branch of physical science concerned with the composition, structure and properties of matter
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Chemistry, a branch of physical science, is the study of the composition, properties and behavior of matter. Chemistry is concerned with atoms and their interactions with other atoms, and particularly with the properties of chemical bonds. Chemistry is also concerned with the interactions between atoms (or groups of atoms) and various forms of energy (e.g. photochemical reactions, changes in phases of matter, separation of mixtures, properties of polymers, etc.).

Life can emerge from physics and chemistry plus a lot of accidents.
- Murray Gell-Mann, 2007.



Quotes arranged by century in alphabetical order


  • The chemists are a strange class of mortals, impelled by an almost insane impulse to seek their pleasures amid smoke and vapour, soot and flame, poisons and poverty; yet among all these evils I seem to live so sweetly that may I die if I were to change places with the Persian king.
    • Johann Joachim Becher, Physica subterranea (1667) Quoted in R. Oesper, The Human Side of Scientists (1973), 11
It is the study of the Chemists to liberate that unsensual truth from its fetters in things of sense.
- Gerhard Dorn, 1659
  • It is the study of the Chemists to liberate that unsensual truth from its fetters in things of sense, for through it the heavenly powers are persued with subtle understanding....Knowledge is the sure and undoubted resolution by experiment of all opinions concerning the truth....Experiment is manifest demonstration of the truth, and resolution the putting away of doubt. We cannot be resolved of any doubt save by experiment, and therefore is no better way to make it than on ourselves. Let us therefore verify what we have said above concerning the truth, beginning with ourselves. We have said that piety consists in knowledge of ourselves, and hence it is said that we make philosophical knowledge begin from this also. But no man can know himself unless he know what and not who he is, on whom he depends and whose he is (for by the law of truth no one belongs to himself, and to what end he was made. With this knowledge piety begins, which is concerned with two things, namely, with the Creator and the creature that is made like unto him. For it is impossible for the creature to know himself of himself, unless he first know his Creator....No one can better know the Creator, than the workman is known by his work.
  • Chymistry is all New; there was no such thing known to the Generations of Old. This Spagyrick Art, which was set on foot by Paracelsus and Helmont, and by some other searching Heads, hath had Prodigious Additions made to it lately. The Alchymists Retort and Alembick never were furnish'd with such rare and excellent Secrets as they are now; the Laboratories and Furnaces never afforded the like Inventions. It is indeed a rough and violent way of Philosophizing, it is an hectoring as it were of Nature, it is puting her upon the Rack, and on the Fiery Trial, to make her confess what she never did before. And truly she hath made a very ample Confession and Discovery, whereby the knowledge of Natural Philosophy is much increas'd and imbellish'd, very Noble and Precious Medicaments (consisting of Oyls, Spirits, Tinctures, Salts, &c.) are produced, and the Healthfulness of Men's Bodies, and their Longævity are procured, and the Almighty Creator thereby Exalted and Honoured.
    • John Edwards, A Compleat History of All Dispensations and Methods of Religion (1699), p. 631
  • For the alchemist is the baker in baking the bread, the vintner in making the wine, the weaver in weaving cloth. Thus, whatever arises out of nature for human use is brought to that condition ordained by nature by an alchemist.
    • Paracelsus from the chapter Alchimia in Paragranum (1530)
  • The physician's duty is to heal the sick, not enrich the apothecaries.
    • Paracelsus (in Jaffe, Bernard. Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry. 4th Edition. New York: Dover, 1976. (Originally, 1930) | Pgs. 13-24)
  • My travels have developed me; no man becomes a master at home, nor finds his teacher behind the stove. Sicknesses wander here and there the whole length of the world. If a man wishes to understand them, he must wander too. A doctor must be an alchemist, he must see mother earth where the minerals grow. And as the mountains will not come to him, he must go to the mountains. It is indeed true that those who do not roam have greater possessions than those who do; those who sit behind the stove eat partridge, and those who follow after knowledge eat milkbroth. He who will serve the belly-- he will not follow after me.
    • Paracelsus (in Jaffe, Bernard. Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry. 4th Edition. New York: Dover, 1976. (Originally, 1930) | Pgs. 13-24)
  • Luther is abundantly learned, therefore you hate him and me, but we are at least a match for you.
    • Paracelsus (in Jaffe, Bernard. Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry. 4th Edition. New York: Dover, 1976. (Originally, 1930) | Pgs. 13-24)
  • I admonish you not to reject the method of experiment, but according as your power permits, to follow it without prejudice. For every experiment is like a weapon which must be used according to its peculiar power, as a spear to thrust, a club to strike, so also is it with experiments.
    • Paracelsus (in Jaffe, Bernard. Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry. 4th Edition. New York: Dover, 1976. (Originally, 1930) | Pgs. 13-24)
  • I praise the chemical physicians, for they do not go about gorgeous in satins, silks, and velvets, silver daggers hanging at their sides, and white gloves on their hands, but they tend their work at the fire patiently day and night. They do not go promenading, but seek their recreation in laboratory. They thrust their fingers among the coals into dirt and rubbish and not into golden rings.
    • Paracelsus (in Jaffe, Bernard. Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry. 4th Edition. New York: Dover, 1976. (Originally, 1930) | Pgs. 13-24)
  • the true use of chemistry is not to make gold but to prepare medicines.
    • Paracelsus (in Jaffe, Bernard. Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry. 4th Edition. New York: Dover, 1976. (Originally, 1930) | Pgs. 13-24)
  • Its name [alchemy] will no doubt prevent its being acceptable to many; but why should wise people hate without cause that which some other wantonly misuse? Why hate blue because some clumsy painter uses it? Which would Caesar order to be crucified, the thief or the thing he had stolen? No science can be deservedly held in contempt by one who knows noting about it. Because you are ignorant of alchemy, you are ignorant of the mysteries of nature.
    • Paracelsus (in Jaffe, Bernard. Crucibles: The Story of Chemistry. 4th Edition. New York: Dover, 1976. (Originally, 1930) | Pgs. 13-24)


