mercury compounds were used to treat syphilis during the European epidemic of the late 15th and early 16th centuries, and almost everyone, scientist or nonscientist, is familiar with 1908 Nobel physiology or medicine laureate Paul Ehrlich (1854–1915)’s introduction in 1909 of salvarsan (compound 606) to treat syphilis, if only from William Dieterle’s Oscar-nominated 1940 motion picture “Dr. Ehrlich’s Magic Bullet,” in which Edward G. Robinson starred as the German Jewish immunologist whose compound was an attempt to target specifically the infectious organism (Treponema pallidum) while leaving healthy tissue unharmed. Pharmaceuticals, especially those containing arsenic, can have severe side effects, a situation that has contributed to the common perception that metals are generally toxic and not well suited for use in pharmaceuticals.

    In the latter half of the 20th century, two elements—platinum and technetium—in particular played a large role in stimulating a much greater interest in the medicinal use of metallic compounds. In 1964 the previously mentioned Barnett Rosenberg of Michigan State University (b. 1926), who was studying the effect of electrical fields on the growth of bacteria, made the serendipitous discovery that mitotic suppression or inhibition of cell division leading to filamentation of Escherichia coli occurred when a current was passed through the growth medium [4]. Further investigations led to the discovery that traces of platinum were present in the culture resulting from reactions between the platinum electrodes used and the ammonium and chloride ions in the growth medium. In 1978 the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approved the use of [PtCl2(NH3)2] (“cisplatin”), one of the compounds formed in Rosenberg’s growth medium, for treating ovarian and testicular cancer.

Stephen J. Lippard of the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT) and his students have investigated the interactions of this compound with DNA during the treatment of cancer [5]. Since Rosenberg’s work other second-generation platinum-containing drugs have been developed, including those suitable for oral administration. His discovery has also stimulated research on compounds of other metals with tumorocidal properties and the potential of becoming clinically useful anticancer drugs. Medical practice today employs a wide range of pharmaceuticals containing metals to treat various illnesses such as gold for rheumatoid arthritis, lithium for depression, platinum for cancers, bismuth for stomach ulcers, vanadium for diabetes, iron for anemia and to control high blood pressure, cobalt in vitamin B12 for pernicious anemia, and radioactive metals to alleviate the pain of bone cancer.

In addition to these innovations in therapy, the man-made element technetium (atomic number 43), first identified in molybdenum (atomic number 42) targets after bombardment with deuterons in a cyclotron by C. Perrier and Emilio Gino Segrè in 1937 [6], began to make significant contributions to diagnostic medicine. All isotopes of technetium are radioactive, but one, 99mTc, which emits g-rays, that, when emanating from a source within the body, pass through living tissue and can be detected externally, permitting an image to be created of the distribution of the Tc g-ray source within the body, makes it particularly suitable for use in diagnostic medicine.

Fortunately, technetium possesses a versatile and rich chemistry, which allows it to be incorporated into many different kinds of compounds with affinities for different specific organs or types of tissues to transport selectively technetium to specific locations in the body. Thus images of diseased or damaged regions can be obtained without the need for invasive surgical examinations. Although other radioactive elements can be used in noninvasive diagnostic imaging procedures, technetium is preeminent for this application. Use of radioactive elements as drug components suitable for use in therapeutic medicine presents a greater technical challenge than that posed by diagnostic imaging applications, but progress is recently being made in this area.

In addition to technetium, radioactive thallium, gallium, and indium are routinely used in diagnostic imaging. Another widely used diagnostic imaging technique is magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), better known to chemists as nuclear magnetic resonance (NMR) but renamed because of the public’s aversion to anything containing the word “nuclear,” which produces images of internal organs by examining the water content of the involved tissues. Metals with magnetic properties, especially the lanthanide element, gadolinium, enhance some of the images produced by this method.

All of these developments are dealt with in a new text, Medicinal Applications of Coordination Chemistry. The authors, both based in Great Britain, are no newcomers to the field. Chris J. Jones is affiliated with the Schools of Chemistry at the University of Birmingham and the University of Manchester, while John R. Thornback is the Chief Executive Officer of Mass Tag Technologies, Ltd. in Oxford. British spelling is used consistently throughout the volume. The aim of their book is

to review the diagnostic and therapeutic applications of selected metallic elements and consider the chemistry underlying the formulation of metallopharmaceuticals (p v).

In five chapters the authors fulfill their aim:

Chapter 1, “Introduction” (5 figures, 1 table; 14 pp, the shortest chapter), presents a brief historical review and a consideration of some general aspects of the use of chemical substances in medicine.

Chapter 2, “The Chemistry of Metals in a Nutshell” (40 figures, 7 tables, 54 numbered equations; 86 pp), concisely describes those basic chemical principles needed to understand the particular properties of transition metal elements exploited in medical applications. The level of presentation is designed for a general but scientifically literate audience. It can also serve as an introduction to coordination chemistry in the context of medical applications for students in chemistry courses. The chapter assumes relatively little chemical knowledge, and readers with prior exposure to university level chemistry courses may skip most or all of this material. However, the authors hope that

it will help those without a strong inorganic chemistry background to appreciate the origins and nature of the particular properties of metals that are so useful in biology and in medical applications (p vi).

Chapter 3, “Diagnostic Medicine” (18 figures, 7 tables, 15 schemes, 125 structural formulas; 200 pp, the longest chapter), and

Chapter 4, “Therapeutic Medicine” (19 figures, 4 tables, 13 schemes, 167 structural formulas; 123 pp), describe what is occurring in a clinical environment but also consider past and current research into metallopharmaceuticals and the lessons that they provide for future research. Especially important and well established applications include diagnostic imaging by the use of radioactive or paramagnetic compounds and the treatment of cancer with metallodrugs based primarily on platinum compounds.

