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Hi from Champaign, Illinois: Visiting Wolfram Research

I've uploaded a bunch of photos from the Wolfram Technology Conference, most from Theodore Gray's fascinating collection of the elements.

Here Gray poses with a copy of Michael Swanwick's Periodic Table of Science Fiction for which he wrote the introduction.

UPDATE: Gray has on his web site the story of the literal periodic table he's sitting on in this picture (many more pictures in my Flickr account).

For well over a hundred years the world has failed to take proper notice of the word "Table" clearly contained in the name of the famous Periodic Table of the Elements.

One evening while reading Uncle Tungsten by Oliver Sacks, I became momentarily confused. He begins a chapter with a description of a periodic table display he loved to visit in the Kensington Science Museum, and in mis-reading the paragraph, I thought it was a table, not the wall display it actually is. While my confusion only lasted a few seconds, when I found out there wasn't a Periodic Table in the British Museum, it left a hole I felt I had to fill.

Actually I would never had had this confusion, or built the table, if I hadn't been thinking for the previous month about the need for a new conference table in my group's common office area. I had already built the Triangle Table to be our coffee table, but we needed a conference table too, and I certainly wasn't going to buy one of those expensive ugly ones from the office supply catalogs.

And I would never have built the table if I didn't happen to have a nice pantograph engraving machine with a complete set of fonts from the closing out auction of a local hospital (new $1700, mine for $50 with fonts).

So really the table is a result of three unlikely and totally unrelated factors coming together at the same time, which probably explains why, to the best of my knowledge, no one else has ever built one like it.

HIs page also contains a discussion of how it was made and many photos of its construction. He was also interviewed on Science Friday about this in 2002 (mp3).

I found the table and its accompanying collection fascinating because, though I have met many collectors, I had never met anyone before who collected elements. It seems such a logical thing to collect, but it had never occurred to me that anyone would do that.

I like my pictures of it, but what that little niche in the Wolfram offices needs is Rosamund Purcell to do it justice. These are objects she would really understand; she is the poet laureate to collection photography.