Ekaterina Gubina and Lysa Tacadao
Book: A is for Arsenic
|Ekaterina Gubina and Lysa Tacadao
For our exhibit we chose to create a poster based on the book ‘A is for Arsenic’ by Kathryn Harkup. This book takes us through the methods the author Agatha Christie used to kill off the victims in her book. Each chapter features a different poison used by Agatha. We decided to make the theme of our poster based on the third chapter of this book. The third chapter gives us a description of cyanide and its toxicity and has an underlying chemistry theme of bonding throughout the chapter. So, for our poster we decided to make the main theme about cyanide, and for the chemistry aspect of our poster, we went into detail about bonding in compounds that contain a cyanide group and particularly when a methyl group is bonded to cyanide group to make acetonitrile. We made sure to include diagrams to portray our understanding of the topic.
We decided on a neutral theme so we can make sure the details eg. the pictures and wording, stand out more against the toned colours. We learned about how she was very good at her drug and poisons and how her ‘recipes’ are very carefully thought out. Agatha Christie was a woman who was well educated on chemical composition and formulae of drugs and poisons, she was trained as an apothecary’s apprentice (an apothecary was somewhat like a modern-day pharmacist). She was very good at her job and wrote her books using her knowledge of chemistry – her fictional murders used different poisons. This book talks us through the methods she used to kill her fictional victims and the theories and ideas people had about what she had done. We enjoyed reading this book as we found it interesting and it also taught us chemistry. We were taught about Rasputin and how his assassins couldn’t kill him with cyanide because they didn’t put enough in his food to kill him. We learnt about nicotine and how it was used by Agatha Christie in her stories. The book also taught us how people would ‘search the bodies’ for ways on how the victims were killed.
While reading the book ‘A is for Arsenic’ by Kathryn Harkup, the third chapter ‘Sparkling Cyanide’ stood out the most due to certain topics throughout the chapter also being aspects we had covered during chemistry lectures especially in semester one. Our lectures in semester one were heavily based on bonding and understanding how bonds between atoms are made. This chapter briefly discussed the chemistry behind bonding in cyanide. It was discussed how a covalent bond between the carbon of the methyl group attached to cyanide carbon would take longer to break than an ionic bond in a metal cyanide salt, thus causing methyl cyanide (commonly known as acetonitrile) to be less toxic. This inspired me to want to create a poster based on this topic as the basis of the chapter using information I was already familiar with from the lectures. This meant that I knew I could make a more descriptive and effective poster with suitable diagrams as a result. While reading the chapter I was amazed when I discovered how cyanide can be found in common foods in the household and felt inspired to share the knowledge and include that information in the poster.
The reading inspired our exhibit and it gave us many ideas to make a poster. It made me think of poisons that cause deaths and how they are made. This really ties in well with our Analytical Chemistry course because we learn about forensics and possible causes of death which would include poison. Learning about the way Agatha Christie used her knowledge of chemistry to kill her 14 fictional victims is interesting as it helps us to understand how certain chemicals reacted in the body. This also taught us about how difficult it was back in those days to find proper proof or evidence about the causes of death. The book also lays out multiple theories that characters came up with to try figure out the truth. This is an interesting read because it teaches us chemistry but in a different way with also including a bit of history, that many people may not be aware of. The reading also inspired us by helping us to understand the ways chemicals can be made to look like food and also be mixed into food to kill the unsuspecting victims of Agatha Christie tales.