  • We must trust to nothing but facts: These are presented to us by Nature, and cannot deceive. We ought, in every instance, to submit our reasoning to the test of experiment, and never to search for truth but by the natural road of experiment and observation.


  • God does not justify man on the ground of human learning; attainments in chemistry, anatomy, geology, botany, astronomy, or skill in sculpture and painting, — these do not prepare a man to die.
    • Albert Barnes (1895) Dictionary of Burning Words of Brilliant Writers. p. 114.
  • Like a chemist, Napoleon considered all Europe to be material for his experiments. But in due course, this material reacted against him.
  • Chemistry is not a primitive science, like geometry or astronomy; it is constructed from the debris of a previous scientific formation; a formation half chimerical and half positive, itself founded on the treasure slowly amassed by the practical discoveries of metallurgy, medicine, industry, and domestic economy. It has to do with alchemy, which pretended to enrich its adepts by teaching them to manufacture gold and silver, to shield them from diseases by the preparation of the panacea, and finally to obtain for them perfect felicity by identifying them with the soul of the world and the universal spirit.
  • Every chemical combination is wholly and solely dependent on two opposing forces, positive and negative electricity, and every chemical compound must be composed of two parts combined by the agency of their electrochemical reaction, since there is no third force. Hence it follows that every compound body, whatever the number of its constituents, can be divided into two parts, one of which is positively and the other negatively electrical.
    • Jöns Jacob Berzelius Essai sur la théorie des proportions chemiques (1819), 98. Quoted by Henry M. Leicester in article on Bessel in Charles Coulston Gillespie (editor), Dictionary of Scientific Biography (1981), Vol. 2, 94.
  • A tidy laboratory means a lazy chemist.
    • Jöns Jacob Berzelius to Nils Sefstrom, 8th July 1812. In C. G. Bernard, Berzelius as a European Traveller, in E. M. Melhardo and T. Frängsmyr (eds.), Enlightenment Science in the Romantic Era (1992), 225.
  • If we could determine the nature of substances burning at Mannheim, why should we not do the same with regard to the sun? ---But people would say we must have gone mad to dream of such a thing.
    • Robert Bunsen (to Gustav Kirchhoff) in: Gratzer, William. Eurekas and Euphorias: The Oxford Book of Scientific Anecdotes. New York: Oxford, 2002, pg.138
  • Men are not allowed to think freely about chemistry and biology: why should they be allowed to think freely about political philosophy?
    • Auguste Comte (1798 – 1857) as quoted in A Dictionary of Scientific Quotations (1991) by Alan Lindsay Mackay
  • If a possible — nay, reasonable — variation in only one of the forces conditioning the human race, that of gravitation, could so modify our outward form, appearance, and proportions as to make us to all intents and purposes a different race of beings; if mere differences of size can cause some of the most simple facts in chemistry and physics to take so widely different a guise; if beings microscopically small and prodigiously large would simply as such be subject to the hallucinations I have pointed out, and to others I might enlarge upon, is it not possible that we, in turn, though occupying, as it seems to us, the golden mean, may also by the mere virtue of our size and weight fall into misinterpretations of phenomena from which we should escape were we or the globe we inhabit either larger or smaller, heavier or lighter? May not our boasted knowledge be simply conditioned by accidental environments, and thus be liable to a large element of subjectivity hitherto unsuspected and scarcely possible to eliminate?
  • Chemists do not usually stutter. It would be very awkward if they did, seeing that they have at times to get out such words as methylethylamylophenylium.
    • William Crookes, in: William H. Brock. (1993). The Norton History of Chemistry. W W Norton & Co Inc. p xxvi.
  • Chemical analysis and synthesis go no farther than to the separation of particles one from another, and to their reunion. No new creation or destruction of matter is within the reach of chemical agency. We might as well attempt to introduce a new planet into the solar system, or to annihilate one already in existence, as to create or destroy a particle of hydrogen."
    • John Dalton.A New System of Chemical Philosophy, chapter III "On Chemical Synthesis", p 212. Published in Manchester, 1808.
    • Comment: The quote would be famously wrong in the nuclear age if it hadn't been presciently qualified, but that makes it memorable. It is also ironic in that a new planet, Pluto, was discovered afterward, but subsequently demoted from planet status.
  • Most of the substances belonging to our globe are constantly undergoing alterations in sensible quantities, and one variety of matter becomes, as it were, transmuted into another. Such changes, whether natural or artificial, whether slowly or rapidly performed, are called chemical; thus the gradual and almost imperceptible decay of the leaves and branches of a fallen tree exposed to the atmosphere, and the rapid combustion of wood in our fires, are both chemical operations. The object of chemical philosophy is to ascertain the causes of all phenomena of this kind, and to discover the laws by which they are governed. The ends of this branch of knowledge are the applications of natural substances to new uses, for increasing the comforts and enjoyments of man, and the demonstration of the order, harmony, and intelligent design of the system of the earth.
    • Humphry Davy, Elements of Chemical Philosophy (1812) Part 1, Vol. 1, Introduction, p. 1.
  • It's chemistry, brother, chemistry! There's no help for it, your reverence, you must make way for chemistry.
  • One of the most immediate consequences of the electrochemical theory is the necessity of regarding all chemical compounds as binary substances. It is necessary to discover in each of them the positive and negative constituents... No view was ever more fitted to retard the progress of organic chemistry. Where the theory of substitution and the theory of types assume similar molecules, in which some of the elements can be replaced by others without the edifice becoming modified either in form or outward behaviour, the electrochemical theory divides these same molecules, simply and solely, it may be said, in order to find in them two opposite groups, which it then supposes to be combined with each other in virtue of their mutual electrical activity... I have tried to show that in organic chemistry there exist types which are capable, without destruction, of undergoing the most singular transformations according to the nature of the elements.
