Academic chemists are forever quoting one another. Whether word-for-word or paraphrased, journal papers are rich in (properly referenced) quotes from other people’s work, so much so that to be oft quoted (and therefore frequently referenced) is one measure by which we determine a scientist’s value. But not all good chemistry quotes come from ‘the literature’ – quotable chemistry can be found in the well-thumbed pages of textbooks, from behind the lectern at public lectures, in biographies of famous figures and of course, from the vast world of fiction.

Here at Chemistry World we love a good, pithy quote. We sprinkle them into our news, embolden and enlarge them in our features, and use sound bites from our podcast interviews to tempt you to tune in.

What about your favourite chemistry quotations?  We teamed up with the volunteers at the Wikiquote project to help get them the exposure they deserve. To this end we invited our readers to send in their best examples of quotable chemistry, and we are delighted to  announce our favourites from the hundreds that we received.


Suggested by: Tyler Meldrum, Williamsburg, Virginia

Tyler wins the top prize of £50 Amazon vouchers for suggesting this quote from the first in the series of Flavia de Luce mystery novels by Alan Bradley. I’m sure the metaphor will not be lost on many chemists, whose work Bradley likens to the hard graft of tending vines. Experimental chemistry takes planning, patience and a willingness to nurture experiments, putting in the hours with the ever present risk of the crop failing and coming to nothing.

Tyler adds ‘if you haven’t read these books, you should. Flavia is an 11-year-old chemist (speciality: poisons) who helps solve mysteries. She brings charm and sass to chemistry.’


2nd place:

Suggested by: Andres Tretiakov, London

Andres wins the second prize of £25 Amazon vouchers for this quote, another harvested from the world of fiction. Written in 1880, this quote stems from a passage on ‘losing God’ to the new understanding of science, an examination of the tensions between science and church in the late nineteenth century.


Runners up, each receiving a Chemistry World mug:

Suggested by: Jessica Gilgor, Reno, Nevada

Many of the quotes we received were from biographies of famous chemists. This one is from the life story of Ira Remsen, who sweetened our lives as the co-discoverer of saccharin. It’s a call to arms that Jessica Gilgor clearly took seriously:

Jessica said ‘I’m glad you liked the quote as much as I did…..I actually have it tattooed on my arm. … I got it in December 2012 to celebrate my graduation from the University of Nevada Reno with a Bachelor of Science in Professional Chemistry.’

Suggested by: Nessa Carson, Illinois

Harry Kroto, who shared the chemistry Nobel prize in 1996 with Robert Curl and Richard Smalley for their discovery of buckminsterfullerene, is known to be outspoken. But this quote wasn’t him grandstanding or flexing his ego. It was part of a speech he gave in Thailand to accept an honorary Doctoral degree from Naresuan University – his way to encourage future chemists. ‘Whenever you have a project, you start the project’ Harry said ‘and say: “I am going to do something fantastic that no one else could have imagined”.’ It clearly worked for Nessa, who described it as ‘a great inspirational quote that really sums up what research is about for me.’

Suggested by: Valerio Fasano, Manchester

Primo Levi was the source of one of the quotes in our original post to announce the Quotable Chemistry competition, and he’s such an elegant writer that we were not surprised to receive several entries quoting him. This, from Valerio Fasano, was our favourite.

We’ve passed all of the eligible quotes along to the Wikiquote project to consider for inclusion. Congratulations to all our winners and many thanks to everyone who entered for helping us to bring a wider audience to memorable, inspirational, quotable chemistry.

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