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

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.).


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)

, 1978 p.144

M - P[edit]

  • 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[edit]

  • 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

See also[edit]

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