    • Jean-Baptiste-André Dumas, Traité de Chemie Appliquée aux Arts, Vol. I (1828), 53. Trans. J. R. Partington, A History of Chemistry, Vol. 4, 366.
  • Chemistry, Madame Lefrancois....the composition of manures, the fermentation of liquids, the analysis of gases and the influence of miasmata- what, I put it to you, is all this, but chemistry pure and simple?
  • Reader! Imagine a school-boy who has outgrown his clothes. Imagine the repairs made on the vestments where the enlarged frame had burst the narrow limits of its inclosure. Imagine the additions made where the projecting limbs had fairly and far emerged beyond the confines of the garment. Imagine the boy still growing, and the clothes, mended all over, now more than ever in want of mending — such is chemistry, and such its nomenclature.
    • John Joseph Griffin (1834) Chemical Recreations (7th Edition, 1834) "The Romance of Chemistry" p. 189
  • We can no more have exact religious thinking without theology, than exact mensuration and astronomy without mathematics, or exact iron-making without chemistry,
  • Once you are there you'll be like a drop of water in a piece of rock crystal- your medium will dignify your commonness.
  • It is a mistake to confound Alchemy with Chemistry. Modern Chemistry is a science which deals merely with the external forms in which the element of matter is manifesting itself. It never produces anything new. We may mix and compound and decompose two or more chemical bodies an unlimited number of times, and cause them to appear under various different forms, but at the end we will have no augmentation of substance, nor anything more than the combinations of the substances that have been employed at the beginning. Alchemy does not mix or compound anything, it causes that which already exists in a latent state to become active and grow. Alchemy is, therefore, more comparable to botany or agriculture than to Chemistry; and, in fact, the growth of a plant, a tree, or an animal is an alchemical process going on in the alchemical laboratory of nature, and performed by the great Alchemist, the power of God acting in nature.
    • Franz Hartmann. (1890) In the Pronaos of the Temple of Wisdom, containing the History of the True and the False Rosicrucians. p. 129
  • The most powerful influence exercised by the Arabs on general natural physics was that directed to the advances of chemistry; a science for which this race created a new era.(...) Besides making laudatory mention of that which we owe to the natural science of the Arabs in both the terrestrial and celestial spheres, we must likewise allude to their contributions in separate paths of intellectual development to the general mass of mathematical science.
I wish to establish some sort of system not guided by chance but by some sort of definite and exact principle.
- Dmitri Mendeleev, 1854.
  • Chemistry, in its application to animals and vegetables. Endeavours jointly with physiology to enlighten us respecting the mysterious processes and sources of organic life.
  • I wish to establish some sort of system not guided by chance but by some sort of definite and exact principle.
    • Dmitri Mendeleev Declared in his treatise “An Outline of the System of the Elements” it was read to the Russian Chemical Society.
  • As Mechanical Philosophy has a respect to those motions of the larger bodies of the universe which fall under the inspection of our senses, so Chemical Philosophy is the science which explains those motions which take place among the minute component parts of bodies, and which are known chiefly by the effects which they produce; in other words, its object is, "to ascertain the ingredients that enter into the composition of bodies—to examine the nature of these ingredients, the manner in which, and the laws by which, they combine, and the properties resulting from their combination." It may safely be asserted, that there is no branch of science in which the discoveries and improvements, during the last century, have been more numerous, or more important, than in this. Indeed, such has been their number, and their interesting nature, that to exhibit them in detail would be to fill volumes.
    • Samuel Miller, A Brief Retrospect of the Eighteenth Century (1803) Vol. 1, Ch. 2, "Chemical Philosophy," p. 77.
  • Do you believe then that the sciences would ever have arisen and become great if there had not beforehand been magicians, alchemists, astrologers, and wizards who thirsted and hungered after... forbidden powers?
  • 'I am happy', said M. Waldman, 'to have gained a disciple; and if your application equals your ability, I have no doubt of your success. Chemistry is that branch of natural philosophy in which the greatest improvements have been and may be made: it is on that account that I have made it my peculiar study'
  • In the four quarters of the globe, who reads an American book? Or goes to an American play? or looks at an American picture or statue? What does the world yet owe to American physicians or surgeons? What new substances have their chemists discovered? Or what old ones have they advanced? What new constellations have been discovered by the telescopes of Americans? Who drinks out of American glasses? Or eats from American plates? Or wears American coats or gowns? or sleeps in American blankets? Finally, under which of the old tyrannical governments of Europe is every sixth man a slave, whom his fellow-creatures may buy and sell and torture?
    • Sydney Smith (1820) Referring to the lack of established culture and the established institution of slavery in the United States, in "Review of Seybert’s Annals of the United States", published in The Edinburgh Review (1820).
  • Chemistry, unlike other sciences, sprang originally from delusions and superstitions, and was at its commencement exactly on a par with magic and astrology.
    • Thomas Thomson, in: Henry Colburn; Richard Bentley. (1830). The History of Chemistry. p. 1.
  • Cellular pathology is not an end if one cannot see any alteration in the cell. Chemistry brings the clarification of living processes nearer than does anatomy. Each anatomical change must have been preceded by a chemical one.
    • Rudolf Virchow (1821–1902) cited in: Coper, H., Herken, H., 1963. Dtsch. Med. Wochenschr. 88,2025– 2036.
  • At this time organic chemistry can drive one completely crazy. It seems to me like a primeval tropical jungle, full of the most remarkable things, an amazing thicket, without escape or end, into which one would not dare to enter.


