Shakespeare the metallurgist, Eliot the spectroscopist: the cultural journey of the chemical elements

From the moment of their discovery, each of the chemical elements has embarked on a journey into our culture. Over millennia and decades, they have gained meaning through encounter and manipulation. Those long known, such as gold, silver, iron and sulphur, all found in the Bible, have largely settled associations with immortality, virginity, strength and evil. The arts exploit, renew and modify these meanings often in surprising ways. Most of us are familiar with sodium chiefly from streetlighting. But why has this distinctive illumination been seized upon by contemporary writers as emblematic of dystopian decay? Why is its message so different from the light of neon? Why is mercury a fitting barrier between this world and the next? And why is europium incorporated into every euro banknote?

Shakespeare the metallurgist, Eliot the spectroscopist: the cultural journey of the chemical elements

Events coming up

  • The interaction of fire and mankind 14 September 2015 at The Royal Society, London Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Andrew Scott, Professor William Chaloner FRS, Professor Claire Belcher and Dr Chris Roos
  • The interaction of fire and mankind - further discussion 16 September 2015 at The Royal Society at Chicheley Hall, home of the Kavli Royal Society International Centre, Buckinghamshire Scientific discussion meeting organised by Professor Andrew Scott, Professor William Chaloner FRS, Dr Claire Belcher and Professor Chris Roos
  • Open House Weekend 2015 19 September 2015 at The Royal Society, London The Royal Society's building will be open to the public on Saturday 19 and Sunday 20 September 2015.

For more events please see the events diary.