Chapter 5, “Metallopharmaceuticals Design” (2 figures, 8 structural formulas; 17 pp), deals with the design of metallopharmaceuticals as well as some examples of the relationship between structure and activity. While serendipity is still important in the development of metallopharmaceuticals, as more information about the mechanism of their action emerges, rational design is playing an increasingly significant role in their development.

Unfortunately, no references are cited in the text, but a 4-page list of “Further Reading,” (pp 340–343), subdivided into “Books” and “Review Articles on Specific Topics,” includes references as recent as 2005. Lists of abbreviations and of ligands, each 1-1/3 pp long, are provided. A 10-double-column-page “Subject Index” also includes proper names. Errors are few and minor. “Ehrlich” is consistently misspelled as “Erlich” (pp 1–3, 347), and the IUPAC rules for formulas of coordination compounds in which anionic ligands precede neutral ligands are inconsistently applied (for example, p 220).

On June 28–29, 2000 a meeting titled “Metals in Medicine: Targets, Diagnostics, and Therapeutics” was held at the Natcher Conference Center at the U.S. National Institutes of Health in Bethesda, Maryland, which generated considerable interest in the scientific community [7]. Applications of metal compounds in magnetic resonance imaging (MRI), radiology and radiation therapy; therapeutic applications of metal complexes; metal metabolism, including studies of the mechanisms of metal homeostasis and the roles of metals in the regulation of cell function and cell-cell interaction; and basic principles to guide the development of new pharmaceuticals, all of which are discussed in Jones and Thornback’s book, were dealt with in the meeting. Concerning these developments, the authors declare:

At a chemical level at least, coordination chemistry provides a basis for the rational design of metal complexes. This will need to be combined with medicinal experience and an expanding knowledge of bioinorganic chemistry if such a set of guiding principles is to be developed. It is hoped that this text will help stimulate wider interest in the potential of metal containing pharmaceuticals, encourage readers to explore more advanced texts and contribute to realizing the opportunities metallopharmaceuticals present [p vi].

In my opinion Jones and Thornback have accomplished their goal, and I am pleased to recommend Medicinal Applications of Coordination Chemistry to pharmacists, clinicians, and medical researchers who use metal-containing drugs in a clinical environment. It should also serve as an introductory text for students of chemistry who wish to learn about an aspect of their subject within an applied context rather than just as a subject in its own right.

References and Notes

1.        Werner, A. Beitrag zur Konstitution anorganischer Verbindungen. Z. anorg. Chem. 1893, 3, 267–330. For an annotated English translation see Contribution to the Constitution of Inorganic Compounds. In Kauffman, G. B. Classics in Coordination Chemistry, Part 1: The Selected Papers of Alfred Werner; Dover Publications: New York, NY, 1968; pp 5–88.

2.        Kauffman, G. B.; Cowan, D. O. cis- and trans-Dichlorodiammineplatinum(II). Inorg. Syn. 1963, 7, 239–245.

3.        Kauffman, G. B. This Week’s Citation Classic: Kauffman, G. B. and Cowan, D. O. cis- and trans-Dichlorodiammineplatinum(II). Inorg. Syn. 7: 239–45, 1963. Current Contents: Physical, Chemical, & Earth Sciences February 8, 1988, 28 (6), 20.

4.        Rosenberg, B.; Van Camp, L.; Krigas, T. Inhibition of Cell Division in Escherichia coli by Electrolysis Products from a Platinum Electrode. Nature 1965, 205, 698–699; Rosenberg, B.; Van Camp, L.; Trosko, J. E.; Mansour, V. H. Platinum Compounds: A New Class of Potent Antitumour Agents. Nature 1969, 222, 385–386.

5.        Jamieson, E. R.; Lippard, S. J. Structure, Recognition, and Processing of Cisplatin-DNA Adducts. Chem. Rev. 1999, 99, 2467–2498.

6.        Perrier, C.; Segrè, E. Some Chemical Properties of Element 43. J. Chem. Phys. 1937, 5, 712–716; Chemical Properties of Element 43. II. J. Chem. Phys. 1939, 7, 155–156; Segrè, E. Element 43. Nature 1939, 143, 460–461.

7.        National Institute of General Medical Sciences: Metals in Medicine: Targets, Diagnostics, and Therapeutics. News/Meetings/MetalsmedicineTargetsDiagnosticsTherapeutics.htm (accessed Nov 2007). In addition to the twenty-five invited speakers, including the afore-mentioned Steven J. Lippard, who presented the keynote address, “Case History and Recent Advances in Understanding Cisplatin,” 210 persons attended the conference. 

George B. Kauffman

California State University, Fresno,

S1430-4171(07) 62098-4, 10.1333/s00897072098a

The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance. Eric R. Scerri. Oxford University Press: Oxford, England; New York, NY, 2007. xxii + 346 pp, hardcover. 16.0 ´ 24.0 cm. $35.00; £19.99. ISBN 978-0-19-530573-9.

As long as chemistry is studied there will be a periodic table. And even if someday we communicate with another part of the universe, we can be sure that one thing that both cultures will have in common is an ordered system of the elements that will be instantly recognizable by both intelligent life forms (p xiii).

This proclamation by Cambridge University Science Writer in Residence John Emsley, which Eric Scerri quotes to introduce his book, recognizes the iconic status of the periodic table of the elements. This excellent monograph has been more than six years in the making and is dedicated to Scerri’s mother and late father as well as to Dmitrii Ivanovich Mendeleev, the centenary of whose death it commemorates.

Emsley’s evaluation of the periodic table has been echoed by numerous chemists. However, such extravagant, but eminently merited, praise comes not only from chemists. According to the late Harlow Shapley—an American astronomer, the periodic table

is probably the most compact and meaningful compilation of knowledge that man has yet devised. The periodic table does for matter what the geological age table does for cosmic time. Its history is the story of man’s great conquests in the microcosmos [1].