In this section quotes are arranged in alphabetical order

A - F

  • Never before has mankind had to face the possibility of extinction in all-out fusion bomb war, nor has it had occasion for hope of unexampled prosperity in the taming of that same fusion bomb. Either fate could result from a single branch of scientific advance. We are gaining the knowledge; science is giving us that. Now we need wisdom as well.
  • It was a great achievement of the early chemists — with the crude experimental techniques available also with the ever-astonishing power of human reason (as potent then as now) — to discover this reduction of the world to its components, the chemical elements. Such reduction does not destroy its charm but adds understanding to sensation, and this understanding only deepens our delight.
    • Peter Atkins, The Periodic Kingdom: A Journey into the Land of the Chemical Elements, 1995, p. 147-148
  • The important point is not the bigness of Avogadro's number but the bigness of Avogadro.
    • Henry Albert Bent (1926-2015), The Second Law, 1965, p. 52
  • Chemistry is not a primitive science, like geometry or astronomy; it is constructed from the debris of a previous scientific formation; a formation half chimerical and half positive, itself founded on the treasure slowly amassed by the practical discoveries of metallurgy, medicine, industry, and domestic economy. It has to do with alchemy, which pretended to enrich its adepts by teaching them to manufacture gold and silver, to shield them from diseases by the preparation of the panacea, and finally to obtain for them perfect felicity by identifying them with the soul of the world and the universal spirit.
  • The first difficulty that faced us was the identification of the forms seen on focusing the sight on gases. We could only proceed tentatively. Thus, a very common form in the air had a sort of dumb-bell shape (see Plate I); we examined this, comparing our rough sketches, and counted its atoms; these, divided by 18—the number of ultimate atoms in hydrogen—gave us 23.22 as atomic weight, and this offered the presumption that it was sodium. We then took various substances—common salt, etc.—in which we knew sodium was present, and found the dumb-bell form in all. In other cases, we took small fragments of metals, as iron, tin, zinc, silver, gold; in others, again, pieces of ore, mineral waters, etc., etc.... In all, 57 chemical elements were examined, out of the 78 recognized by modern chemistry. In addition to these, we found 3 chemical waifs: an unrecognized stranger between hydrogen and helium which we named occultum, for purposes of reference, and 2 varieties of one element, which we named kalon and meta-kalon, between xenon and osmium... Thus we have tabulated in all 65 chemical elements, or chemical atoms, completing three of Sir William Crookes' lemniscates, sufficient for some amount of generalization. (Chapter III. The Later Researches)
  • Here, for the first time, we find ourselves a little at issue with the accepted system of chemistry. Fluorine stands at the head of a group—called the inter-periodic—whereof the remaining members are (see Crookes' table, p. 28), manganese, iron, cobalt, nickel; ruthenium, rhodium, palladium; osmium, iridium, platinum. If we take all these as group V, we find that fluorine and manganese are violently forced into company with which they have hardly any points of relationship, and that they intrude into an otherwise very harmonious group of closely similar composition. (Chapter III. The Later Researches, part V.—The Bars Groups)
  • On the arid lands there will spring up industrial colonies without smoke and without smokestacks; forests of glass tubes will extend over the plains and glass buildings will rise everywhere; inside of these will take place the photochemical processes that hitherto have been the guarded secret of the plants, but that will have been mastered by human industry which will know how to make them bear even more abundant fruit than nature, for nature is not in a hurry and mankind is. And if in a distant future the supply of coal becomes completely exhausted, civilization will not be checked by that, for life and civilization will continue as long as the sun shines!
  • The nature of the chemical bond is the problem at the heart of all chemistry.
    • Bryce Crawford in New Chemistry‎ (1957) by the editors of Scientific American, p. 65
  • We must not forget that when radium was discovered no one knew that it would prove useful in hospitals. The work was one of pure science. And this is a proof that scientific work must not be considered from the point of view of the direct usefulness of it. It must be done for itself, for the beauty of science, and then there is always the chance that a scientific discovery may become like the radium a benefit for humanity.
    • Marie Curie (1921) Lecture at Vassar College, Poughkeepsie, New York (14 May 1921)
  • At some point a particularly remarkable molecule was formed by accident. We will call it the Replicator. It may not necessarily have been the biggest or the most complex molecule around, but it had the extraordinary property of being able to create copies of itself.
    • Richard Dawkins (1976), The selfish gene. Chapter. 2
  • Within a certain kind of environment, an activity may be checked so that the only meaning which accrues is of its direct and tangible isolated outcome. One may cook, or hammer, or walk, and the resulting consequences may not take the mind any farther than the consequences of cooking, hammering, and walking in the literal — or physical — sense. But nevertheless the consequences of the act remain far-reaching. To walk involves a displacement and reaction of the resisting earth, whose thrill is felt wherever there is matter. It involves the structure of the limbs and the nervous system; the principles of mechanics. To cook is to utilize heat and moisture to change the chemical relations of food materials; it has a bearing upon the assimilation of food and the growth of the body. The utmost that the most learned men of science know in physics, chemistry, physiology is not enough to make all these consequences and connections perceptible. The task of education, once more, is to see to it that such activities are performed in such ways and under such conditions as render these conditions as perceptible as possible.

