Conversations on Chemistry by Jane Haldimand Marcet

My career as a scientific investigator ended when I was five.

I’d discovered that if you scratch your skin with your fingernail, it goes white and then if you lick it – or otherwise apply water – the scratch will disappear. I thought this was pretty interesting and I wanted to explore the idea more. I looked at the car. I got my metal cap gun. Just don’t say a thing, okay? I did a pretty good job of ruining the paintwork, confident in the idea I was merely going to wash all those scratches away.

Don’t ask what happened when my parents found out. Suffice to say, the aftermath of the Heidi incident was a pat on the head and extra dessert by comparison.

Post-grad chemists, I gather, learn that in fact at least 85% of what they do for the rest of their lives will fail. I had an early one out of one, a hundred percent lesson.

You might think it is weird that I wanted to be a saint when I grew up, but honestly, being boiled in oil or eaten by cannibals just seemed so much more – well, civilised – that what happens to intrepid scientists.

You won’t have heard of Jane Marcet. Female, you see. But maybe the most important, inspirational writer in education in the late eighteenth and then nineteenth centuries. She made Faraday what he was. Or so he later said. Here is both a discussion of her and a link to an online version of this book.

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