I once had to mug up the chemistry of chromium, molybdenum and tungsten for an exam. Can’t remember which exam it was, but we’d been given a fairly heavy clue by an inorganic chemistry lecturer.
I managed to unearth an old chemistry book which wasn’t modern enough for the exam but full of fascinating details of old-fashioned bench chemistry. Lots of forgotten experiments where chemists tried to make all manner of weird and wonderful compounds based on tungsten. I couldn't put it down for quite a while, but eventually I reluctantly shoved it back on the shelf and turned my attention to the more conventional stuff.
The chaps in that old book were driven by curiosity and the thrill of making a genuine discovery, even if it turned out to be an obscure footnote destined for a life on dusty shelves. My kind of chemistry in other words.
Maybe I was born too late because I don’t think this kind of science is as common as it used to be, but how does one get a handle on something as nebulous as scientific curiosity?
Yet I suspect anyone who grew up in the fifties or sixties will remember a kind of optimistic curiosity we no longer see. A curiosity tinged with delightfully naive expectations that the natural world will be forever fascinating.
Fifty years on, it seems to me that the curiosity I knew has been so squeezed and distorted by commercial and political narratives that it is no longer recognisable as curiosity at all.