Science & Technology

Elements in Danger

Professor David Cole-Hamilton and Dr M Pilar Gil
Tuesday, 29 September 2020 - 6:30pm


Five years ago, a cleaning up of a storage area in the School of Chemistry at the University of St Andrews revealed a time-worn periodic table covered by dirt and dust.  Its significance was immediately recognised, despite its brittle and fragile condition that suggested an eventful life in a classroom or laboratory.  The lecture will recount the pursuit to date of what it is now considered the oldest known published periodic table wallchart. 

A new Periodic Table, developed by the European Chemical Society (EuChemS) for the International Year of the Periodic Table, will be introduced.  It differs from more usual Periodic Tables because the area occupied by each element corresponds to its abundance in the earth’s crust and in the atmosphere, thus highlighting those that are endangered.  The elements are colour coded to show how quickly they are being dispersed and which can come from conflict zones.  Those in mobile phones are highlighted.  In the end it brings a positive message that as long as we conserve the 90 elements which are the only building blocks of everything on earth, we shall be able to continue to enjoy the full wonders of our diverse and beautiful world.




About the speakers

Following degrees (BSc and PhD) at Edinburgh University, Prof. David Cole-Hamilton worked with Nobel Laureate, Sir Geoffrey Wilkinson at Imperial College, where he developed a strong interest in organometallic chemistry and especially homogeneous catalysis. His independent career started at Liverpool University (Lecturer and Senior Lecturer) before moving to be Professor of Chemistry at the University of St. Andrews in 1985. He became Emeritus in 2014.

The majority of his work has been on the applications of organometallic chemistry to solving problems in homogeneous catalysis and materials chemistry. His most recent work has been concerned with making commodity and fine chemicals including plastics and pharmaceuticals from bio-derived waste oils that are by-products of other processes such as food production or paper manufacturing. In this way desirable effect chemicals can be made from biomass without using land that would otherwise be used for food production. 

He has recently been President of the European Chemical Society, for whom he led a Task Group that developed a new Periodic Table featuring element availability and vulenrability, which will be the subject of his presentation.


Dr. M. Pilar Gil works in the division of Special Collections at the University of St Andrews. Before settling down in Scotland, she spent most of her scientific career in the United States where she was an investigator in the fields of Signal Transduction, Transcriptional Regulation of the Immune System and the Biochemistry of Aging. 

Passionate about the sciences and the humanities, she has a particular interest in the history of science. She has authored books about scientists and their discoveries addressed to children and young adults.

M. Pilar Gil holds a PhD in Chemistry and a Master in Immunology from the Universitat de Barcelona and a MLitt in Museum Studies from the University of St Andrews.





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Image: Close up of fire at night-time by Joshua Newton on Unsplash