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Photo: Allie Knight

Decorating the ceiling with a periodic table is a popular high school science activity, and when Scott Byrum noticed that the acoustic tiles in his newly-renovated teaching lab were square, he saw a golden opportunity. Or, if you like, a palladium one.

Byrum, a chemistry teacher at North Sand Mountain High School in Higden, AL, says:

“I’m having to compete with all the Xboxes and the Nintendos, so I have to keep my sword sharp. Unless I can keep my classroom hopping and keep it exciting, I will lose the students in a matter of moments. This periodic table on the ceiling almost engages their minds visually like a game.”

The letters are vinyl, cut by a local company, and are color-coded based on each element’s state at standard temperature and pressure. There’s another picture at Jackson County’s The Daily Sentinel.

Periodic Table Ceiling | April 30, 2012 Issue – Vol. 90 Issue 18 | Chemical & Engineering News

Sean Michael Ragan

Sean Michael Ragan

I am descended from 5,000 generations of tool-using primates. Also, I went to college and stuff. I am a long-time contributor to MAKE magazine and makezine.com. My work has also appeared in ReadyMade, c’t – Magazin für Computertechnik, and The Wall Street Journal.


  • Rob

    … until his first quiz or test on the table, this was a very good idea!

    • Sean Ragan

      Ha! Good point. I do seem to recall that in high school there were actually tests where rote memory of the periodic table was expected. I took undergraduate and graduate degrees in chemistry, as well, and in college it was always assumed that a periodic table would be available for reference with every exam. If it wasn’t posted on the wall in the classroom, it was printed on the test itself.

      Dunno if that trend has “trickled down” to high schools everywhere, or not. But it seems clear that in this case they’re pretty much giving up on rote memory of the table. Which is a good thing, IMHO. Rote memory is a useful skill when you live in a culture where information is hard to come by and might not be on hand when you need it, but now…

      • Tim

        When I was taking chem in High School (grad ’94) the instructor specifically told us NOT to memorize the periodic table and one would be provided for every exam. He also mentioned that we would naturally remember the parts of it we needed out of self defense. The umpteenth time you look up the atomic weight of carbon (12.011) or oxygen (15.9994) you’ll just remember it because you’ll get tired of grabbing the chart.

        On the other hand I’ve never needed the mass of gadolinium that often so I’ll look it up and I don’t need it occupying mental real estate.

        • missi

          I teach chemistry and specifically tell the kids NOT to memorize the table. It is easy to find and will always be there when they need it. :) I also believe that they end up learning most of it (at least the most used elements) by the end of the year. For giggles, I give them a mock test on it just to see how they would do.

  • miroslava von schlochbaum

    It might be pointed out that the ceiling elements do -not- light up when the instructor points at them; as the photo would suggest to those who suffer from too much imagination…. alas.

    • Sean Ragan

      Not yet, anyway! =]

  • http://ruthlearns.wordpress.com ruthlearns

    Reblogged this on ruthlearns and commented:
    There are many clever ways of incorporating chemistry into your daily life, from periodic puzzles and periodic cups to building plastic molecular models (a favourite of mine), and even periodic cupcakes, but this ceiling seems a nice interactive idea!

  • http://ruthlearns.wordpress.com ruthlearns

    brilliant! very nice idea

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