Tag Archives: chemistry

Lady Mechanika Vol. 2: The Tablet of Destinies

I like Lady Mechanika. She is tough and smart, qualities I admire in a woman.

For those who are unfamiliar, Lady Mechanika is a steampunk graphic novel series about a woman who is part human and part machine. The writing and artwork in all the volumes I have read have been consistently high quality, and this one is no exception.

I won’t go too deep into the plot. Suffice to say it involves secret societies, travels to exotic lands, searching for ancient relics, and battling a race of evil villains. The stuff of any good hero/heroine saga. What I found particularly interesting about this book, though, was the abundance of references to, and quotes from, occult texts, particularly regarding alchemy, a subject I find fascinating even though I am by no means an expert on the topic.

Anyway, I figured I would share a few quotes to whet your interest.

“Alchemy is the perfect knowledge of whole Nature and Art.”
-Franciscus Mercurius van Helmont.
One Hundred Fifty Three Chymical Aphohrisms

Strassmann: Three ones? The Tria Prima!
Prof. Thomsen: Tria Prima?
Strassmann: The three primes of alchemy! The alchemists say that all matter is comprised of three prime components which they call philosopher’s sulfur, mercury, and salt, representing the female component, the male component, and the hermaphrodite, or neutral component.

The Rosicrucian Order is supposedly dedicated to the pursuit of knowledge, and the “enlightenment of man” through the arts and sciences. Mr. Banerji insists that alchemy is of interest to only a small minority of Rosicrucians… and has not been the prevailing subject of study for centuries, not since alchemy gave way to its more respectable form, chemistry. The Rosicrucians may very well be responsible for chemistry as we know it today, a product of their applications of scientific methodologies to ancient alchemical practices. But I mistrust an association that claims to revere learning while shrouding itself in silence and secrecy. What possible harm could arise from the dissemination of knowledge?

I have to say that Ms. M.M. Chen, who wrote the text for this book, clearly did her research. The book is filled with other quotes and references to arcane and mystical texts, including the works of Paracelsus, Eliphas Levi, and Isaac Newton, just to name a few. But do not let this intimidate you in any way. The story is excellent, exciting, and entertaining. Anyone can pick this up and enjoy it.

Thanks for stopping by, and keep reading cool stuff.


Filed under Literature

“The Girls of Atomic City” by Denise Kiernan

GirlsAtomicCityWhen I first saw this book displayed at a local bookstore, I was intrigued. I had been to Oak Ridge, Tennessee several times. My daughter, who is a competitive rower, competes in Oak Ridge. I had a vague idea that the city was connected to the development of the atomic bomb, but did not know the history. Anyway, on a recent visit to the International Spy Museum in Washington D.C., I noticed they were selling autographed copies of the book, so I bought one.

The book is an historical account of the development of Oak Ridge and its involvement in the Manhattan Project, focusing on the role of women. Essentially, Oak Ridge was a secret government city whose primary goal was the enrichment of uranium into weapons-grade material. Workers were recruited by the government to live and work at the site. Since a large number of men were overseas fighting, Oak Ridge offered numerous opportunities for women. Much of the book is dedicated to the lives of these women and how they dealt with life in a top-secret military installation where discussing what you did was strictly forbidden. In fact, until after the dropping of the bomb on Hiroshima, most workers at Oak Ridge had no idea what they were working on. They were given a task, told their job was helping the war effort, and that was all they knew.

I was not surprised that women played such a significant role in the advancement of nuclear science, nor was I surprised that women’s contributions were written out of much of the male-dominated history. I for one had never heard of Lise Meitner, an Austrian physicist who escaped Nazi Germany and was part of the team that discovered fission; in fact, she actually coined the term. But not only did her male colleagues get credit for her work, she was often mistreated because of her gender, being “banished to research in a basement workshop because a superior thought women in the chemistry labs were dangerous—their hair might catch on fire.” (p. 58) Later, when Meitner’s colleague Otto Hahn was awarded the Nobel Prize in Chemistry for the discovery of fission, Meitner was “referred to in the press as Hahn’s junior associate.” (p. 293)

Kiernan points out that young women were preferred as recruits to work on the project because, in those days, women did what they were told and didn’t ask questions.

The Project liked high school girls, especially those from rural backgrounds. Recruiters sought them out relentlessly, feeling young women were easy to instruct. They did what they were told. They weren’t overly curious. If you tell a young woman of 18 from a small-town background to do something, she’ll do it, no questions asked. Educated women and men, people who had gone to college and learned just enough to think they might “know” something, gave you problems. The Project scoured the countryside of Tennessee and beyond looking for recent graduates. (p. 69)

One of the things briefly discussed in the book is the secret medical experiments administered to unsuspecting individuals, where people were injected with plutonium without knowledge and then watched to observe the effects. Ebb Cade, an African-American worker at Oak Ridge, was the first test subject.

Ebb Cade was not the only test subject. It turned out that between 1945 and 1947, 18 people were injected with plutonium, specifically: 11 at Rochester, New York, 3 at University of Chicago, 3 at UC San Francisco, and 1, Ebb Cade, at Oak Ridge. Several thousand human radiation experiments were conducted between 1944 and 1974. In 1994, President Clinton appointed the Advisory Committee on Human Radiation Experiments (ACHRE) to investigate these and other experiments funded by the United States government. Their final report was published in 1996. (p. 293)

If this is something that interests you, I recommend reading The Plutonium Files: America’s Secret Medical Experiments in the Cold War by Eileen Welsome. I read this book when it came out and it had a strong impact on me.

Something that I found surprising in this book was the number of corporations and universities involved in the development of the atomic bomb. Companies like Westinghouse, Aluminum Company of America, and Eastman Kodak were involved. Even Kellogg was heavily involved. In fact, Kellogg was responsible for the enrichment plant’s design and development. (pp. 99 – 108) From now on, every time I see a box of Special-K on the grocery shelf, I will be reminded of K-25, the name given to the enrichment plant that Kellogg designed. Finally, I found out that ORACLE got its start in Oak Ridge, and that ORACLE is actually an acronym for the Oak Ridge Automatic Computer and Logical Engine.

Some history books can be pretty dull, but not this one. The topic is interesting and the book is very well-written. I recommend this book for everyone. It’s a fairly quick read and very insightful. I think I might have to take another trip out to Oak Ridge soon and visit the museum there. I’m sure I will find it as fascinating as this book.

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Filed under Non-fiction