G - L

  • Modern warfare, we discovered, was to a far greater extent than ever before a conflict of chemists and manufacturers. Manpower, it is true, was indispensable, and generalship will always, whatever the conditions, have a vital part to play. But troops, however brave and well led, were powerless under modern conditions unless equipped with adequate and up-to-date artillery (with masses of explosive shell), machine-guns, aircraft and other supplies. Against enemy machine-gun posts and wire entanglements the most gallant and best-led men could only throw away their precious lives in successive waves of heroic martyrdom. Their costly sacrifice could avail nothing for the winning of victory.
  • The alchemical tradition assumes that every physical art or science is a body of knowledge which exists only because it is ensouled by invisible powers and processes. Physical chemistry, as it is practiced in the modern world, is concerned principally with pharmaceutical or industrial research projects. It is confined within the boundaries of an all-pervading materialism, which binds labor to the advancement of physical objectives.
  • The natural sciences are sometimes said to have no concern with values, nor to seek morality and goodness, and therefore belong to an inferior order of things. Counter-claims are made that they are the only living and dynamic studies. Both contentions are wrong
  • The Joker: You IDIOT! You made me. Remember? You dropped me into that vat of chemicals. That wasn't easy to get over, and don't think that I didn't try.
  • Somehow, the practice of astronomy, physics, chemistry or biology normally fails to evoke the controversies over fundamentals that today seem endemic among, say, psychologists or sociologists. Attempting to discover the source of that difference led me to recognize the role in scientific research of what I have since called “paradigms.” These I take to be universally recognized scientific achievements that for a time provide model problems and solutions for a community of practitioners.
For me chemistry represented an indefinite cloud of future potentialities which enveloped my life to come in black volutes torn by fiery flashes...
- Primo Levi , 1975
  • For me chemistry represented an indefinite cloud of future potentialities which enveloped my life to come in black volutes torn by fiery flashes, like those which had hidden Mount Sinai. Like Moses, from that cloud I expected my law, the principle of order in me, around me, and in the world. I was fed up with books, which I still continued to gulp down with indiscreet voracity, and searched for a key to the highest truths; there must be a key, and I was certain that, owing to some monstrous conspiracy to my detriment and the world's, I would not get in school. In school they loaded with me with tons of notions that I diligently digested, but which did not warm the blood in my veins. I would watch the buds swell in spring, the mica glint in the granite, my own hands, and I would say to myself: "I will understand this, too, I will understand everything, but not the way they want me to. I will find a shortcut, I will make a lock-pick, I will push open the doors."
    It was enervating, nauseating, to listen to lectures on the problem of being and knowing, when everything around us was a mystery pressing to be revealed: the old wood of the benches, the sun's sphere beyond the windowpanes and the roofs, the vain flight of the pappus down in the June air. Would all the philosophers and all the armies of the world be able to construct this little fly? No, nor even understand it: this was a shame and an abomination, another road must be found.
  • That 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 laboriously learning to unravel, was poetry, loftier and more solemn than all the poetry we had swallowed down in liceo; and come to think of it, it even rhymed!
    • Primo Levi, The periodic table (1975) (part "Iron")
  • Having reached this point in life, what chemist, facing the Periodic Table or the monumental indices of Beilstein or Landolt, does not perceive scattered amoung them the sad tatters, or trophies, of his own professional past? He only has to leaf through any treatise and memories rise up in bunches: there is among us he who has tied his destiny, indelibly, to bromine or to propylene, or the -NCO group, or glutamic acid; and every chemistry student, faced by almost any treatise, should be aware that on one of those pages, perhaps in a single line, formula, or word, his future is written in indecipherable characters, which, however, will become clear "afterward": after success, error, or guilt, victory or defeat. Every no longer young chemist, turning again to the verhängnis voll page in that same treatise, is struck by love or disgust, delights or despairs.
    • Primo Levi. In The Periodic Table, (Carbon Ramond Rosenthal, Trans; Schocken Books Inc: New York, 1984. pp 224-225.
  • I could tell innumerable other stories and they would all be true: all literally true, in the nature of the transitions, in their order and data. The number of atoms is so great that one could always be found whose story coincides with any capriciously invented story.
    • Primo Levi, The Periodic Table, (Rosenthal, R., Translator); Schocken Books: New York, 1984, p 235
  • But we are still blind... blind and we don't have those tweezers we often dream of at night, the way a thirsty man dreams of springs, that would allow us to pick up a segment, hold it firm and straight, and paste it in the right direction on the segment that has already been assembled. If we had those tweezers (and it's possible that, one day, we will), we would have managed to create some wonderful things But for the present we don't have those tweezers, and when we come right down to it, we're bad riggers.

