Did you know that West Chester University is home to an interactive periodic table? Anyone can visit the incredible 10-by-six foot display of the elements which welcomes all to the chemistry department in Schmucker Science Center South.
WCU is one of only two universities east of the Mississippi to have this kind of periodic table display, and the total number of displays in the United States is only about 60. The periodic table is built into one of the center’s walls and the elements are represented by clear backlit boxes, each containing one or more objects. These include samples of individual elements, pictures of the scientists who discovered them and common objects containing them. For example, the zirconium box includes several cubic zirconia, the lead box contains toy lead soldiers, the titanium box holds several piercings, the iridium box has a clock painted with an iridium-containing compound to make it glow in the dark and the uranium box includes a brightly colored dish, known as Fiestaware, with a uranium-containing glaze.
Dr. Melissa Cichowicz, the chair of WCU’s chemistry department, commented, “I think the fact that so many everyday objects that contain the elements are incorporated in the different boxes makes the chemistry become a lot more relevant because you can see where it touches you in your everyday life.” The display is made interactive via a touch screen. This screen displays a periodic table and when an element is selected, it plays a two-minute video showing what the element can do and displays text describing the element’s properties.
WCU’s interactive periodic table was installed in January 2017. However, the idea for the display began nearly three years before when Dr. Cichowicz was attending an American Chemical Society conference. Part of the conference was an exhibition of chemistry-related products and services, including periodictable.co.uk’s brilliant periodic table displays, which Dr. Cichowicz says drew her “like a moth to a flame.” She took a brochure and showed it to several other people at WCU, but she knew the department could not afford such an investment at the time.
About a year later, over the summer, Dr. Cichowicz received a call from a development officer saying that an alumnus wanted to give a monetary gift to the chemistry department. Could she think of projects she would like to see funded? So, at a dinner at the end of the summer, Dr. Chichowicz presented the idea of the periodic table display to alumnus Dr. Jeffrey Evelhoch and his wife Nancy Evelhoch, along with several other ideas. Ultimately, Dr. Evelhoch donated the funds to purchase not just the largest periodic table display the company offered but one with an interactive touch screen to encourage student engagement.
Construction of the table and sourcing of its components began in the early fall of 2016. Some objects showcased in the display, such as the depleted uranium, required special permits to be imported to the country. By December, all the pieces of the table were ready to be shipped from the United Kingdom to the United States, and installation of the table was completed over the course of a week in January 2017. WCU’s periodic table was the first the company produced that included the four newest elements, approved in December 2016: Tennessine, Nihonium, Moscovium and Oganesson.
According to Dr. Cichowicz, the chemistry department is currently looking into adding seating around the interactive periodic table so students can gather to study in the space. When asked how she saw the table benefiting the campus community, Dr. Cichowicz replied, “It makes chemistry come alive in a really visual, three-dimensional way that’s hard to capture when you’re just watching a video from Khan Academy or you’re looking at photographs in a textbook . . . I also think that it’s a beautifully artistic display, and it shows that science and art can come together in some amazing ways that people also don’t always think about; but, if you look for those connections, you can make some beautiful objects as a result.”
Abbey Bigler is a fourth-year student majoring in English with minors in business and technical writing, communications studies and biology. ✉ AB842693@wcupa.edu.