Since its proposal by Russian chemist Dmitrii Ivanovich Mendeleev in 1869, literally hundreds of versions of his table have been published [2, 3]. Although numerous articles and books about the table have appeared, until now only two monographs in English, by Francis Preston Venable (1856–1934) [4] and Jan W. van Spronsen (b. 1928) [5], published in 1896 and 1969, respectively, have dealt both in general and in detail with the history and evolution of the table and the problems that have developed in connection with it through the years. Now Scerri’s volume, under review here, is a worthy successor to these classic tomes, for he has left no stone unturned in ferreting out information from articles, books, and archives. In van Spronsen’s words,

I declare his new book a must, not only for all historians of chemistry and the other natural sciences, but also for the scientists and pupils thereof.

Eric R. Scerri, Lecturer in the Department of Chemistry and Biochemistry, University of California, Los Angeles and founder and Editor-in-Chief of the journal Foundations of Chemistry, is the ideal person to have written such a book. Born in Malta, this prolific scholar received his Ph.D. in the history and philosophy of science from King’s College, the University of London, under the late Heinz Post, with a dissertation on the reduction of chemistry to quantum mechanics [6], which is one of the concerns in this book:

Many others believe the question of fundamentalism and reduction can still be studied within the context of science. One can still consider the more modest question of whether chemistry reduces to its sister science of physics. This question can be approached in a scientific manner by examining the extent to which chemical models or, indeed, the periodic system, can be explained by the most basic theory of physics, namely quantum mechanics. It is this question that forms the underlying theme for this entire book, and it is a question that is addressed more and more explicitly in later chapters as the story reaches the impact of modern physical theories on our understanding of the periodic system (p xviii).

Scerri cites his goal in writing his book:

There is no book that deals adequately with the historical, and especially the conceptual, aspects of the periodic system or its significance in chemistry and science generally. It is with the aim of injecting a more philosophical treatment to understanding the periodic system that the present work has been undertaken. I make no apologies for this approach, which I believe is long overdue and can perhaps be understood in the context of the almost complete neglect of the study of the philosophy of chemistry until its recent resurgence in the mid-1990s (p xiv).

It appears that one of the best ways to explore the relationship between chemistry and modern physics is to consider the status of the periodic system. Given the renewed interest in the philosophy of chemistry and in the periodic system itself, a reassessment of these basic issues is now required, and this is attempted in the chapters of this book (p xxii).

Scerri himself is largely responsible for this renaissance in the philosophy of chemistry as a discipline [7].

Every chemist should read this book. Why? Encapsulated in the periodic system and periodic table are the very foundations of our chemical knowledge. If we know the properties and behavior of one element, we can safely hazard a guess at the reactions of its neighbors. There are many patterns in the periodic table that will guide us, and this book describes them and evaluates their worth.

This is a book for chemists. It is to be enjoyed, and it will also prove valuable for those who teach chemistry.

In a sense one might say that this book was inspired by the conference, "The Periodic Table: Into the 21st Century," held in 2003, at which Scerri spoke so eloquently on “Beauty, Elegance, and Truth” [8] and advocated a periodic table in which quantum number (n+l) would be the criterion for beginning each period. However, his book is not a detailed historical review of the development of the periodic table like van Spronsen's [5], and it does not offer an enormous collection of various formats like Mazurs' [2, 3].

The book consists of ten chapters and a user-friendly index (18 double-column pages):

Chapter 1, “The Periodic System: An Overview” (10 figures; 1 table; 25 pp)

Chapter 2, “Quantitative Relationships among the Elements and the Origins of the Periodic Table” (6 figures; 12 tables; 34 pp)

Chapter 3, “Discoverers of the Periodic System” (11 figures; 9 tables; 38 pp)

Chapter 4, “Mendeleev” (4 figures; 2 tables; 21 pp)

Chapter 5, “Prediction and Accommodation: The Acceptance of Mendeleev’s Periodic System” (2 figures; 5 tables; 35 pp)

Chapter 6, “The Nucleus and the Periodic Table: Radioactivity, Atomic Number, and Isotopy” (7 figures; 1 table; 24 pp)

Chapter 7, “The Electron and Chemical Periodicity” (4 figures; 7 tables; 21 pp)

Chapter 8, “Electronic Explanations of the Periodic System Developed by Chemists” (10 figures; 4 tables; 21 pp, the shortest chapter)

Chapter 9, “Quantum Mechanics and the Periodic Table” (6 figures; 6 tables; 22 pp)

Chapter 10, “Astrophysics, Nucleosynthesis, and More Chemistry” (15 figures; 7 tables; 38 pp, the longest chapter)

Scerri discusses in detail the critical steps that ultimately led to the discovery of the periodic law, periodic system, and periodic table as we know them. Of the six independent discoverers of the periodic system, Alexandre Emile Béguyer de Chancourtois (1862), John Alexander Reina Newlands (1865), William Odling (1864), Gustavus Hinrichs (1867), (Julius) Lothar Meyer (1864), and Mendeleev (1869), he considers the French geologist’s telluric screw [9] “the first true periodic system” (p xix), a statement picked up by the United States’ leading newspaper [10].

In particular, Scerri explores the philosophical steps that Mendeleev had to make that led him to his triumph. It was the difference between "simple substance" (what one sees and feels) and the "element" (the essence of the element, unseen, unchanging in all reactions); to him the atomic weight, to us the atomic number.  Scerri makes clear to us the intellectual struggle to achieve this philosophical understanding, summarized by Mendeleev’s statement (p 115):

Mercury oxide does not contain two simple bodies, a gas and a metal, but two elements, mercury and oxygen, which, when free, are a gas and a metal. Neither mercury as a metal nor oxygen as a gas is contained in mercury oxide; it only contains the substance of the elements, just as steam only contains the substance of ice, but not ice itself, or as corn contains the substance of the seed but not the seed itself [11].

