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While writing a piece for Nature Chemistry about the hidden depths of the periodic table (the more than 3000 isotopes that could be stacked onto their elemental spots), I wandered across an interesting set of papers on heavy water and isotopic tracing, which led to another piece for Nature Chemistry (The weight of water). In one of the papers, future Nobelist George de Hevesy deuterates goldfish by crowding some twenty (albeit tiny) goldfish into 60 ml of water, in another he reports making thousands of distillations of urine to recapture the water, measure its density and track deuterium through the human body.

Heavy water (D2O) is water where the hydrogens have been replaced with deuterium, an isotope of hydrogen that weighs about twice as much as standard hydrogen. Heavy water weighs just over 10% more than regular water, a tablespoon weighs only about a gram more, so it is probably not noticeable should you heft a glass of it.

I recently ran across the work of Hubert Duprat, a French sculptor who collaborates with caddisfly larvae (yes, you read that correctly, caddsifly larvae) to create jeweled carapaces. I'm inspired by the caddisflies, who build their houses out of whatever is to hand, whether it's gold and pearls, or sticks and bits from the shells of dead snails. 


I'm working on a couple of pieces on prayer, one very short, one long. The writing has me thinking about how I sometimes complicate prayer, wanting to dress it up and take it out to some beautiful chapel, and waltz with it in down the cool and dark nave. But perhaps I need to take a few lessons from the caddisfly larvae and be willing to gather into my prayer whatever is at hand, precious or not. The weeds growing through the stones on the back patio, the scream of the lawn mower next door, my own inattention. And just perhaps, in that gathering I might realize just how precious those bits are.

Photographer: Frédéric Delpech
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