UCLA chemistry lecturer & historian Eric Scerri is co-editor of new book

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“What is a Chemical Element?” is a collection of essays by chemists, philosophers, historians, and educators edited by Eric Scerri and Elena Ghibaudi.

WhatisChemicalElementScerri’s 7th book published by Oxford Press contains philosophical and historical debates concerning how to understand and present the concept of elements and provides a scholarly and unique overview of the current debate on the nature of elements.

The concept of a chemical element is foundational within the field of chemistry, but there is wide disagreement over its definition. Even the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry (IUPAC) claims two distinct definitions: a species of atoms versus one which identifies chemical elements with the simple substances bearing their names. The double definition of elements proposed by the International Union for Pure and Applied Chemistry contrasts an abstract meaning and an operational one. Nevertheless, the philosophical aspects of this notion are not fully captured by the IUPAC definitions, despite the fact that they were crucial for the construction of the Periodic Table. Although rich scientific literature on the element and the periodic table exists as well as a recent growth in the philosophy of chemistry, scholars are still searching for a definitive answer to this important question: What is an element?

Scerri is the author or editor of thirteen books and a full-time lecturer in the UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry. While teaching general chemistry at UCLA as his ‘day job’, he is also one of the founders of the study of the philosophy of chemistry and editor-in-chief of the international journal Foundations of Chemistry that covers the history and philosophy of chemistry, that he founded over 20 years ago. Scerri was the historical consultant for the 2015 PBS docudrama Mystery of Matter: Search for the Elements in which he is interviewed extensively about the development of the periodic table. To learn more about Scerri, visit his website.

Penny Jennings, UCLA Department of Chemistry & Biochemistry, penny@chem.ucla.edu.