Scerri provides a good description of how the Mendeleev system and table of 1871 withstood the discovery of the inert (now noble) gases, the struggle to cope with radioactivity and isotopes, and finally how Henry Gwyn Jeffreys Moseley's work on atomic numbers provided a better basis for the periodic law and system by replacing atomic weights by atomic numbers. The 1871 table permitted the correct predictions of elements numbers 21 (scandium), 31 (gallium), 32 (germanium), and 43 (technetium); and more recently of the family of freons—a remarkable achievement.

Scerri includes a comprehensive set of valuable notes and literature references (pp 287–328) keyed to chapters and page numbers of the text—a gold mine of information and a starting point for those who wish to delve deeper into the subject.

Considering the breadth, scope, and detail of Scerri’s book, the number of errors does not seem excessive. Some are typos that more careful proofreading could have detected [12]—for example, “Frenando” for “Fernando” (Dufour, p viii); “Van Spronsen” for “van Spronsen” (p ix); “Glen” for Glenn” (Seaborg, p 22); “Kirchoff” for “Kirchhoff” (p 87); TlCl” for “TlBr” (melting point, fourth formula down) and “SnBr3” for “SbBr3” (boiling point, last formula) (Table 10.7, p 274); “Figure 10.14” for “Figure 10.12” (Rayner Canham table, p 285); “Figure 10.12” for “Figure 10.13” (Janet table, p 285); “Apellé” for “Appelé” (p 300); “Ramsey” for “Ramsay” (Sir William, p 313, twice); “Centrury” for “Century” (p 321); and Gillespie for Gillispie (p 323). A few errors of fact are also present—for example, uranium is hexavalent, not tetravalent, and has a valence of 6, not 4 (p 129); and Sir James Chadwick discovered the neutron in 1932 not 1930 (p 313).

In the final section of the text, "Is There a Best Form of the Periodic Table?", Scerri declares the optimal periodic system to be the left-step (Janet) table. He advocates the general adoption of this system in which the elements are ordered according to atomic number Z but the periods begin not with quantum number n, but with (n+l), which is constant in that period (the so-called Madelung rule, Figure 10.13, p 283).

In the past both Henry A. Bent and Ron Rich have proposed its adoption, and Valentin N. Ostrovsky has reviewed the relevance of the (n+l) rule to ordering in the periodic table. But here for the first time—in a book on the periodic table—written by a chemist for chemists, Scerri gives us in a comprehensive way his carefully reasoned opinions for adopting this left-step arrangement.

By writing this book and describing his philosophy, Scerri has done us a significant service. He has prompted us to think and to argue. You don't have to agree with every conclusion that he draws, but his ideas will certainly set you thinking, which, of course, is what good science is all about. He has broadened our minds. Do we simply carry on as before? Or do we seriously contemplate change? Can we do something differently? What should be our criterion for change?

References and Notes

1.        Shapley, H. Of Stars and Men: The Human Response to an Expanding Universe; Beacon Press: Boston, MA, 1958; pp 38–39.

2.        Mazurs, E. G. Types of Graphic Representation of the Periodic System of Chemical Elements; E. Mazurs: La Grange, IL, 1957. This 158-page paperback was privately printed by the author.

3.        Mazurs, E. G. Graphic Representations of the Periodic System During One Hundred Years; University of Alabama Press: University, AL, 1974 includes about 700 tables, classified into various types. For reviews see Kauffman, G. B. J. Chem. Educ. 1975, 52, A436; Kauffman, G. B. Persistent pursuit of the periodic system. Isis 1976, 67, 109–111; and Sanderson, R. T. J. Chem. Educ. 1975, 52, A436.

4.        Venable, F. P. The Development of the Periodic Law; Chemical Publishing Co.: Easton, PA, 1896.

5.        van Spronsen, J. W. The Periodic System of Chemical Elements: A History of the First Hundred Years; Elsevier: Amsterdam, 1969. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Isis 1971, 62, 264–266.

6.        Scerri, E. R. The Relationship Between Periodicity, Quantum Mechanics and the Orbital Model; Ph.D. Thesis, King’s College, London University, London, England, 1992.

7.        Baird, D.; Scerri, E.; McIntyre, L., Eds. Philosophy of Chemistry: Synthesis of a New Discipline; Springer: Dordrecht, The Netherlands, 2006.

8.        Rouvray, D. H.; King, R. B., Eds. The Periodic Table: Into the 21st Century; Research Studies Press, Ltd.: Baldock, England, 2004; pp 148–149. This second international conference brought together for the first time many of the most prominent current authorities on the periodic table. For a review see Kauffman, G. B.; Laing, M. J. Chem. Educator2007, 12(2), 131–133; DOI 10.1333/s00897072014a.

9.        Béguyer de Chancourtois, A. E. Mémoire sur un Classement Naturel des Corps Simples ou Radicux Appelé Vis Tellurique. Compt. rend. 1862, 54, 757, 840–843, 967–971.

10.     Kanellos, M. Did a Frenchman beat Mendeleev to the periodic table? The New York Times, November 21, 2006;  (accessed Nov 2007).

11.     Mendeleev, D. I. The Principles of Chemistry, Part One; Kamensky, G., Transl.; A Library of Universal Literature, Part 1, Vol. 25; P. F. Collier and Son: New York, 1901; p 23.

12.     The Oxford University Press rushed through the proofreading process so that the book could appear in time for the centenary of Mendeleev’s death. Undoubtedly, such errors will be corrected in future printings.

Michael J. Laing

University of Natal, Republic of South Africa, Durban, 4001,

George B. Kauffman

California State University, Fresno,

S1430-4171(07) 62099-3, 10.1333/s00897072099a

Van Nostrand’s Concise Encyclopedia of Science. Christopher G. De Pree and Alan Axelrod, Editors; John Wiley & Sons, Inc.: Hoboken, NJ, 2003. Figures, tables. x + 821 double-column pages. 19.9 ´ 24.0 cm.; hardcover. $40.00; $62.50 CAN; £29.95. ISBN 0-471-36331-6. 

