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Chemistry Quotations


Luciano Caglioti, "The Two Faces of Chemistry", The MIT Press, Cambridge, Massachusetts, 1985.

Chemistry...is one of the broadest branches of science, if for no other reason that, when we think about it, everything is chemistry. (p.xv)

Chemistry has invaded our lives, has provided us with new foods and new materials, has replaced wood and metal with less expensive products, has enabled low-income classes to acquire things that otherwise would have been inaccessible. (p. xv)

P. W. Atkins, "Molecules",W.H. Freeman and Company, New York, 1987.

...one or two atoms can convert a fuel to a poison, change a color, render an inedible substance edible, or replace a pungent odor with a fragrant one. That changing a single atom can have such consequences is the wonder of the chemical world. (p. 2)

Chemistry stands at the pivot of science. On the one hand it deals with biology and provides explanations for the processes of life. On the other hand it mingles with physics and finds explanations for chemical phenomena in the fundamental processes and particles of the universe. Chemistry links the familiar with the fundamental. (p. 2)

One of the wonders of this world is that objects so small can have such consequences: Any visible lump of matter - even the merest speck - contains more atoms than there are stars in our galaxy. (p. 4)

Each new atom brings something of the personality of its element to the molecule, and this conspiracy of atoms results in a molecule with properties that are richer than those of each atom alone. (p. 13)

Richard P. Feynman, "The Feynman Lecture on Physics", Addison-Wesley Publishing Company, Reading, Massachusetts, 1963.

The test of all knowledge is experiment. (I, 1-1)

If, in some cataclysm, all of scientific knowledge were to be destroyed, and only one sentence passed on to the next generations of creatures, what statement would contain the most information in the fewest words? I believe it is the atomic hypothesis (or the atomic fact, if you wish to call it that) that all things are made of atoms - little particles that move around in perpetual motion, attracting each other when they are a little distance apart, but repelling upon being squeezed into one another. (I, 1-2)

Nature does not care what we call it, she just keeps on doing it. (I, 1-7)

Everything is made of atoms. That is the key hypothesis. (I, 1-8)

...if all of this, all the life of a stream of water, can be nothing but a pile of atoms, how much more is possible? (I, 1-9)

Primo Levi (Translated by Raymond Rosenthal), "The Periodic Table", Schocken Books, New York, 1984.

...conquering matter is to understand it, and understanding matter is necessary to understanding the universe and ourselves: and that therefore Mendeleev's Periodic Table, which just during those weeks we were learning to unravel, was poetry... (p. 41)

Distilling is beautiful. First of all, because it is a slow, philosophic, and silent occupation, which keeps you busy but gives you time to think of other things, somewhat like riding a bike. Then, because it involves a metamorphosis from liquid to vapor (invisible), and from this once again to liquid; but in this double journey, up and down, purity is attained, an ambiguous and fascinating condition, which starts with chemistry and goes very far. And finally, when you set about distilling, you acquire the consciousness of repeating a ritual consecrated by the centuries, almost a religious act, in which from imperfect material you obtain the essence, the usia, the spirit, and in the first place alcohol, which gladdens the spirit and warms the heart. (pp. 57-58)

I thought of another moral, more down to earth and concrete, and I believe that every militant chemist can confirm it: that one must distrust the almost-the-same (sodium is almost the same as potassium, but with sodium nothing would have happened), the practically identical, the approximate, all surrogates, and all patchwork. The differences can be small, but they can lead to radically different consequences, like a railroad's switch points: the chemist's trade consists in good part of being aware of these differences, knowing them close up and foreseeing their effects. And not only the chemist's trade. (p. 60)

We chemists...are here for this - to make mistakes and to correct ourselves, to stand the blows and hand them out. We must never feel disarmed: nature is immense and complex, but it is not impermeable to the intelligence; we must circle around it, pierce and probe it, looking for the opening or making it. (p. 75)

This was found pretty soon, drawing on good inorganic chemistry, that distant Cartesian island, a lost paradise, for us organic chemists, bunglers, "students of gunk"...(p. 157)

The trade of chemist (fortified, in my case, by the experience of Auschwitz), teaches you to overcome, indeed to ignore, certain revulsions that are neither necessary or congenital: matter is matter, neither noble nor vile, infinitely transformable, and its proximate origin is of no importance whatsoever. Nitrogen is nitrogen, it passes miraculously from the air into plants, from these into animals, and from animals into us; when its function in our body is exhausted, we eliminate it, but it still remains nitrogen, aseptic, innocent. (pp. 180-181)

...to see if I could convey to the layman the strong and bitter flavor of our trade, which is only a particular instance, a more strenuous version of the business of living. I told him that it did not seem fair to me that the world should know everything about how the doctor, prostitute, sailor, assassin, countess, ancient Roman, conspirator, and Polynesian lives and nothing about how we transformers of matter live.... (p. 203)


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Last updated January 12, 2002.
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