Elemental artistry

Elise Wennberg—Staff Writer

Photo credit: Matt Drissell

In summer of 2018, Carl Fictorie tasked Matt Drissell with a project: combine art and science by creating an artistic representation of the periodic table. The professor of chemistry challenged the professor of art to represent all 118 elements in a way that encouraged learning outside of the classroom.

Fictorie borrowed the idea from Trinity Western University, a liberal arts university in Langley, British Columbia. Upon viewing the project, a blown-away Fictorie asked for permission to conduct similar, funded project at Dordt University. 

“I started to think about what it meant for the [Science and Technology Center] to teach,” Fictorie said. “How can we do things that engage the students?”

The funding for the periodic table project also helped raise money for the Russell Maatman Scholarship. Through sponsoring an element, funds would go towards this grant founded by former professor of chemistry Russell Maatman.

In 2019, Drissell began his work. He enlisted the help of Jonathan Fictorie, a former student. Together, the two brainstormed different designs for the elements. 

“I was not sure how to approach the project.” Drissell said. “I realized I needed a way to organize [the 118 elements],”

Drissell studied traditional painting in graduate school, but has experimented with non-traditional media while at Dordt, including ice cream and popsicles. For him, the project provided “a fun excuse” to “try out some of those older historic processes.”

Drissell realized he could sort the elements into different categories by following the elemental families: noble gases, halogens, alkali metals, alkaline earth metals, transitional metals, metalloids, and the rare earth metals. 

  The professor of art use graphite, charcoal, and ink for his first drawings. These were then sealed up with fixative and painted. Also, Drissell used a bevel cut for the panels, which allowed for the inclusion of the element’s name and sponsor on each panel.  

“They all started off as a drawing,” Drissell said. “And once the drawing was done, I would put a flat color associated with the [element’s] family. You’ll see that color (the purple, the orange, the yellow) on the side.”

The sponsored elements were completed first and later displayed at an internal art show in 2019. 

“The first 40 sponsored elements were some of the more obscure ones. I wasn’t quite sure why at first, but I realized that a lot of people chose elements that the symbols lined up with their initials,” said Drissell, “Some of the more common ones—carbon, oxygen, nitrogen—weren’t sponsored for quite a while.”

Drissell spent hours researching the elements. He looked into their uses and other elemental references in pop culture (such as the vibranium in Tony Stark’s Arc Reactor) 

“[The Royal Chemistry Society] helped a lot with some of the middle and transitional elements as most of them are just grey and silver.” Drissell said. “A lot of them are gases. Some have color, some don’t, so it helped to draw from those descriptions. I even looked at where some of the elements were mined, giving a location to the name of the element.” 

According to Drissell and Fictorie, half of the elements are still available for sponsorship.

“We’re privileged as Christians to study [science] and the periodic table.” Fictorie said. It’s God-glorifying.”

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