This one-volume reference source is aconcise” version of the 3,898-page, two-volume Van Nostrand’s Scientific Encyclopedia, Ninth Edition (VNSE9, Wiley-Interscience: New York, 2002. $375.00. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Chem. Educator 2004, 9, 258–259; DOI 10.1333/s00897040811a), the latest edition of the well-known, comprehensive, accessible general science reference work, the first edition of which appeared in 1938 and which was hailed as “the best science encyclopedia available” by the Library Journal. The editor of the ninth edition, Glenn D. Considine, the son of the late Douglas M. Considine, who was editor of VNSE for more than three decades and who edited the fifth through eighth editions, wrote the preface for this concise version. The names and affiliations of the scientists, engineers, and educators who contributed to the complete and concise versions are acknowledged in an 11-double-column-page list.  

The editors, Christopher Gordon De Pree, Associate Professor of Physics and Astronomy at Agnes Scott College, Decatur, GA, and Alan Axelrod, a historian and award-winning author of more than 50 books as well as President of the Ian Samuel Group, Inc., Greenwood Publishing Group, Westport, CT, were asked to reduce the size of the complete, multivolume version by some 75 percent and to create a far more compact text to serve a less technically savvy audience as a quick first reference. They decided

to present only material that one could understand without specialized training in a scientific discipline. For example, many of the mathematical references in the full volume assume a level of mathematical understanding that the general reader cannot be expected to possess. Instead, we have retained…mathematical definitions where they are relevant and applicable to other scientific disciplines.

Of the six major categories…in the ninth edition…, the areas of Materials Sciences and Information Sciences have been reduced most extensively, with the understanding that this concise edition proposes to present a digest of scientific understanding as it intersects the lives of ordinary people….Entries in Physics and Chemistry have been reduced, but since these disciplines are so fundamental to scientific understanding, they were not cut as severely. Because of the broad level of public interest in fields such as astronomy, oceanography, biological sciences, and the environment, references in Earth and Space Sciences, Life Sciences and Energy and Environmental Sciences were retained wherever possible, although many of the entries had to be significantly reduced in length for this volume (p vii).

Chemists and chemical educators should note that although the complete VNSE 9 includes a separate entry for every element, the concise version contains a single entry for the periodic table, which includes the properties of all the elements in tabular form. For elements of great biological or industrial importance, shortened entries describing these uses have been included.

The encyclopedia features more than 5,000 up-to-date entries, alphabetically arranged from “AA” (a Hawaiian term for some basic lava flows) to “zymolytic reaction.” Each entry begins with a clear definition, followed by a concise explanation of the concepts associated with the term. Wherever necessary, the text is clarified with helpful illustrations, charts, and graphs. More than 400 black-and-white photographs and drawings further supplement the written material.  

According to the editors,

We hope that this concise volume truly distills the labor and wisdom of all who created VNSE, providing the material in [a] form within reach of a general audience while prompting at least some in that audience to reach further and consult the master work itself (p viii).

In my opinion their hope has been fully realized. The VNCES does not and is not intended to replace the VNSE9. It is a companion to the complete work—a subset of thumbnail sketches of the longer version—for readers desiring quick, comprehensive entries on a large number of scientific issues and topics. Its modest price also adds to its attractiveness as a handy reference source.

The Van Nostrand Concise Encyclopedia of Science will provide students, teachers, writers, editors, and general science readers with rapid access to clear, succinct explanations of technological terms and concepts in six major categories of science—Physics and Chemistry, Earth and Space Sciences, Life Sciences, Energy and Environmental Sciences, Materials Sciences, and Information Sciences. 

George B. Kauffman

California State University, Fresno,

S1430-4171(07) 62100-1, 10.1333/s00897072100a

What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel: Further Adventures in Kitchen Science. Robert L. Wolke (with recipes by Marlene Parrish). W. W. Norton & Company: New York/London, 2005. Figures, tables. xviii + 350 pp; 16.1 ´ 24.1 cm. USA $25.95, Canada $38.00;; ISBN 0-393-05869-7.


On March 24, 2006 at the Chemical Heritage Foundation in Philadelphia, PA Robert L. Wolke, Professor Emeritus of Chemistry at the University of Pittsburgh, author of the syndicated Washington Post column, “Food 101,” Consulting Science Editor for Cook’s Illustrated Magazine, holder of an award from the Association of Food Journalists, the James Beard Foundation for best newspaper column, the International Association of Culinary Professionals’ Bert Greene Award for best newspaper food writing, and the American Chemical Society’s 2005James T. Grady-James H. Stack Award for Interpreting Chemistry for the Public, spoke on “Chemical Abuse in the Kitchen” at Kitchen Aid’s “The Book and the Cook,” a series of events teaming up a food writer or cookbook author with a renowned chef [1, 2]. That evening Wolke’s talk was followed by a three-course dinner prepared by chef Mitch Prensky of Philadelphia’s “The Global Dish Caterers” that featured recipes from Wolke’s writings.

An educator and lecturer with a national reputation for his ability to make science understandable and enjoyable for non-technically inclined people, Wolke is the author of Impact: Science on Society [3], Chemistry Explained [4], What Einstein Didn’t Know [5], and What Einstein Told His Barber [6], numerous articles on food, science, travel, and language as well as dozens of scientific research papers. Originally a nuclear chemist, he is listed in the Guinness Book of World Records for the discovery of the radioactive beta-emittingisotope with the longest half-life [7].

The theme of Wolke’s address was his debunking of long-held kitchen beliefs that do not hold to scientific scrutiny. This was the subject of What Einstein Told His Cook, his first food book [8], nominated by both the James Beard Foundation and the International Association of Culinary Professionals for the best food reference book of 2002. He has followed it up with What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel: Further Adventures in Kitchen Science, the subject of this review. 

