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February 23, 2009
Volume 87, Number 8
p. 80

Time Perception, Periodic Table Graphics

A stitch in time: Perceived time pressures make it difficult to complete tasks.

Two weeks from this issue's publication date, the hour of sleep we lose to daylight savings will leave many of us feeling a little groggy or a bit behind schedule. Going to bed early a few days before the time change on March 8 can ease the grogginess, but for many people, it's hard to eliminate that sense of feeling rushed. But why? It's not like the hands on the clock are moving any faster.

A study published recently by researchers from Case Western Reserve University offers some insight into why the perception of time often has little connection to the metronomic TICKS AND TOCKS of a clock (Judgment & Decision Making 2008, 3, 636). The researchers' tack was to investigate how people's expectation of how long a specific task (that had to do with a computerized card game) will take affects their performance.

The researchers compared the performance of subjects who were led to believe they did not have enough time to complete the task with subjects who were told they had ample time. Even though both groups were given the same amount of time, the second group performed better. The researchers suggest that your performance on many tasks could improve if you focus more on what you are doing (and with more confidence) than on the time you have for doing it.

So, if you perceive time is pinching you after daylight savings begins, try just assuming you have enough time for what you need to do and see whether you think this Case Western team has got it right.

Symbolic element: Titanium's symbol Ti stands for technology and innovation.

Speaking of strange perceptions, it seems like those LITTLE BOXES OF THE PERIODIC TABLE have gotten popular. They're showing up everywhere these days—advertisements, jewelry, nameplates, and T-shirts. Yet, rarely do these uses have much to do with chemistry.

On Jan. 11, for example, the entire periodic table of elements made the front section of the Sunday edition of the Tennessean, a local newspaper based in Nashville. It was in an article about Rep. Bart Gordon (D-Tenn.), chairman of the House Committee on Science & Technology.

The table appears in a slightly modified form. Several elements, including boron, carbon, nitrogen, oxygen, and fluorine, have been replaced with a picture of "the human element" of the story; that is, of Gordon. Other elements serve to symbolize the representative's involvements. For example, hydrogen's symbol H, titanium's Ti, and cobalt's Co stand for Gordon's roles in committees that involve health, technology and innovation, and commerce, respectively.

Gordon is a self-anointed science guy who "has staked out a solid position in Washington on science and technology issues," the article states. Gordon is a strong advocate for including funding in the economic recovery act for STEM (science, technology, engineering, and math) education, energy, and health technologies.

Mike Morrow, the article's author, tells Newscripts that the first time he saw the periodic table graphic was when he opened the Sunday paper. The first thought that came to his mind, he says, was, "Wow, this is off base. Science isn't all about chemistry." But then he considered it in the context of the article and decided that the image works after all.

Morrow credits the image to graphic designer Melissa Koenigsberg. "I was struck by the number of proverbial pies this politician has his finger in," Koenigsberg says. The scope of his influence that is concentrated in science got her thinking about general representations of the concept—atoms, DNA, beakers, and charts—she notes. "The periodic table naturally evolved from simply making a list of all of the committees the politician sits on or chairs," she adds.

Although readers of C&EN might readily agree that chemistry is a core science, it appears the Tennessean got on board with this view because of a "very eager graphic artist," Morrow says.

Rochelle Bohaty wrote this week's column. Please send comments and suggestions to

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Chemical & Engineering News
ISSN 0009-2347
Copyright © 2009 American Chemical Society


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