“Oxygen”, a new Mètode Special Issue


Métode presents a theatre play about ambition, ethics and scientific curiosity. The collection «Monografies Métode» (Mètode Special Issues) has published Oxygen by Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann, to mark the International Year of Chemistry.

Starting from the question of who discovered oxygen, the play approaches two situations in very different historical periods: 1777, with the hypothetical meeting between the three discoverers of oxygen: scientists Lavoisier, Priestley and Scheele; and 2001, when the Nobel Committee decides to award a retrospective prize and must decide which of the three deserves it. According to Carl Djerassi himself, «the play attempts to deal with two fundamental questions: what is discovery in science and why is it so important for a scientist to be first?».

© Istituto di Storia della Scienza, Firenze
18th Century drawing (Private Collection) by Mme. Lavoisier of “Pneumatic” laboratory scene in Lavoisier’s laboratory, showing Mme. Lavoisier at the extreme right and Lavoisier in the centre. (From Beretta, M., 2001. “Imaging a Career in Science.” Science History Publications/USA, Canton, MA).

Going back and forth between the the two epochs, we see how eighteenth-century scientists and members of the 21st century Nobel Committee will try to show who was the first to discover oxygen and, thus, paved the way for the chemical revolution. And not forgetting the important role played by the scientists’ wives in this intriguing story.  According to Mercè Piqueras, vice-president of the Societat Catalana d’Història de la Ciència (Catalan Society for the History of Science) and author of the introduction to this special issue, this play manages to overcome the mythical image of scientists. Piqueras also notes that «Oxygen can make the public think about the potential manipulation of science and different ways of interpreting it». The special issue is rounded off with illustrations by the Valencian artist Javier Chapa, illustrating the cover and inside pages.

With this edition, as well as extending its collection of Special Issues, Métode also brings readers Oxygen, a fun play which shows us that perhaps scientists
today are not so different from their eighteenth-century counterparts.

© Mètode 2011.


© Cornell University Photography
In the picture, the two authors of the play Oxygen. On the left, Carl Djerassi, Emeritus Professor of Chemistry at Stanford University and, right, Roald Hoffmann, Nobel Prize in Chemistry in 1981.



«Oxygen attempts to deal with two fundamental questions: what is discovery in science and why is it so important for a scientist to be first?»
Carl Djerassi




Oxigen. Una obra en 20 escenes
Carl Djerassi and Roald Hoffmann
Introduction by Mercè Piqueras
Monografies Mètode 5. Valencia 2011. 96 pages. Price: 10 euros.

© Mètode 2011