The road leading to these books began when Wolke met and married food writer, restaurant critic, and cooking teacher Marlene Parrish, “who characterizes herself as Einstein’s Cook” and to whom this second book is dedicated, as was the first (p vii). Wolke explains his idea of the relationship of science to food:

Science is a sort of intellectual spice that adds depth and allure to everyday things, not the least of which is food. Food, of course, gives us pleasure and nourishment. But understanding our food—where it came from, what it is made of, what happens when we cook it, all in the contexts of the many experiences and circumstances that make up the world of gastronomy—nourishes our minds and adds immensely to our enjoyment of cooking and eating (p xvi).

The cliché that cooking is chemistry is, of course, true, but it also involves other sciences—the physics of heat transmission, mechanics of whipping and emulsifying, microbiology of fermentation, anatomy of meats, engineering of utensils and equipment, and technology of producing and packaging prepared foods, all preceded by the agronomy and animal husbandry taking place on farms. Wolke therefore maintains:

This book, then, is a truth-seeking exploration of the farm, the market, and the kitchen by a scientist—not, most assuredly, an Einstein, but a scientist with a congenital curiosity about everything he sees and an urge to share the joy of knowing with others (pp xvi–xvii).

As in its predecessor volume [8], the questions which are first asked and then answered, are collected mainly from Wolke’s  Washington Post column and thus represent the concerns of actual cooks and consumers, who are often bewildered by products and labels, and therefore will be of interest to a wide audience. Unlike the previous volume, which focused primarily on specific foods such as sugar, salts, and fats, the sequel is organized into eight major food categories, followed by a chapter on kitchen tools and equipment and a concluding one “offering a handful of lagniappes to please not the diner’s palate but the reader’s inquiring mind” (p  xvii).

Wolke describes his catechismal format:

Teaching in a book…is different from teaching in a classroom. Each Q&A unit in this book, which can be read independently, launches a new issue requiring a new explanation. But science is a continuum; it doesn’t come in discrete pieces, like M&Ms. Hence, when explaining one concept I have often found it necessary to restate, very briefly, a closely related one that had been covered earlier. Otherwise, the unit would be incomplete and unsatisfying. So please note that I do this intentionally. It’s one of my teaching tricks (xviii).

The following list includes some of the questions that should give you an idea of the book’s 148 topics (questions and answers) and 35 recipes. Each of the chapters is prefaced by an introduction ranging in length from less than a page to several pages:

• Chapter 1, “Something to Drink?” (16 topics, 4 recipes, 48 pp), deals with a variety of drinks, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic:

How does green tea differ from other teas? Will coffee stay hotter if I put the cream in right away, or only when I’m ready to drink it? Does hanging a spoon handle in the neck of the bottle keep Champagne from going flat? What makes bourbon bourbon? Is there a formula for telling when I’m getting dangerously drunk? How can I get a red wine stain out of a tablecloth? 

• Chapter 2, “Down on the Farm” (22 topics, 6 recipes, 56 pp, the longest chapter), focuses on the products of dairy farms:

Does yogurt contain live bacteria? Why does all cream cheese come from Philadelphia (GBK’s home town)? Why is string cheese so stringy? Would double-yolk eggs hatch twins? Are thousand-year-old eggs for real? 

• Chapter 3, “Whatever a Man Soweth…” (14 topics, 3 recipes, 40 pp), examines several of the hundreds of plant foods that we call vegetables:

What makes the vivid colors in vegetables? Why do green vegetables turn drab when cooked? Why do onions really make me cry? How do they make tofu? Why do beans and other legumes produce gas?

• Chapter 4, “Above the Fruited Plain” (16 topics, 6 recipes, 55 pp), looks at fruits and fruit products:

When a banana ripens and gets sweeter, does it contain more calories? Why are some oils edible and others not? Exactly what are trans fats? What’s “extra” about extra-virgin olive oil? What’s the difference between black and green olives? What’s the difference between apple juice and apple cider? Are “raw” cashews raw?

• Chapter 5, “For Amber Waves of Grain” (16 topics, 1 recipe, 38 pp), describes cereal grasses, “the family of plants that, more than any other, feeds the world” (p 202):

Why do leftover starchy foods turn hard in the refrigerator? How does self-rising flour raise itself? Which kinds of fiber contain calories and which don’t? Why mustn’t babies be fed honey? 

• Chapter 6, “From Sea to Shining Sea” (10 topics, 4 recipes, 31 pp), examines Wolke’s—and our—favorite finfish, mollusks, and crustaceans:

Why are wild and farm-raised salmon different colors? Why do they treat tuna with carbon monoxide? How does lime juice “cook” ceviche? How do wet, dry, and diver scallops differ? Why are shrimp different colors?

• Chapter 7, “A Carnival for Carnivores” (15 topics, 5 recipes, 56 pp), discusses meats, primarily beef, veal, lamb, pork, and poultry, which Wolke characterizes as “‘the center of the plate’ on many tables around the world”:

Why is my supermarket’s hamburger meat red on the outside and brown on the inside? [9]. Does marinating work? Why are hotdogs pink? What’s the difference between browning and caramelizing? [10]. Are nitrites dangerous? Why do we cook with wine? 

• Chapter 8, “Spice is the Variety of Life” (15 topics, 2 recipes, 42 pp), examines the three families of plants (mint, parsley, and mustard) that comprise the majority of herbs and spices and, in a class by itself, the genus Capsicum.

What makes spices spicy? Why is cooked garlic so different from raw garlic? What is the average shelf life of an herb or spice? How can I keep grated horseradish “hot” in the refrigerator? Why is vanilla so expensive?   

• Chapter 9, “Galley Gear” (15 topics, 2 recipes, 50 pp), explains how to deal with a variety of tools found in the kitchen:

Does a box of baking soda in the refrigerator kill odors? Do airport X-rays sterilize foods? In a microwave oven, why don’t two potatoes take twice as long to cook as one potato? Why do glass and metal baking pans require different baking times? Does slow, low-temperature cooking use more or less energy than fast, high-temperature cooking?

