Tribute to Alex Johnstone

Johnstone's Triangle - Representing 3 Levels of Representation

Happy New Year from one of your overseas colleagues. Despite the amazing political changes, the language of chemistry continues bind us together, usually in the effort to make such a simple subject as chemistry understood! To do this, many of you have focused on the triangle developed by Alex Johnstone. You can see a nice example of this in a previous ChemEd X post written by Erica Posthuma-Adams, Integrating Three Types of Chemical Representation (see Figure 1). I am sad to relay that Alex died just before Christmas at age 89. I have written a short tribute to him (Those Light Bulb Moments) because although I never knew him, he helped me make sense of why most of the time we fail, and that when we succeed... it is a triumphal moment! Liberato Cardellini published An Interview with Alex H. Johnstone (open access) in the Journal of Chemical Education in 2000 that includes Johnstone's "Ten Educational Commandments". His language is without psychological verbiage which make many unable relate to the findings of a psychological approach to chemical understanding. And, he has some outrageous findings!


Figure 1 - Example of Johnstone's Triangle as used in Erica Posthuma-Adams post mentioned above.

PS. We also lost another character who made popular The Great Egg Races in the 1980s on our televisions. You might be interested in viewing a Trailer of the Great Egg Races on YouTube. This character was Professor Heinz Wolff. Many of us contributed some chemical versions to the Royal Society of Chemistry. Please do a risk assessment because these are 40 years old and I suspect there is some updating required. Heinz was a real eccentric. He worked at our University and he came to my colleague and I for help. It appeared that at a white tie and tails dinner he tried the electrolysis of molten cryolite during his after dinner speech about aluminium. (Yes, we were horrified too). He burned the table (thankfully a cheap one!) So, he wondered if he could do a thermit reaction. We showed him a safe method and off he went, happy as anything and sent us a lovely letter of thanks after the next speech.