M - P

  • Chemistry without catalysis would be a sword without a handle, a light without brilliance, a bell without sound.
    • Alwin Mittasch, as cited in: Ralph Edward Oesper, "Alwin Mittasch," Journal of Chemical Education (1948), 25, 532.
  • There is a narrowness of action, though not of intent, which characterizes university departments, and scientific publications and scientists in general: if it is too popular, it is somehow vulgar and wrong. You can't really speak to those people across the street. I live next to the chemists at MIT, but I never see them. I hardly know who they are, yet between physics and chemistry it is hard to know who should study what molecule. I myself am guilty. We form communities not based on the problems of science, but on quite other things. This is part of the general split between the intelligent member of the public and the scientist who speaks in narrow focus. But the great theoretical problems which I believe the world expects will somehow be solved by science, problems close to deep philosophical issues are the very problems that find the least expertise, the least degree of organization, the least institutional support in the scientific institutions of America or indeed of the world.
    • Philip Morrison on specialization in (1995) Nothing is Too Wonderful to be True
  • Every chemical substance, whether natural or artificial, falls into one of two major categories, according to the spatial characteristic of its form. The distinction is between those substances that have a plane of symmetry and those that do not. The former belong to the mineral, the latter to the living world.
    • Louis Pasteur, Vallery-Radot (ed.), Oeuvres de Pasteur (1922-1939), Vol. I, 331. Quoted in Patrice Debré, Louis Pasteur, trans. Elborg Forster (1994), 261.
  • We may, I believe, anticipate that the chemist of the future who is interested in the structure of proteins, nucleic acids, polysaccharides, and other complex substances with high molecular weight will come to rely upon a new structural chemistry, involving precise geometrical relationships among the atoms in the molecules and the rigorous application of the new structural principles, and that great progress will be made, through this technique, in the attack, by chemical methods, on the problems of biology and medicine.
  • Just think of the differences today. A young person gets interested in chemistry and is given a chemical set. But it doesn't contain potassium cyanide. It doesn't even contain copper sulfate or anything else interesting because all the interesting chemicals are considered dangerous substances. Therefore, these budding young chemists don't get a chance to do anything engrossing with their chemistry sets. As I look back, I think it is pretty remarkable that Mr. Ziegler, this friend of the family, would have so easily turned over one-third of an ounce of potassium cyanide to me, an eleven-year-old boy.
    • Linus Pauling In His Own Words (1995) by Barbara Marinacci, p. 29
  • The Second Law of Thermodynamics states that all energy systems run down like a clock and never rewind themselves. But life not only 'runs up,' converting low energy sea-water, sunlight and air into high-energy chemicals, it keeps multiplying itself into more and better clocks that keep 'running up' faster and faster. Why, for example, should a group of simple, stable compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen struggle for billions of years to organize themselves into a professor of chemistry? What's the motive? If we leave a chemistry professor out on a rock in the sun long enough the forces of nature will convert him into simple compounds of carbon, oxygen, hydrogen and nitrogen, calcium, phosphorus, and small amounts of other minerals. It's a one-way reaction. No matter what kind of chemistry professor we use and no matter what process we use we can't turn these compounds back into a chemistry professor. Chemistry professors are unstable mixtures of predominantly unstable compounds which, in the exclusive presence of the sun's heat, decay irreversibly into simpler organic and inorganic compounds. That's a scientific fact. The question is: Then why does nature reverse this process? What on earth causes the inorganic compounds to go the other way? It isn't the sun's energy. We just saw what the sun's energy did. It has to be something else. What is it?
Why, for example, should a group of simple, stable compounds of carbon, hydrogen, oxygen and nitrogen struggle for billions of years to organize themselves into a professor of chemistry?
- Robert M. Pirsig, 1991.
Between physics and chemistry it is hard to know who should study what molecule
- Philip Morrison, 1995
  • It has never been in my power to study anything, — mathematics, ethics, metaphysics, gravitation, thermodynamics, optics, chemistry, comparative anatomy, astronomy, psychology, phonetics, economics, the history of science, whist, men and women, wine, metrology, except as a study of semeiotic.
  • The recognition of certain basic impossibilities has laid the foundations of some major principles of physics and chemistry; similarly, recognition of the impossibility of understanding living things in terms of physics and chemistry, far from setting limits to our understanding of life, will guide it in the right direction. And even if the demonstration of this impossibility should prove of no great advantage in the pursuit of discovery, such a demonstration would help to draw a truer image of life and man than that given us by the present basic concepts of biology.
  • Be a physical chemist, an analytical chemist, an organic chemist, if you will; but above all, be a chemist
    • Ira Remsen. Found in ""The Life of Ira Remsen"" by F.H. Getmen (1940) on page 70 or 71
  • The ego becomes more like the inner ego and less like its old self, comparatively speaking. It accepts large portions of reality that it previously denied. Structurally, it remains intact, yet it has changed chemically and electromagnetically. Now it is far more open to inner data. Once this freedom is achieved, the ego can never return to its old state.
    • Jane Roberts in Seth, Dreams & Projections of Consciousness, p. 310-311

