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QMUL Chemical Sciences Offer Holders- Reading and Online Resources

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We’ve put together a list of possible reading and listening if you want to keep yourself going during the COVID-19 lockdown, or if you just want to get a better view of chemistry in the run up to starting your degree. These are books, podcasts and newspaper and magazine resources that we think are interesting and engaging, and which we would hope you’ll find the same. Please note that there is no obligation to read or to listen to any of these but if you have time and the inclination then please jump in.

Books and Articles

A short list of interesting, relevant and engaging popular science books. There are many more excellent books out there but these are some which we think are especially good or important.

  • Periodic Tales: The Curious Life of Elements by Hugh Aldersey-Williams, published by Fourth Estate.

This is a fascinating family history of the chemical elements. It discusses how they were discovered and how their discovery affected society. 

  • The Disappearing Spoon...and other true tales from the Periodic Table by Sam Kean, published by Black Swan

The fascinating tales in The Disappearing Spoon follow carbon, neon, silicon, gold and every single element on the table as they play out their parts in human history, finance, mythology, conflict, the arts, medicine and the lives of the (frequently) mad scientists who discovered them.

  • The Alchemy of Air by Thomas Hager, published by Random House Inc.

At the start of the 20th century, mass starvation was about to decimate the planet. This is the story of how two men - brilliant, self-important Fritz Haber and reclusive, troubled Carl Bosch – discovered a way to make bread out of air, built city-sized factories, and saved millions of lives. Hager’s book on the history of sulphur, The Demon under the Microscope is also a great read.

  • Why Chemical Reactions Happen by James Keeler, published by Oxford University Press

By tackling the most central ideas in chemistry, Why Chemical Reactions Happen provides the reader with all the tools and concepts needed to think like a chemist.

  • Organic Chemistry Principles in Context by Mark M. Green, published by ScienceFromAway

Although this is a textbook it is an unusual one: Every chapter starts with a historical, medical or other “real life” story, which is used to introduce a core concept in chemistry concept. The level is somewhere between A levels and Year 1 undergraduate, so it is a great summer read.

  • Hallelujah Moments: Tales of Drug Discovery by Eugene H. Cordes, published by Oxford University Press USA

n Hallelujah Moments, Eugene Cordes reveals just how some of the most important and influential drugs are made. He shares his first-hand knowledge of the drug-discovery world, having spent a long and distinguished career on both the academic and industrial side of pharmaceutical research.

  • The Double Helix by James D. Watson, currently published as a reprint by W&H

James Watson’s uncompromisingly honest account of the discovery on the DNA double helix. This is a great window into the real world of great scientists, with their very human faults and foibles, their petty rivalries and driving ambition.

Oldies but goodies…

  • A Short History of Chemistry by Isaac Asimov, published by Praeger.

A classic that every chemist should have on their shelf. This starts with the use of fire as the first artificial chemical process and arrives at late 20th century. It may be hard to find new but you can find a second hand copy easily online.

  • The Periodic Table by Primo Levi, published by Penguin Classics

This is a classic by any definition of the word and many chemists (including QMUL staff) cite this book as igniting their interest in chemistry. It is not for the faint hearted as Primo Levi reflects on the excitement of chemical discovery and the savage atrocities of the 20th century.

Skills and Techniques

Modern chemistry involves cutting edge technology and computing. There are some excellent online courses to help you develop some of these core skills.

Getting started in Python: Programming in Python is easy to learn and extremely powerful. If you like solving puzzles and developing new skills then this is the perfect way to start.

Machine Learning in Chemistry and Materials: Machine Learning and AI are the revolution in computer and data technology. Unsurprisingly they have many applications in cutting edge chemical research. Here is an accessible review.


There are some excellent science podcasts available online. Here are some of the best.

Newspapers, magazines and websites

Citizen Science

A slightly different thing to think about but something that might be worth your time. Citizen science is a collective term for projects that engage professional scientists and non-specialists in the gathering and evaluating of data. The field of citizen science is exploding and offers not only a great way to engage the general public in science literacy through primary research, but also an avenue to engage you as future scientists in meaningful community research experiences.  These projects can incorporate tracking animal and plant species, astronomy, climatology, genetics or analysing camera trap footage.  Many of these projects are exclusively online and you can get involved during the current lockdown.

Two main websites to go to: 

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