Element Girls Periodic Table – Learning Basic Chemistry through Moe

I’m a science geek at heart and have been looking for a good general chemistry textbook in Japanese for a while because that’s how I have fun.  Don’t judge me! This is difficult as I’m nowhere near a bookstore where I can browse before buying and I’m picky.  Not just any textbook will do for a number of reasons.  However, as soon as I saw Element Girls Periodic Table – Learning Basic Chemistry through Moe (Gensoshuuki Moete Oboeru Kagaku no Kihon), I knew I had to have it.

The publisher has a number of these books available for different subjects, including weather, physics, astronomy/constellations, and more.  Sales are fairly high, especially for a chemistry study guide, and there’s even a drama CD.  It’s certainly a unique idea to appeal to a broader audience.

I want to give a detailed look at what’s inside–consider it professional outreach (too bad it can’t count on my faculty activity review).  I believe I have a unique appreciation and perspective because:

  • I’m a long-time fan of anime/manga – so I know a little something about the fandom/culture.
  • I have a Ph.D. in chemistry – so I know a little something about chemistry.
  • I teach chemistry at a university (lecture and labs) and participate in outreach programs – so I know a little something about how this information should be presented to a general audience looking to learn more about chemistry compared to your average fan.

What exactly is inside a chemistry reference book that teaches us about the elements using moe girls?  Let’s find out–

Let’s dive into an example.  What is Dr. shin’s favorite element?  Ruthenium, of course!  I spent a few years of my Ph.D. research developing/synthesizing/using photosensitive ruthenium complexes.  Good times.  Ru and I are still buddies, so let’s see what Element Girls has to say by looking at ruthenium.

The atomic number, element symbol, name (both in English and Japanese), and a brief explanation of the name origin are provided.  The name is more likely to vary between languages if it’s an earlier discovered element, before they had a chance to use loan words.

The main attraction of course is that each element has a moe girl illustration and catch-phrase that is related to the element or one of its common uses/properties.  Some are certainly more relevant than others!  There’s also a trivia tidbit.  In this case, it talks about how oxidized ruthenium melts in Japan’s summer heat (~25.5 °C).  The trivia greatly varies from element to element.

Since it’s supposed to be a periodic table reference book, the lower box lists some physical and atomic properties for each element, including atomic weight (原子量), melting (fusion) point (融点), boiling point (沸点), and density (密度).  It also gives common oxidation numbers, but for some reason, lots of other sources use different kanji for this term (酸化数).  The numbers are definitely oxidation numbers though.  This is why I need an awesome chemistry textbook, but as you can see, I’m already learning some vocabulary!  It also lists rough amounts found both on Earth and in space.  Isotopes (同位体) and their natural abundance are also listed.  If relevant, half-life information is given.  That little box covers a lot of basic information you’d need.

The next page has a section I particularly liked–it lists the year of discovery, who identified the element, common places/things where you’d find the element, and also common uses/applications/materials made from the element, which is also given a simple picture on the right.

The upper left corner has the noble gas electron configuration (remember kids–electrons are where the chemistry happens~).  I don’t like graphic beneath it. I don’t like teaching using that particular visual method. Do you know how much energy I expend trying to break students from the misconception of orbiting electrons?!  Electrons aren’t little balls that exist in 2D orbits around the nucleus.  Students grasp onto this visual and won’t let go.  Using the periodic table layout directly, you can better visualize electron shells and orbitals, their order of filling/relative energies, maximum electron capacity, etc. while seeing why the periodic table is organized in that fashion in the first place.  I prefer a proper electron configuration and/or orbital diagram.

*ahem* Side-tracked.

Each element has a section with extended information about an interesting subject like its discovery, an everyday object that contains it–whatever was used as “inspiration” for the moe girl design.  For example, the bottom section explains ruthenium’s “pixie dust” nickname (and thus why she was drawn as a pixie).  Back in like 2001, IBM used thin layers of ruthenium to cheaply increase their hard disc storage capacities and nicknamed it “pixie dust.”  lol @ very old, old news.. but hey, it made good moe fodder!

What do some of the other elements look like?  There’s a lot of variety–sure, some are very generic moe designs loosely related to the element at best, but I was pleasantly surprised at the number of cute, creative ones.

Antimony

Antimony containing compounds were well-known by the alchemists and ancient civilizations, including Egypt.  Elemental antimony was also an old medicine used to *ahem* purge your bowels. That’s not all–it was recovered  after passing through your system and REUSED. Even between other people.  MOE~

Fluorine

Many pans have a coating of Teflon, a polymer that contains carbon-fluorine bonds. The polymer was discovered by accident while trying to develop CFC refrigerants (you know–those ozone depleting compounds).

Barium

Barium gets the award for creepy, yet relevant design.  Barium sulfate is used as a radiocontrast agent for X-Rays of your digestive system.  You drink it beforehand.  Its limited water solubility not only helps with the imaging, but ensures  that you don’t die from barium poisoning (yay!)

Thallium

Thallium was once used as rat poison, but many countries have outlawed it.  It’s extremely poisonous and readily absorbed through the skin.  Honestly, I just thought she looked nice and like her hair.

Overall, Element Girls Periodic Table is an enjoyable reference book with some useful information.  Through its cute character designs, it just might reach out to some individuals and teach them a little something about chemistry when they weren’t even trying to learn!  As outreach, I think it’s a good, likely fairly effective idea if the sales are to be believed.  It’s a welcome addition to my collection that marries both my hobby and career.  And that concludes my unnecessarily long post about moe element girls.  I have done my duty as both a fan of anime and manga and as a chemist.

3 responses to “Element Girls Periodic Table – Learning Basic Chemistry through Moe

  1. So you’ve spent a lot of time researchig pixie dust? Do chemists really believe in mythological creatures such as pixies?😉

    This looks like an interesting book series, but as a physics student, I’m more interested in the Physics Girls volume. I’ll probably get that one at some point.

    I personally prefer the 2D illustration. An illustration describing the complete solution with spin and quantum numbers (s, p, d etc.) would look too messy. Of course, one should always keep in mind that the illustration only is a simplification and not the whole truth. I’m guessing that this book is mainly aimed for kōkō students and not for doctors of chemistry.

    • We had habits of pleading to all sorts of mythological creatures, including ones we made up, when things weren’t working. Which was like 98% of the time.

      It’s a fun idea–I wish I could show it to more chemists, but it wouldn’t go over well to expose that to the people here. In grad school, I could have shown it off! I’m curious as to how the physics one works out (equations, main ideas?) I could probably just visit their website and find out, ha.

      Actually, I prefer no illustration (outside of orbital diagrams) at all to the one I was talking about. There’s no useful information there that can be gained from it instead of writing out the full e- config by looking at a periodic table. It even masks the different subshells and other information, so it’s hiding information while promoting a false assumption. I can’t even see which of the “little circles” are the valence (outer) electrons if you have a filled d subshell. As a teaching tool, I really don’t like it😦 We teach plenty of simplifications–trust me, I do this for a living and I know. But the simplification has to offer a useful idea/information at whatever cost of the trade-off. In this case, incredibly limited info about electron config (sorta) while reinforcing a common misconception.. no good in my book.

  2. I am going to see if there is an Anatomy and Physiology version of this book. This is really cool

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