S - Z

  • If some nuclear properties of the heavy elements had been a little different from what they turned out to be, it might have been impossible to build a bomb.
  • Chemistry has been termed by the physicist as the messy part of physics, but that is no reason why the physicists should be permitted to make a mess of chemistry when they invade it.
    • Frederick Soddy as quoted in American journal of physics, Volume 14. American Association of Physics Teachers, American Institute of Physics. 1946. p. 248. 
  • Professor Meitner stated that nuclear fission could be attributed to chemistry. I have to make a slight correction. Chemistry merely isolated the individual substances, but did not precisely identify them. It took Professor Hahn's method to do this. This was his achievement.
    • Fritz Strassmann in an interview with the German television, ARD, March 8, 1959.
  • I have described at some length the application of Positive Rays to chemical analysis; one of the main reasons for writing this book was the hope that it might induce others, and especially chemists, to try this method of analysis. I feel sure that there are many problems in chemistry, which could be solved with far greater ease by this than any other method. The method is surprisingly sensitive — more so than even that of spectrum analysis, requires an infinitesimal amount of material, and does not require this to be specially purified; the technique is not difficult if appliances for producing high vacua are available.
  • I recognize nothing that is not material. In physics, chemistry and biology I see only mechanics. The Universe is nothing but an infinite and complex mechanism. Its complexity is so great that it borders on randomness, giving the illusion of free will.
  • The philosophy of Bergson, which is a spiritualist restoration, essentially mystical, medieval, Quixotesque, has been called a demi-mondaine philosophy. Leave out the demi; call it mondaine, mundane. Mundane — yes, a philosophy for the world and not for philosophers, just as chemistry ought to be not for chemists alone. The world desires illusion (mundus vult decipi) — either the illusion antecedent to reason, which is poetry, or the illusion subsequent to reason, which is religion. And Machiavelli has said that whosoever wishes to delude will always find someone willing to be deluded. Blessed are they who are easily befooled!
  • Like literature, philosophy is not distinguished from other subjects by a specific approach to a subject-matter independent of it. Chemistry deals with chemicals, biology with life and astronomy with very large, very distant objects. Philosophy can boast no such definite subject-matter.
  • The unique challenge which chemical synthesis provides for the creative imagination and the skilled hands ensures that it will endure as long as men write books, paint pictures, and fashion things which are beautiful, or practical, or both.
    • Robert Burns Woodward in: Maeve O’Connor (ed.) Pointers & Pathways in Research. , CIBA of India, Bombay (1963) p. 41


