My daughter can recite the whole periodic table: is she prodigious?

By Dr. Harish Subedi

My daughter Riju says she loves chemistry and the periodic table. I got a copy of a colorful Periodic table from a Chemistry conference last August and put on the wall in her bedroom as she liked the colors and pictures on it. One day in early January this year, Riju copied the names, symbols and atomic numbers of first few elements on a piece of paper ‘for fun’. Later on the same day, we were surprised to see her memorizing the names and atomic numbers of a bunch of elements. I never expected that my daughter, a kindergartner at that time, would have that much of interest in chemistry. She was never introduced "any" chemistry concepts before.

After a few days, I decided to record a video on Riju talking about chemistry. She memorized the first 20 elements of the periodic table at that time. I posted the video on YouTube and shared among friends and family via Facebook. That was cool. Obviously I was so happy and so was her mom. In the video, she counted the elements with correct order of atomic numbers, symbols, and their applications/uses.


She kept learning more elements and asked me to record the video again when she was ready with more than 100 elements and got her favorite Periodic Table T–shirt. At that time, after a few months of the first video, the same girl recited all 118 elements in correct order of atomic number and symbol. In the later part of the video, as you can see, she took some time to give the correct answer but, interestingly, did not give the incorrect answer. It was so amazing to see my own daughter reciting so many elements that I never could memorize.


It felt like she was following a certain pattern and ‘looking for pictures’ in her mind to match the atomic number to its name and symbol. I was quite surprised to see this because the high school chemistry students usually have to memorize the atomic numbers and symbols of only first twenty or thirty elements. In most of the cases, a copy of Periodic table is provided in every single test, quiz, or assignment.

I wanted to get a deeper understanding on how the brains of children with exceptional abilities, known as prodigies, work and did a quick Google search. I ended up getting great examples of child prodigies in various fields. Few years ago, Arden Hayes, then 5–year–old boy, appeared on Jimmy Kimmel Live and amazed the audience with his knowledge on the facts about all countries around the world. He is also an expert on names and facts about all US presidents. Similarly, a cute three-year-old girl Brielle astonished the audience in the Ellen Show by reciting the Periodic table. She is also a “human anatomy expert”. There are many other examples of child prodigies. Tiger Woods, an American professional golfer and one of the highest–paid athletes in the world, started playing golf at the age of two, Samuel Reshevsky, a Polish chess prodigy, gave simultaneous exhibitions at the age of eight, Wolfgang Mozart started composing music and performing in venues at the age of five, and Shakuntala Devi, popularly known as “human computer”, could calculate cube roots using mental math at the age of five.

Macmillan Dictionary defines child prodigy as “a child who is extremely skillful at something that usually only adults can do”. Whether the inherent ability (nature) or extreme training (nurture) is responsible for making a child “a child prodigy” has been a subject of debate. Some psychologists, including late Michael Howe, think that it is not that difficult to produce child prodigies given that the children get the right environment. Examples of Wolfgang Mozart and Tiger Woods could possibly justify this argument as both were introduced to their fields (music and golf, respectively) at their very early ages. On the other end of the spectrum, some researchers including Joanne Ruthsatz and her colleagues attribute the prodigious abilities to “exceptional working memory” and “attention to detail”. Analogous to the central processing unit of a computer, working memory is a cognitive system with a limited capacity that is responsible for temporarily holding information available for processing. A study conducted by Ruthsatz and colleagues showed that all the participating prodigies had incredibly high working memory scores (at or above 99th percentile). In addition, according to the psychologist Jonathan Wai, “Experts are born, then made” meaning the prodigies are not simply the products of their environments and what predominantly matters is their exceptional inborn cognitive abilities. It is too early to say what my daughter's future would look like but at present she is doing quite well.

Dr. Subedi is a chemistry faculty at Western Nebraska Community College, Scottsbluff, NE, USA.


Congratulation Dr. Ramesh Giri !!

for NSF CAREER award from National Science Foundation (NSF)

Sustainable chemistry is one of the fascinating sciences meant for the development of the environmentally benign processes, products and the chemicals. As a part of the developing the sustainable processes, Dr. Ramesh Giri, an assistant professor at the Department of Chemistry and Chemical Biology, University of New Mexico (UNM) has been working for the development of the transition metal-catalyzed organic transformations and investigating their reaction mechanisms. These research interests set by Dr. Giri and his team has been supposed to overcome the existing chemical problems of broader applicability. For instances, energy, materials, health, environment, etc.