• Chapter 10, “A Few Lagniappes for the Insatiable Inquiring Mind” (9 topics, 2 recipes, 28 pp, the shortest chapter), presents “sundry items about language, cookery, and science with which to cap off the information feast that I hope you have been enjoying” (p 418):

What’s the difference between heat and temperature? Why can’t I pour all the milk out of a carton in one try? What is that white moldy-looking coating on my chocolates? Is carob a form of chocolate? (Wolke devotes much space to chocolate, which seems to be everyone’s favorite treat).

Each of the sections is self-contained so the book is eminently suited for browsing. Recipes and other supplementary materials are printed in light gray boxes as are more technical sections called “Sidebar Science,” “which each reader may choose to read or skip, depending on the depth of his or her scientific interests” (p xviii). Also scattered throughout the book in light gray boxes are “Foodie Fictionary” definitions, in which Wolke indulges in his persistent penchant for puns [11]. A detailed index (20 double-column pages) makes the book especially user-friendly.

Wolke’s book is replete with numerous illustrations by Alan Witschonke, seven tables, and many relevant and amusing anecdotes. Cooking, as Wolke makes eminently clear, is both a science as well as an art. He makes cuisine seem humorous and easy to understand the hows, whys, and magic that occur in the kitchen. Although other books on the science of cooking are available [12–14], this volume is a welcome addition to the genre. Unlike Barham’s book [12], which consistently uses the Système International (SI) or metric system of measurements, Wolke’s book employs the Imperial or U.S. system, making it much easier for American readers to use. Also, Wolke’s book contains fewer experiments than Barham’s [12] and is less technical and more humorous. Wolke sprinkles his humor and puns throughout his tome.

What Einstein Told His Cook 2: The Sequel is an engrossing, authoritative, witty, lucid, and insightful book that provides a host of answers to questions that you’ve probably always wondered about as well as those that you’ve never imagined. We heartily recommend it to nutritional scientists, food technologists, cooks, “foodies,” and chemists interested in foods and their preparation.

In short, we heartily agree with 2004 American Chemical Society President Charles P. Casey:

[Wolke’s book] teaches cooks about chemistry, and chemists about food. If you love cooking, chemistry, and puns, this is for you!

References and Notes

1.        Wang, L.; Borman, S. Newscripts: Debunking food myths. Chem. Eng. News March 6, 2006, 84(10), 224.

2.        McCoy, M.; Trzaska, S. Newscripts: Harsh realities in the kitchen. Chem. Eng. News April 10, 2006, 84(15), 92.

3.        Wolke, R. L. Impact: Science on Society; Saunders College Publishing: Philadelphia, PA, 1975.

4.        Wolke, R. L. Chemistry Explained; Prentice-Hall: Englewood Cliffs, NJ, 1980.

5.        Wolke, R. L. What Einstein Didn’t Know: Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions; Birch Lane Press: New York, NY, 1997; Replica Books: Bridgewater, NJ, 2000.

6.        Wolke, R. L. What Einstein Told His Barber: More Scientific Answers to Everyday Questions; Dell Publishing Company: New York, NY, 2000.

7.        McWhirter, N.; McWhirter, R., Eds. Guinness Book of World Records; Bantam Books: New York, 1979; p 175. The Guinness citation was for cadmium-113, the longest-lived single beta-emitter known at the time—a mere 9 million billion years (Greth, W. E.; Gangadharan, S.; Wolke, R. L. Beta Instability in Cadmium-113. J. Inorg. Nucl. Chem. 1970, 32, 2113). The half-life record for a beta-emitter was later superseded by vanadium-50. Bismuth-209 now holds the record for alpha emitters.

8.        Wolke, R. L. What Einstein Told His Cook: Kitchen Science Explained (with recipes by Marlene Parrish); W. W. Norton & Co.: New York/London, 2002). For a review see Kauffman, G. B.; Kauffman, L. M. Chem. Educator 2005, 10, 325–328; DOI 10.1333/s000897050943a.

9.        The red color is not due to hemoglobin but to myoglobin, another red, iron-containing, oxygen-carrying protein (p 276).

10.      “Browning” is due to the still not completely understood Maillard reactions named after French biochemist Louis Camille Maillard (1878–1936). For a biography see Adrian, J. Louis C. Maillard: De la médecine à l’alimentation; Éditions Tec & Doc: Paris, 1999. Also see Nursten, H. The Maillard Reaction: Chemistry, Biochemistry and Implications; Royal Society of Chemistry: Cambridge, England, 2005.

11.      Typical examples are: “Avocado—a nineteenth-century Italian physicist who discovered Avocado’s number” (p 149); “Al dente—an Italian fender bender” (p 221); “Hominy—an unknown number, as in ‘Hominy cooks does it take to spoil the broth?’” (p 227); “Microwave—a baby’s bye-bye gesture” (p 368).

12.      Barham, P. The Science of Cooking; Springer-Verlag: Berlin/Heidelberg/ New York, 2001. For a review see Kauffman, G. B.; Kauffman, L. M. Chem. Educator, 10, 245–246; DOI 10.1333/s00897050925a.

13.      Bell, H. P.; Feuerstein, T.; Günter, C. E.; Hölsken, S.; Lohmann, J. K. What’s Cooking in Chemistry: How Leading Chemists Succeed in the Kitchen; Wiley-VCH: Weinheim, Germany, 2003.

14.      McGee, H. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen; Simon & Schuster: New York, 2004.

George B. Kauffman and Laurie M. Kauffman

California State University, Fresno,

S1430-4171(07) 62102-X, 10.1333/s00897072102a

Wiley Critical Content. Petroleum Technology. Arza Seidel, Editor. Wiley-Interscience, A John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Publication: Hoboken, NJ, 2007. 2 volumes. Figs., tables. xx + 2209 pp., hardbound, 18.4 ´ 25.9 cm. $505.00; £350.00; 555.00.; ISBN 978-0-470-13402-3.

