Science plays a big part in historical events

Napoleon's buttons, blue jeans and willow trees discussed at ElderCollege presentation.

  • Apr. 2, 2012 3:00 p.m.

By Marlene Robertson

Button: a) a small knob or disk secured to an article (clothing) and used as a fastener by passing it through a buttonhole or loop: b) a usually circular metal or plastic badge bearing a stamped design or printed slogan (campaign button).

I have to confess that I was never a brilliant science student, and in fact took a commercial course, where I learned to type, take shorthand, file and so on.

Way back then, when commercial courses were a popular high school track, girls who loved science or math were rare creatures in my world.

Over the decades between then and now, I’ve taken courses that challenge, excite and sometimes baffle me, but never science. It just wasn’t on my radar.

I’m happy to tell you that is about to change.

On April 21 from 10 a.m. to noon, I’m attending a presentation entitled Napoleon’s Buttons:  Seventeen Molecules that Changed History, by Penny Le Couteur who holds a PhD in chemistry.

So what do Napoleon’s buttons have to do with anything, other than keeping his jacket closed or his pants up? Darned if I know – which is precisely why I’m heading to the Vancouver Island University Parksville/Qualicum campus later this month.

Le Couteur said nutmeg, blue jeans and willow trees may seem to have very little to do with historical events, yet chemical compounds found in each of these have had a profound effect on social, economic and cultural aspects of civilization.

She discusses these and other molecules that appear in the book, and how and why the compounds and their stories were chosen.

Le Couteur received her PhD from the University of California at Santa Barbara and was a founding faculty member in the chemistry department at Capilano University where she was dean of arts and sciences when she retired.

She served as an advisor for curriculum development and pedagogy in chemistry with several universities in Eastern Indonesia, has written distance education chemistry courses for B.C.’s Open University, is a co-author of a Canadian Grade 12 chemistry textbook and was visiting tutor at Quest University Canada in Squamish.

Her book was selected as one of the three finalists for the book category award of The National Academies of Science, Engineering and Medicine, and has been published in several languages.

Napoleon’s Buttons was described by Entertainment Weekly as “a splendid example of better reading through chemistry” and by the American Scientist as “great fun to read.”

Imagine anyone saying that about a chemistry book.

This is one bright lady with an interesting story to tell, and you don’t want to miss it.

There is a $5 general admission charge at the door and seating is limited, so come early. Please call 1-866-734-6252 or e-mail for more information.

Mmmm – I wonder if Napoleon wore a campaign button?

Just Posted

Nanaimo rapper Sirreal plays the Port Theatre on June 25. (Photo courtesy Alanna Morton)
Nanaimo rapper Sirreal and friends play the Port Theatre

Live-streamed concert the second in venue’s Discovery Series highlighting local artists

Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement, stating that Nanaimo will see temperatures between five-10 degrees above seasonal the next two days. (News Bulletin file)
Environment Canada has issued a special weather statement, stating that Nanaimo will see temperatures between five-10 degrees above normal the next two days. (News Bulletin file)
Heat wave will see Nanaimo temperatures rise 5-10 degrees above normal

Sun with highs of 28 C forecast by Environment Canada for Harbour City on Sunday and Monday

According to a staff report, Regional District of Nanaimo has seen some $13.6 million in grant applications approved between Jan. 1 and May 15. (News Bulletin file)
Close to $14 million in money granted to RDN in first half of year

Successful grants include more than $4 million for transit service in Regional District of Nanaimo

A section of the rail corridor on Vancouver Island. (Black Press file photo)
LETTER TO THE EDITOR: Put rail trail right overtop of the tracks

Removing tracks would be a horrendous expense, says letter writer

District of Lantzville Mayor Mark Swain, left, and Snaw-Naw-As Chief Gordon Edwards sign a memorandum of understanding outside Snaw-Naw-As Market on Friday, June 18. (Greg Sakaki/News Bulletin)
Lantzville and Snaw-Naw-As sign memorandum of understanding

District and First Nation create joint working group

Robin Dutton, left, and Peter Sinclair are taking their mountain bikes and travelling down trails in the Mount Benson area June 19 as part of a 24-hour fundraiser benefiting Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank. (Karl Yu/News Bulletin)
Full-day mountain bike fundraiser gives financial support for Nanaimo food bank

Event part of Loaves and Fishes Community Food Bank’s Food 4 Summer campaign

(V.I. Trail/Google Maps)
Now 90% complete, Vancouver Island trail forges new funding partnership

Victoria Foundation takes on Vancouver Island Trail Association; fund valued at $40,000

Emily Steele holds up a collage of her son, 16-year-old Elijah-Iain Beauregard who was stabbed and killed in June 2019, outside of Kelowna Law Courts on June 18. (Aaron Hemens/Capital News)
Kelowna woman who fatally stabbed teen facing up to 1.5 years of jail time

Her jail sentence would be followed by an additional one to 1.5 years of supervision

Cpl. Scott MacLeod and Police Service Dog Jago. Jago was killed in the line of duty on Thursday, June 17. (RCMP)
Abbotsford police, RCMP grieve 4-year-old service dog killed in line of duty

Jago killed by armed suspect during ‘high-risk’ incident in Alberta

The George Road wildfire near Lytton, B.C., has grown to 250 hectares. (BC Wildfire Service)
B.C. drone sighting halts helicopters fighting 250 hectares of wildfire

‘If a drone collides with firefighting aircraft the consequences could be deadly,’ says BC Wildfire Service

A dose of the Pfizer-BioNTech COVID-19 vaccine is pictured at a vaccination site in Vancouver Thursday, March 11, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
NACI advice to mix vaccines gets varied reaction from AstraZeneca double-dosers

NACI recommends an mRNA vaccine for all Canadians receiving a second dose of a COVID-19 vaccine

A aerial view shows the debris going into Quesnel Lake caused by a tailings pond breach near the town of Likely, B.C., Tuesday, Aug. 5, 2014. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Jonathan Hayward
Updated tailings code after Mount Polley an improvement: B.C. mines auditor

British Columbia’s chief auditor of mines has found changes to the province’s requirements for tailings storage facilities

A North Vancouver man was arrested Friday and three police officers were injured after a 10-person broke out at English Bay on June 19, 2021. (Youtube/Screen grab)
Man arrested, 3 police injured during 10-person brawl at Vancouver beach

The arrest was captured on video by bystanders, many of whom heckled the officers as they struggled with the handcuffed man

Most Read