Recently, his project on the development of a new technique for the cross-coupling reactions was selected for the CAREER award from National Science Foundation (NSF). NSF CAREER award is the prestigious awards in support of junior faculty that comes with a federal grant for research and education activities for five consecutive years. The award worthy $ 675,000 for five years is definitely going to booster the research work led by Giri.

Giri supposes the development of tandem and multi-component couplings with base metals and organic electronic donors has a huge impact in the pharmaceutical industry and the chemical world as a whole. He explains the reactions are widely used in the pharmaceutical industry for the production of marketed drugs, where palladium is used widely. But, for the development of the cost-effective processes, copper is used as catalyst, he explains.

Giri Research Lab (Photo: University of New Mexico)

Copper and Palladium belong to the transition metal (d-block) of the periodic table, however, they behave the different ways in the synthesis reactions. Indulging copper in the synthetic reactions and investigating the reaction mechanism is a difficult task. This is where a challenge lies, says Giri.

The NepaChem team wishes Dr. Giri and his team, all the success in the forthcoming days.

This post is based on the news report from University of New Mexico. Click here

Refer to the publications by Dr. Giri research group here.

NSF encourages submission of CAREER proposals from junior faculty members at all CAREER-eligible organizations. NSF Career award is the prestigious award given to early career scientists by United States National Science Foundation. Click here for details.


Dr. Sushila Maharjan wins Elsevier Foundation award

Photo taken from Dr. Maharjan's Facebook profile.

Dr. Sushila Maharjan from Nepal is one of the five women biologists from developing countries to win prestigious Elsevier 2016 Awards for early career researchers. This award was given for her work in biochemistry and biotechnology category. Her research seeks to identify bacterial strains from the soil of high-altitude regions of Nepal for possible new drugs such as antibiotics. 

Dr. Maharjan completed her MSc in chemistry from Tribhuvan University and PhD from Sun Moon University, South Korea. She is a research director of industrial microbiology at the Research Institute for Bioscience and Biotechnology RIBB, Nepal and according to her LinkedIn profile she is working at Seoul National University, South Korea as postdoctoral fellow.

As published in TWAS news release she said “ "The most rewarding part of my research is to find novel drugs and antibiotics from Streptomyces bacteria of Nepal that have great potential to combat the emerging drug and antibiotic resistant diseases worldwide," .

Other winners are from Indonesia, Peru, Uganda and Yemen.

According to the news released today- The Elsevier Foundation Awards are given to early career women scientists in the developing world in recognition of research that has strong potential health and economic benefits. The Elsevier Foundation awards are given in partnership with the Organization for Women in Science for the Developing World (OWSD) and The World Academy of Sciences (TWAS) for the advancement of science in developing countries. The five winners will receive their awards on February 13th during a ceremony at the Gender & Minorities Networking Breakfast at the American Association for the Advancement of Science (AAAS) Annual Meeting in Washington D.C. The prize includes USD $5,000 and all-expenses-paid attendance at the 2016 AAAS Annual Meeting. 


Periodic table: are you better than a 3-year-old?

In our school, we had to memorize the first 20 elements in periodic table: name, symbol, and atomic number. Now, may be I can not name these 20 elements!

But this adorable 3-year-old girl, Brielle, has become an expert on the periodic table.

She can recite the entire periodic table of elements.
She appeared in Ellen Show and surprised everyone. When Ellen showed her the symbol of some random elements, Brielle said the correct name and little bit of explanation/application of the elements.

That was extraordinary for a 3-year-old kid.

Enjoy the YouTube video of the show below.


Postdoctoral Position in Organic/Polymers Chemistry in Vermont USA

The research group of Professor Severin Schneebeli at the University of Vermont (UVM) Chemistry Department is looking for a postdoctoral researcher with a Ph.D. degree in Chemistry, Chemical Engineering, or related fields, with a strong background inorganic/polymers synthesis. Expertise in nanoscale characterization and molecular modeling will be a plus. 

She or he will be working on research projects to develop new, innovative methods of nanostructure/polymer synthesis (e.g. via chirality-assisted synthesis (CAS) and self-replication), in collaboration with scientists from the UVM Materials Science Program, and the Vermont Advanced Computing Core (VACC). 

Qualified applicants should send a CV with a publication list as well as the names and contact information of three references to severin.schneebeli@uvm.edu. Applications will be considered until the position is filled. 

More information about the Schneebeli group and the Department of Chemistry can be found at
www.uvm.edu/mesosynthesis/ and www.uvm.edu/~chem/