In 1807 Charles Wiley opened a small printing shop in lower Manhattan, and in 2007 the firm that he founded celebrated its bicentennial anniversary. Wiley’s major reference works have dealt with a host of subject disciplines and over the years have earned numerous accolades for their accessible, well-structured articles that have included both fundamental and cutting-edge topics. In response to demand from customers with a strong interest in certain key topics covered within more than one of Wiley’s reference works who have asked to see the most relevant articles brought together in one publication, Wiley has initiated the Wiley Critical Content Series. The 2-volume set (with separate rather than cumulative pagination) under review here is the first title to be published in this new series. It contains thousands of references to articles and books, and its extensive (109 double-column pp) index from “Above-ground retorting (AGR), oil shale” to “Z SM-5 catalysts, toluene manufacture” makes it extremely user-friendly.

Wiley Critical Content. Petroleum Technology (WCCPT) contains 56 articles from two of Wiley’s most prestigious encyclopedias—the Kirk–Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology (K–O ETC5) [1] and Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry [2]. Its editor, Arza Seidel, received his M.Sc. degree in 1993 from the Department of Biomedical Engineering, Technion, Israel Institute of Technology, with a thesis, “Integrated System for Biomaterials Separation,” supervised by Noah Lotan. He is the editor of K–O ETC5, the Kirk–Othmer Chemical Technology and the Environment [3], and other reference works.

The Kirk–Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology (K–O ECT) has retained its unique role as the “Bible” and “Britannica” of chemical technology for almost seven decades and has been dubbed “the most famous chemical encyclopedia” and the “single most valuable resource in a chemistry library’s reference collection.”[4] The larger and more expensive Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, which began publishing in English with the fifth edition, is more its complement than its competitor. K–O ECT is more popular in English-speaking countries because it has always been published in English. Both encyclopedias are widely viewed as having similar coverage, with Kirk–Othmer having a more North American viewpoint and Ullmann having a more European/Japanese viewpoint.

WCCPT provides comprehensive, up-to-date information on all aspects of petroleum—properties and origin, exploration, production and refining processes, economic issues, and environmental and health concerns. As might be expected from an encyclopedia comprised of articles reprinted from a primarily American source and a primarily German source, the 143 contributors are almost equally divided between the two countries—70 from the United States and 66 from Germany. Of the remaining seven authors two were based in Israel and one each in Belgium, Canada, Finland, The Netherlands, and the United Kingdom.

Because WCCPT consists of articles reprinted from two multivolume standard reference sources, which prospective purchasers, either individuals or libraries, may already possess, the following list of the articles may be useful. I have used an asterisk (*) to indicate that the article was reprinted from Kirk–Othmer and a dagger (†) to indicate that the article was reprinted from Ullmann:

Volume 1 (22 articles, x + 960 pp)

Part I: Exploration, Production, and Refining (22 articles, 960 pp)

Petroleum, Introduction*

Exploration, Drilling, and Production Engineering†

Enhanced Oil Recovery*

Oil Shale*

Tar Sands*

Drilling Fluids*

Petroleum Refinery Processes*

Oil Refining, Environmental Considerations†

Natural Gas†

BTX Processing*

Fluid Catalytic Cracking, Units, Regeneration*

Fluid Catalytic Cracking, Catalysts and Additives*


Catalyst Deactivation and Regeneration*


Distillation, Azeotropic and Extractive*

Separations Process Synthesis*

Liquid–Liquid Extraction†


Sulfur and Hydrogen Sulfide Recovery*

Corrosion and Corrosion Control*


Volume 2 (34 articles, x + 1249 pp)

Part II: Refined Products and Fuels (16 articles, 575 pp)

Liquefied Petroleum Gas*

Lubrication and Lubricants*



Petroleum Coke†

Gasoline and Other Motor Fuels*

Aviation Turbine Fuels†

Heating Oil†

Naphthenic Acids*

Fuels, Synthetic, Liquid*

Fuels, Synthetic, Gaseous*

Octane Enhancers†

Methyl Tert-Butyl Ether†

Combustion Science and Technology*

Emission Control, Automotive*

Emission Control, Industrial*

Part III: Petrochemicals (18 articles, 565 pp)

Petrochemical Feedstocks*












Cyclopentadiene and Dicyclopentadiene*

Naphthalene and Hydronaphthalenes†


Olefins, Higher*

Acylation and Alkylation†

Synthetic Organic Chemicals, Economic Evaluation*

This reliable, accurate reference source contains broad introductory information as well as technical details related to both industrial use and academic research. It should be of particular interest to petroleum and chemical engineers, chemists, geologists, researchers in industry and academe, and other professionals and consultants in petroleum-related industries. It is also a sine qua non for science and technology libraries.


1.        Kirk–Othmer Encyclopedia of Chemical Technology, Fifth Edition; Seidel, A., Ed.-in-Chief; 27 volumes; Wiley-Interscience, A John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Publication: Hoboken, NJ, 2004–2007. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Chem. Educator 2007, 12, 376–378; DOI 10.1333/s00897072080a.

2.        Ullmann’s Encyclopedia of Industrial Chemistry, Fifth Edition 37 volumes; Gerhartz, W. et al., Eds., 1985–1996; Sixth Edition; 40 volumes;Networkable CD-ROM, Kellersohn, T. et al., Eds. John Wiley & Sons: New York, NY; Wiley-VCH: Weinheim, Germany, 1998, book and CD-ROM. For a review see Kauffman, G. B. Chem. Educator 2000, 5, 49–52; DOI 10.1333/s000897000360a.

3.        Kirk–Othmer Chemical Technology and the Environment; 2 volumes; Seidel, A., Ed.; Wiley-Interscience, A John Wiley & Sons, Inc. Publication: Hoboken, NJ, 2007.

4.        Wiggins, G. Chemical Information Sources; McGraw-Hill Book Company: New York, NY, 1991; p 276. 

George B. Kauffman

California State University, Fresno,

S1430-4171(07) 62103-9, 10.1333/s00897072103a