  • Chemistry is the science of matter and the changes it can undergo. The world of chemistry therefore embraces everything material around us—the stones we stand on, the food we eat, the flesh we are made of, and the silicon we build into computers. There is nothing material beyond the reach of chemistry, be it living or dead, vegetable or mineral, on Earth or in a distant star.
    • Peter Atkins and Loretta Jones, Chemical Principles: The Quest for Insight, 4th ed. (2008)
  • I was an atheist, finding no reason to postulate the existence of any truths outside of mathematics, physics and chemistry. But then I went to medical school, and encountered life and death issues at the bedsides of my patients. Challenged by one of those patients, who asked "What do you believe, doctor?", I began searching for answers.
    • Francis Collins, a geneticist who led the U.S. government’s effort to decipher the human genome (DNA).
  • "My first heresy says that all the fuss about global warming is grossly exaggerated. Here I am opposing the holy brotherhood of climate model experts and the crowd of deluded citizens who believe the numbers predicted by the computer models. Of course, they say, I have no degree in meteorology and I am therefore not qualified to speak. But I have studied the climate models and I know what they can do. The models solve the equations of fluid dynamics, and they do a very good job of describing the fluid motions of the atmosphere and the oceans. They do a very poor job of describing the clouds, the dust, the chemistry and the biology of fields and farms and forests. They do not begin to describe the real world that we live in. The real world is muddy and messy and full of things that we do not yet understand. It is much easier for a scientist to sit in an air-conditioned building and run computer models, than to put on winter clothes and measure what is really happening outside in the swamps and the clouds. That is why the climate model experts end up believing their own models."
  • It's more interesting to work on challenges where you don’t know the answer. In chemistry, you should enter into an adventure with molecules
    • Ben Feringa, "We Must be Able to Show How Science is Beneficial to Society." Chimia 63.6 (2009). p. 353
  • Mendeleev, unlike the squeamish Meyer, had balls enough to predict that new elements would be dug up. Look harder, you chemists and geologists, he seemed to taunt, and you’ll find them.
  • You don't need something more to get something more. That's what emergence means. Life can emerge from physics and chemistry plus a lot of accidents. The human mind can arise from neurobiology and a lot of accidents, the way the chemical bond arises from physics and certain accidents. Doesn't diminish the importance of these subjects to know they follow from more fundamental things plus accidents.
  • Chemistry is a game that electrons play.
    • Joseph J. W. McDouall. Computational Quantum Chemistry: Molecular Structure and Properties in Silico, 2013, p. 4
  • "We are honored for research which is today referred to as the "Two Neutrino Experiment". How does one make this research comprehensible to ordinary people? In fact "The Two Neutrinos" sounds like an Italian dance team. How can we have our colleagues in chemistry, medicine, and especially in literature share with us, not the cleverness of our research, but the beauty of the intellectual edifice, of which our experiment is but one brick? This is a dilemma and an anguish for all scientists because the public understanding of science is no longer a luxury of cultural engagement, but it is an essential requirement for survival in our increasingly technological age: In this context, I believe this Nobel Ceremony with its awesome tradition and pomp has as one of its most important benefits; the public attention it draws to science and its practitioners."
This new quantum mechanics promised to explain all of chemistry.
- Oliver Sacks, 2001
  • This new quantum mechanics promised to explain all of chemistry. And though I felt an exuberance at this, I felt a certain threat, too. “Chemistry,” wrote Crookes, “will be established upon an entirely new basis…. We shall be set free from the need for experiment, knowing a priori what the result of each and every experiment must be.” I was not sure I liked the sound of this. Did this mean that chemists of the future (if they existed) would never actually need to handle a chemical; might never see the colors of vanadium salts, never smell a hydrogen selenide, never admire the form of a crystal; might live in a colorless, scentless, mathematical world? This, for me, seemed and awful prospect, for I, at least, needed to smell and touch and feel, to place myself, my senses, in the middle of the perceptual world.
  • All the elements other than hydrogen and helium make up just 0.04 percent of the universe. Seen from this perspective, the periodic system appears to be rather insignificant. But the fact remains that we live on the earth, which consists entirely of ordinary matter, as far as we know, and where the relative abundance of elements is quite different.
    • Eric Scerri The Periodic Table: Its Story and Its Significance, 2016, pg 258
  • Dead is when the chemists take over the subject.
    • Arthur Leonard Schawlow answering question if the subject of spectroscopy was dead for the physicists, as quoted by Steven Chu and Charles H. Townes (2003). Biographical Memoirs V.83. National Academies Press. p. 202. ISBN 0-309-08699-X. 
  • ...when I started doing chemistry, I did it the way I fished – for the excitement, the discovery, the adventure, for going after the most elusive catch imaginable in uncharted seas.
  • Chemists usually write about their chemical careers in terms of the different areas and the discrete projects in those areas on which they have worked. Essentially all my chemical investigations, however, are in only one area, and I tend to view my research not with respect to projects, but with respect to where I’ve been driven by two passions which I acquired in graduate school: I am passionate about the Periodic Table (and selenium, titanium and osmium are absolutely thrilling), and I am passionate about catalysis. What the ocean was to the child, the Periodic Table is to the chemist; new catalytic reactivity is, of course, my personal coelacanth.
  • The most essential example of the theory of self-organisation in chemistry is the theory of non-linear, non-equilibrium thermodynamics of chemical reactions presented by Prigogine and his co-workers.
    • Rein Vihalezmm (2001) "Chemistry as an Interesting Subject for the Philosophy of Science". p. 195
  • Whether two molecules are (dis)similar is in the eye of the beholder. Scientists look to fool the receptor - but you really want to fool the patent office.
    • S. Stanley Young (2008), assistant director of bioinformatics, National Institute of Statistical Sciences. Appearing in: Lipp, Elizabeth (2008-08-01). "Novel Approaches to Lead Optimization". Genetic Engineering & Biotechnology News (Mary Ann Liebert): pp. 20, 22. Retrieved on 2008-09-28. 
  • Chemists have been inspired by Nature for hundreds of years, not only trying to understand the chemistry that occurs in living systems, but also trying to extend Nature based on the learned facts.
    • Kirsten Zeitler, "N-Heterocyclic Carbenes: Organocatalysts Displaying Diverse Modes of Action", in Organocatalysis (2008) edited by M.T. Reetz, B. List, S. Jaroch, H. Weinmann

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