In our element during National Chemistry Week

We would tell you a good chemistry joke, but all the good ones argon

We couldn’t pass up an opportunity to celebrate National Chemistry Week, which kicks off every year during the third week in October. When else are we given carte blanche to highlight some of our best chemistry books and share our best (meaning our worst) chemistry-related puns?

Read on to discover just a few of our chemistry-related titles or discover even more on the MIT Press site, and remember: if you lose an electron, be sure to keep an ion it. 

Cover of The Alchemy of Us by Ainissa Ramirez, with the title, subtitle, and author's name in black font on a beige background. The text is surrounded by a thick black border.

The Alchemy of Us: How Humans and Matter Transformed One Another by Ainissa Ramirez

In The Alchemy of Us, scientist and science writer Ainissa Ramirez examines eight inventions—clocks, steel rails, copper communication cables, photographic film, light bulbs, hard disks, scientific labware, and silicon chips—and reveals how they shaped the human experience. Ramirez tells the stories of the woman who sold time, the inventor who inspired Edison, and the hotheaded undertaker whose invention pointed the way to the computer. She describes, among other things, how our pursuit of precision in timepieces changed how we sleep; how the railroad helped commercialize Christmas; how the necessary brevity of the telegram influenced Hemingway’s writing style; and how a young chemist exposed the use of Polaroid’s cameras to create passbooks to track Black citizens in apartheid South Africa. These fascinating and inspiring stories offer new perspectives on our relationships with technologies.

Winner of the 2021 AAAS/Subaru SBF Prize in the Young Adult Science Book Category

“By explaining how inventions both exotic and mundane transformed society, Ramirez’s ingenious survey illuminates the effect of science in a manner accessible to a wide readership.” Publishers Weekly

Cover for Ten Patterns that Explain the Universe by Brian Clegg, showing a circular design on the bottom-right side. The circular pattern shows a flowchart that begins at the center fulcrum point, with branches going out all around the circle. Half of the circle's branches are yellow; a fourth is dark black; and a fourth is shown in grey.

Ten Patterns that Explain the Universe by Brian Clegg

Our universe might appear chaotic, but deep down it’s simply a myriad of rules working independently to create patterns of action, force, and consequence. In Ten Patterns That Explain the Universe, Brian Clegg explores the phenomena that make up the very fabric of our world by examining ten essential sequenced systems. From diagrams that show the deep relationships between space and time to the quantum behaviors that rule the way that matter and light interact, Clegg shows how these patterns provide a unique view of the physical world and its fundamental workings.

“Ingenious, often complex insights from an expert.” —Kirkus Reviews

Cover of The Beauty of Chemistry by Philip Ball, showing a close-up macro image of a blue bubbling gas or liquid set against a black background.

The Beauty of Chemistry: Art, Wonder, and Science by Philip Ball

Chemistry is not just about microscopic atoms doing inscrutable things; it is the process that makes flowers and galaxies. We rely on it for bread-baking, vegetable-growing, and producing the materials of daily life. In stunning images and illuminating text, this book captures chemistry as it unfolds. Using such techniques as microphotography, time-lapse photography, and infrared thermal imaging, The Beauty of Chemistry shows us how chemistry underpins the formation of snowflakes, the science of champagne, the colors of flowers, and other wonders of nature and technology. We see the marvelous configurations of chemical gardens; the amazing transformations of evaporation, distillation, and precipitation; heat made visible; and more.

“This book shows why chemists are really the musicians of matter.” —Leroy Cronin, University of Glasgow

Cover of The Science of BReaking Bad by David Trumbore and Donna J. Nelson, showing lime-green smoke wafting up from the bottom to top of the page against a black background.

The Science of Breaking Bad by Dave Trumbore and Donna J. Nelson

Breaking Bad’s protagonist Walter White is a scientist, a high school chemistry teacher who displays a plaque that recognizes his “contributions to research awarded the Nobel Prize.” During the course of five seasons, Walt practices a lot of ad hoc chemistry—from experiments that explode to acid-based evidence destruction to an amazing repertoire of methodologies for illicit meth making. But how much of Walt’s science is actually scientific? In The Science of Breaking Bad, Dave Trumbore and Donna Nelson explain, analyze, and evaluate the show’s portrayal of science, from the pilot’s opening credits to the final moments of the series finale. The intent is not, of course, to provide a how-to manual for wannabe meth moguls but to decode the show’s most head-turning, jaw-dropping moments. Trumbore, a science and entertainment writer, and Nelson, a professor of chemistry and Breaking Bad’s science advisor, are the perfect scientific tour guides.

“An entertaining way to learn more about chemistry—and an excuse to rewatch the show.” —ZDNet

Cover of The Atom by Jack Challoner, showing a circular graphic of dots. In the center is a multi-color atom-shaped figure. Surrounding it is a sphere of purple dots. Surrounding that is a larger sphere of blue dots.

The Atom: A Visual Tour by Jack Challoner

Until now, popular science has relegated the atom to a supporting role in defining the different chemical elements of the periodic table. In this book, Jack Challoner places the atom at center stage. The Atom investigates the quest to identify the smallest, most fundamental constituents of matter—and how that quest helps us to understand what everything is made of and how it all works. Challoner covers a wide range of topics—including the development of scientific thinking about atoms and the basic structure of atoms; how atomic interactions account for the familiar properties of everyday materials; the power of the atomic nucleus; and what the mysterious quantum realm of subatomic particles can tell us about the very nature of reality.

“An informative and beautifully illustrated journey into the world of the atom. Concise and digestible, Challoner puts meat on the bones of the atomic model from school science lessons.” —Andy Brunning, author of Why Does Asparagus Make Your Pee Smell?

Cover of Built on Sand by Etienne Guyon, Jean-Yves Delenne, and Farhang Radjai, showing a cascade of sand from the lefthand side of the image toward the right, against a black background.

Built on Sand: The Science of Granular Materials by Etienne Guyon, Jean-Yves Delenne and Farhang Radjai

Granular media—composed of vast amounts of grains, consolidated or not—constitute the most abundant form of solid matter on Earth. Granular materials assemble in disordered configurations scientists often liken to a bag of marbles. Made of macroscopic particles rather than molecules, they defy the standard scheme of classification in terms of solid, liquid, and gas. Granular materials provide a model relevant to various domains of research, including engineering, physics, and biology. William Blake famously wished “To See a World in a Grain of Sand”; in this book, pioneering researchers in granular matter explain the science hidden behind simple grains, shedding light on collective behavior in disordered settings in general.

“This charming scientific account, woven together with strands of history and culture, reminds us of how the commonplace is anything but.” —L. Mahadevan, Harvard University

Cover of Chemistry for Cooks by Sandra C. Greer, showing several circular images connected by dashed lines, like a visual depiction of an atom. Several of the circles show blocks of color: purple, blue, and green. The other circles show images of salt, asparagus, wheels of red onion, sliced cross-sections of lemon, a brown chicken egg, and dried shell pasta.

Forthcoming: Chemistry for Cooks: An Introduction to the Science of Cooking by Sandra C. Greer

How does an armload of groceries turn into a culinary masterpiece? In this highly accessible and informative text, Sandra C. Greer takes students into the kitchen to show how chemistry—with a dash of biology and physics—explains what happens when we cook. Chemistry for Cooks provides all the background material necessary for nonscientists to understand essential chemical processes and to see cooking as an enjoyable application of science. Greer uses a variety of practical examples, including recipes, to instruct readers on the molecular structure of food, the chemical reactions used in cooking to change the nature of food, and the essentials of nutrition and taste. She also offers kitchen hints and exercises based on the material in each chapter, plus do-it-yourself projects to encourage exploration of the chemistry that takes place when we cook food.

Explore more MIT Press titles on chemistry